Oliver Stone's "Border" Shows Fall of South America's Berlin Wall

On April 13, 2002, an event occurred in Venezuela which was as world-historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed. The Bush Administration's efforts to promote the coup failed, in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela, and diplomatic resistance in the region.

The failure of the Bush Administration's effort to overthrow President Chavez was world-historical for South America because it sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region. In the years prior to the reversal of the U.S.-backed coup, popular movements in South America had suffered from a widespread "Allende syndrome": a key legacy of the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 was the widespread belief that there was a sharp limit to the popular economic reforms that could be achieved through the ballot box, because the United States simply wouldn't allow formal democracy in the region to respond to the economic needs of the majority.

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Oliver Stone's "Border" Shows Fall of South America's Berlin Wall

On April 13, 2002, an event occurred in Venezuela which was as world-historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed. The Bush Administration's efforts to promote the coup failed, in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela, and diplomatic resistance in the region.

The failure of the Bush Administration's effort to overthrow President Chavez was world-historical for South America because it sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region. In the years prior to the reversal of the U.S.-backed coup, popular movements in South America had suffered from a widespread "Allende syndrome": a key legacy of the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 was the widespread belief that there was a sharp limit to the popular economic reforms that could be achieved through the ballot box, because the United States simply wouldn't allow formal democracy in the region to respond to the economic needs of the majority.

There's more...

Oliver Stone's "Border" Shows Fall of South America's Berlin Wall

On April 13, 2002, an event occurred in Venezuela which was as world-historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed. The Bush Administration's efforts to promote the coup failed, in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela, and diplomatic resistance in the region.

The failure of the Bush Administration's effort to overthrow President Chavez was world-historical for South America because it sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region. In the years prior to the reversal of the U.S.-backed coup, popular movements in South America had suffered from a widespread "Allende syndrome": a key legacy of the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 was the widespread belief that there was a sharp limit to the popular economic reforms that could be achieved through the ballot box, because the United States simply wouldn't allow formal democracy in the region to respond to the economic needs of the majority.

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In Praise of Michelle Bachelet

“Chile is no longer our fatherland—it’s our motherland” became a popular refrain when Dr. Michelle Bachelet was elected four years ago to become the South America’s first female president since Bolivia’s Lydia Gueiler Tejada became interim president of that Andean nation in 1979. Unlike the appointed Gueiler, however, Bachelet won the Chilean presidency via the ballot box. Today she passed the reins of power to Sebastián Piñera, a Harvard economist and billionaire tycoon, ending a 20-year rule by La Concertación, the centre-left coalition that has governed the country since the departure of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

For the Latin American left, this is certainly a bittersweet moment. There's an immense pride in the success of her government which exits a remarkable 84 percent approval rate. Chile's rise points to the success of the  “pragmatic socialism” movement in Latin America, a left-leaning democratic coalition of countries that includes Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and El Salvador that aims for progressive policies focused on reduction of social inequality coupled with traditional free market economic policy. And while we turned over power to the right, the loss is tempered by the fact Sebastián Piñera has pledged to maintain and extend the policies that have created Chile's social safety net. It is not insignificant to note that when the right accepts the ideas of the left as part of the model, we have won a major victory. This is perhaps Bachelet's greatest triumph. In Chile, pragmatic socialism is the economic model.

It’s somewhat remarkable that Michelle Bachelet even became President. Bachelet, an agnostic and single mother of three children including one with a non-married partner, is an atypical mother in a country widely viewed as one of the more conservative Catholic countries in which divorce was banned until 2004.  A profile such as hers would disqualify any American from seeking the Presidency. She is the daughter of an air force general who died after being tortured during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1989). Bachelet with her mother fled into exile returning only the political situation in Chile stabilized. She would work with torture victims during the dark years of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Between 2000 and 2002, Bachelet was health minister in the government of fellow Socialist Ricardo Lagos, and she was later the country’s defense minister, up until October 2004 when she resigned in order to run for the presidency.

