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Chile: The Shining Star of South America

The focus of this blog will be on the economic situation in Chile. The telecommunications, wine, forest, and copper industry will be particularly highlighted. My study abroad program has a particular focus on economic globalization and development. I will do my best to provide specific examples to the assertions I make. Also, general statements can provide insight, but I will try to be as analytical and specific as possible. Although political leaders and CEO's run companies, this blog will certainly not forget about the Chilean people. I will do my best to distinguish between the Chilean people and the government. I invite criticisms, comments, suggestions, and opinions. Enjoy the blog!

Diary Entries

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Location: Valle de Elicura, Chile

What happened to the native Mapuches in Chile?

If it is more common to see cows and sheep roaming the streets than cars you are probably in Southern Chile, in the communities of the Mapuches. I stayed with a Mapuche family for 3 nights. I had a mother, a grandmother, a grandfather, and a 21 year-old cousin. In this little pueblo or town there were no stores. You would have to take a bus if you wanted to buy something from the outside. The Mapuches, however, are fairly self-reliant, cultivating the land for themselves.

About 7 hours south of Santiago live the Mapuches, one of the few groups native to the land of Chile. The Mapuches are similar to the Native Americans in the states as they were in South America before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and are now marginalized.



The word Mapuche means people of the tierra, or land. The problem these days is that they have lost a lot of their land. Let’s take a look at how much hectares (100 Meters X 100 Meters) the Mapuches had at specific dates:

• 1541: 33,000,000
• 1810: 10,000,000
• 1883: 525,000
• 1972: 565,000
• 1986: 225,000
• 2007: 400,000

Although the Mapuches have gotten some of their land back that was taken from them over the last 100 years, the current level of 400,000 hectares is nowhere close to the original level of 33,000,000 hectares in 1541.

I found my Mapuche mom very interesting. My family owned sheep and my mom made wool products: socks, hats, sweaters, shirts. She does it all by hand, not using any machines. She understands that if she were to use machines it would be much quicker but she prefers the old-fashioned way. The process is not complicated according to Rosa, my mother, but takes a lot of time. She then sells these products.

I asked my mom if she thought she owned a micro-empresa, a mini-business. She said no and as I insisted that she did own a mini-business she smiled a little bit. I don’t think she is mistrustful of business. I think she truly does not see herself as owning a mini-business.

My mom sells her wool products two ways:
1. People come to her house to buy her products
2. A few times a year she sells her products at the local fairs around her city. There is one fair in her pueblo, a few fairs around her pueblo, a bigger fair about an hour and a half away in Concepcion.

I asked Rosa if she ever thought about selling her products to a store because I thought she could make more money that way. She told me that she had thought of doing this but she said it was not worth it because she would have to pay more in taxes than she would get for her products.

She then explained to me that she also did not want to work for a business or a company because they would tell her what design she had to make for her products, what quantity, and what color .She wanted a voice over her production decisions. She seems very content with her business although I think she has opportunities to make more money.

Who are the Mapuches?

The Mapuches are one of many indigenous groups in Chile. They had numerous battles with the Spanish during the 16th century, finally losing some decisive battles. The Mapuches were pushed further south in Chile, away from Santiago.

Much like the Native Americans, the Mapuches are tied to their land as the meaning of Mapuche indicates. They rely on their natural forests for medicine, food, building supplies, and materials for their religious rituals. My Mapuche family cultivated their small plot land. They grew tomatoes, potatoes, and lettuce. They have hens, roosters and sheep. The Mapuches tend to live very subsistence lifestyles, relying on their land to feed them and provide them with their limited income.

The Culture of the Mapuches—Gone forever?

Culture is always changing with the time, adapting to new customs and trends. I don’t think you find any culture that is completely frozen in time. There are many cultures that are trying to resist this cultural change, often violently. But I believe even these cultures change and adapt to the times. This means that a cultural is not necessarily lost if it changes or loses parts of their culture.

The language of the Mapuche, mapudungun, means language of the land. When I first learned that nobody in the family speaks mapudungun now, I was very surprised. They only speak Spanish in the home. Why is this the case? In the past when the Mapuches left their home and tried to find work, they were often discriminated against in part because they have a little darker skin than Chileans and in part because their Spanish was not as good as the Chileans. People could easily detect that the Mapuches were not Chilean and were thus discriminated against. Therefore, my Mapuche grandfather established a rule where nobody in his family could speak mapudungun. They could only speak Spanish.

Many Mapuches, especially the men, leave home during the working years. They often work alongside Chileans, save up money and then return home to work the fields. That is what my grandfather did. He was a coal miner for 25 years in Lota, about an hour and a half away from the Valle de Elicura. He then stopped working the coal mines and returned home and worked in the field. He is still working in the fields growing tomatoes and potatoes.

So the Mapuches are speaking Spanish, not their own language, and are relying on the Chileans for jobs. Does that signify a loss in culture? Not necessarily.

It often happens that the dominant culture imposes its culture on the non-dominant cultures. This is what often happens in the United States. When European immigrants came to the United States, they often assimilated to the culture of the States and lost some of their culture. The situation with the Native Americans is well documented. So I am trying to put the situation of the Mapuches in the context of the idea that dominant culture is dominant.

So what has happened to a lot of the Mapuche land that they have lost in the last 35 years? It has been taken from them and sold very cheaply to forest companies, who use the land to cut down the trees and produce cellulose. Cellulose is needed in all paper products. The forest companies sometimes have to destroy native forests and replace them with artificial forests, which grow faster and are better for paper products. So the native forests that the Mapuches have had a special connection to have been taken away from them and converted into artificial forests.