A pediatrician by training, Dr. Bachelet embraced gender issues from the start, vowing that her government would  "fight with all its capacity for the full exercise of women’s rights.”

Among the accomplishments of the Bachelet government in the realm of gender issues were:

- A law giving women the right to breast-feed at work.
- A law stiffened the penalties for men who fail to pay alimony.
- Hundreds of nurseries have been established nationwide, along with domestic violence shelters for women and children.
- Equal numbers of women and men are now serving in top government jobs, including in the Cabinet.
- Women were for the first time admitted at the Chilean Naval Academy.

But it is in the realm of social investment and especially in the area of childhood development that Bachelet had the biggest impact. Under Bachelet Chile shaved off 50 basis points off the country’s GINI co-efficient narrowing the income inequality gap from 0.571 in 2005 to 0.520 last year. Looking over the course of the decade, the narrowing of social inequality from 0.583 in 2001 some sixty basis points stands out as one of the more notable achievements anywhere in the world. When one considers that the GINI co-efficient stood at 0.64 when Pinochet left office, the impact of the Left's rule in Chile becomes evident.

In 1985, 45 percent of Chileans lived in poverty with some 20 percent living in extreme poverty classified as living on two dollars or less per day.  In 1990, when Augusto Pinochet left office, more than 38.6 percent of people in this Andean country of 16 million lived below the poverty line. By 2003, the poverty rate had been cut to 18.7 percent and as of 2008 it stood at just 13.7 percent. The number of Chileans who today live in extreme poverty is just 2.4 percent.

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8.8 Magnitude Quake Strikes the Bío-Bío Region of Chile

A powerful 8.8 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale has struck south-central Chile. The quake, the third strongest in the past 100 years, was centered in the VIII Administrative District of Chile also known as the Bío-Bío near the city of Concepción, Chile's second largest city with just under 900,000 inhabitants. The quake struck at approximately 3:30 AM local time when most residents were sleeping and was felt as far north as Santiago and as far east as Mendoza, Argentina. 

The quake, which was centered 22 miles deep in the Earth, set off a tsunami with warnings spanning the Pacific including ones for Hawaii and southern California. Tsunami warnings are in effect for 53 countries across the Pacific Basin. Waves hit the Juan Fernández Islands (the setting for Robinson Crusoe) wiping out half of the small town. The coastal areas of Easter Island were evacuated as a precaution. A tsunami wave travels at about 600 miles per hour, about as fast as a jet, and it can be expected to cross the Pacific and hit Japan 21 hours after the quake hit.

The loss of life so far stands at 147 but is expected to rise as Chileans awake to the devastation and sift through the rubble. This was a deep quake though it was 101.8 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake that struck Port-au-Prince back on January 12, 2010. However, the Haiti quake was shallower and Haiti's infrastructure wasn't built to withstand quakes. Chile has much more experience with earthquakes and much more stringent building codes. Nonetheless, the damage to infrastructure especially in Concepción seems vast. The city was founded in 1550 and one can expected buildings from the colonial era to have suffered immensely.

The Bío-Bío is one of the world's richest fisheries. That small region accounts for some 5 percent of world seafood production. The region is a major producer of sea bass, farmed salmon (Chile's second largest export), mackerel, hake, sardines and anchovies. The Bío-Bío is also, not surprisingly, a major shipbuilding center. The area is also a major forestry products producer and a tourist gateway to the lake district in Patagonia. The region is named after the Bío-Bío river, one of the most rugged rivers in the world and a major whitewater rafting destination. Finally, the region is a major hydroelectric power producer.

The quake comes at an odd time for Chile as the country is in the midst of a Presidential transition and a change of power from one party to another. Sebastián Piñera, the first right of center candidate to be elected President in Chile since 1958 and the first conservative since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, is to assume the oath of office on March 11th. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet has declared a "state of catastrophe."

The New York Times has a full account as does The Independent. The UK Guardian has some great coverage of the tsunami impact.

If you understand Spanish, you can watch Chilean television at TV de Chile on Ustream.

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