The government and economic development—good for Mapuches?

When I stayed with the Mapuches, my roommate and I lived in a new cabin with a refrigerator and two bedrooms. It was almost as big as the apartment that I am staying with my family in Santiago. My family used some of their own money to build the cabin but also received a lot of money for the construction of the cabin from the government. This is part of the government’s plan to help the Mapuches economically—to subside some of the cost of the construction of the cabin so that the Mapuches can get more income from visitors and tourists.

The government has a vision to help the Mapuches. Part of that vision is subsidizing part of the cabin cost. They also want to build more roads in the Mapuche’s area and build a new local hospital.

I asked my Mapuche mother if she thought the government’s vision and plan to help the Mapuche’s was helpful to the Mapuches. She didn’t think that it was. She what the government had in mind for the Mapuches did not match what she needed. She didn’t need a refrigerator. Sure, the cabin did give my mother a little more income, but the question is what did she have to give up?

My opinion—economic development is destructive for Mapuches

My view on this issue is pretty strong. I understand that I do not have very much knowledge of this issue, but my feelings are pretty strong. I take a pretty cynical approach when it comes to economic development and the Mapuches.

I think there is a vicious cycle that is occurring. The government takes the land of the Mapuches and sells it to the forest industry. This is what happened after the rise of Pinochet. He took some of the Mapuche land and sold it very cheap to the forest industry. With the extra money the government makes in tax revenue from the land that they took from the Mapuches, they give the money back to the Mapuches in the form of a subsidy. But, the government is mainly constructing new roads and cabins. These don’t really have too much meaning to the Mapuches. They would like their land back and their native forests back so that they can grow the groups that they have always grown. I believe the government is, in effect, making the Mapuches conform as well as actively (not necessarily intentionally) in ways that are not helpful to the Mapuches.

Do you believe that the Mapcuhes are able to live in Chile with today’s conditions and still keep their culture?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Location: Chile

Anti-Americanism in the world? In Chile?
No Chileans Love the United States

If you listen to and believe the American media, or media outlets from Europe, or even Al Jazera, then you might believe that almost everybody in the world hates us. The media would have you believe.
• The Middle East hates us because we support Israel
• France and the rest of Europe hates us because we are too cavalier in our foreign policy and do not respect international law. We also don’t respect Europe, they would argue.
• South America led by Venezuela and his oil money, backed by Cuba and Bolivia is determined to form a coalition to combat the exploitative United States and North. South Americans, the media presents, have a better vision than exploitation and only getting the capitalist rich. That vision is called socialism.
I cannot speak about the first two points nor can I speak about, with accuracy the situation in most of South America. I do know, however, that Chileans at large, or at least the Chileans I have come across like the United States very much.

Culturally American:

American music in the stores, restaurants, and at home

When I walked into my first store in Santiago, in late August, and immediately the music caught my attention. No it was not some new, trendy Chilean tune that I did not understand. It was REM’s “Man on the Moon.” I thought that this American music most have been an extraordinary situation, not the norm as many Chileans do not speak English. Much to my surprise, if you were to encounter music in a Chilean restaurant or store it is likely that it would be American music. It is true that Chile does not have a very developed music industry but Argentina and Puerto Rico do have a more developed music industry. Their music does not penetrate into Chile as frequently as you might think. So Chileans end up listening to countless number of songs in English. My Chilean parents here understand most of the words to the popular American songs and my Chilean dad has been known to dance in the stores and sing when an American song comes on. Although my parents for the most part understand the words to the songs, some children do not. These children, however, continue to sing the songs.

Disney and American TV:

Chileans are bombarded with American Television programs. For example, my Chilean family likes to watch American movies on television. My 13 year old Chilean sister likes to watch Hilary Duff as much of her free time is spent watching Hillary Duff. My sister grew-up practicing and learning her Spanish by singing Disney songs. My father and mother also like to sing the Disney songs. My point is that Chileans have grown up with American culture.

What does this affinity for American culture mean?

One could argue that the American culture has been forced and imposed on the Chileans. That the dominant culture always forces its culture upon a less dominant culture. That is to say, the Chileans have no choice. They only accept the intrusion of American culture.

The other argument, which I believe to be true, is that Chileans like the infusion of American entertainment. It is an active choice for the Chileans.

Is there any connection between the fact that Chileans seem to enjoy American culture and that Chileans have a similar economic structure as the United States—a free economy with limited social protections?

The Chilean economy and the American economy are inextricably linked and perhaps part of that is because Chileans have an affinity for American culture.

Las Condes— Where I live

I live in a community about 15 minutes outside of Santiago in a communa called Las Condes. Las Condes is well known for being fairly well off economically. What struck me about Las Condes is not the wealth, because there are other communas more wealthy than Las Condes, but how American my community is. For example, five minutes from my house there is a new mall that has Lacoste and TGI Fridays. There are also big grocery stores and a home depot like store. In fact, I read in the newspaper a week ago that the mall is going to install a massive television screen to attract more shoppers. This will be the biggest television screen in the world.

The mini-description of Las Condes in my Lonely Planet guide book says,
“Now the city’s financial powerhouse, Las Condes is the price we have to pay for globalization. New skyscrapers crop up here all the time as do identikit apartment blocks that could belong in any town of the U.S.”

This statement is accurate.


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