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ADIOS 2010

We entered 2010 calmly planning our yearly trip to Chile. We were looking ahead at a presidential election, a two-week tour of the wine-producing regions on central Chile with Mick and Ceci, friends from Roslyn, NY, and way ahead to the Bi-centennial celebration in September. What already was sure to be an eventful year for Chile soon became an extraordinary one, by all standards. The 8.8 scale earthquake and resultant tsunami on February 27 at 4:30 AM caught me and thousands of others near the epicenter in the sleeping coastal city of Concepcion. While Chile began to recover from the massive destruction, a new President, Sebastian Pinera, was sworn in to the tremors of a strong aftershock that emptied the ceremony of the gathered dignitaries before the ceremony was even over. The quake cancelled our friends’ trip to Chile, and left us all mesmerized at the power of natural events, and the durability of the human spirit.

Within 45 days of the quake, 1.2 million Chilean students were back in their classrooms, within 3 months most basic services were back on in the affected area, and by the time the rains of winter arrived temporary shelter was provided for those left homeless by the disaster. The Chilean economy kept rolling along in spite of the destruction from the quake, with 6% growth for the 9 month period since the swearing in of the new President in early March, more than 200,000 new jobs were created in that same period, and a major educational reform proposal was launched and is wending its way through the political maze towards adoption.

During 2010, confrontation between landowners, security forces, and indigenous Mapuche groups in southern Chile grew violent, resulting in long-overdue attention, but still no resolution, to Mapuche claims of ancestral land ownership and community governance issues. Some believe this issue is so important and so intractable to remain at the top of Chile’s social agenda for some time to come. Towards the end of the year, Chile’s prisons were rocked with violent strikes, revealing a serious underlying social problem begging attention by a society that is truly trying to modernize.

After years of absence from World Cup competition Chile’s soccer team won two matches and made it to the group of 16 in the 19th World Cup in South Africa in June. Ultimately they lost to Brazil, but “La Roja” brought pride back to a country that lives and breathes soccer. By year’s end, though, issues with the Argentine coach of the Chilean national team had the country again predicting problems with their ability to repeat the feat of the 2010 World Cup team.

Just as worldwide media coverage of the Chilean earthquake was waning, the CNN cameras again rushed back to provide minute-by-minute coverage of the rescue of 33 miners trapped for over 2 months 700 meters below the surface in the San Jose copper/gold mine near Copiapo in northern Chile.

Chileans gladly soaked in all this media attention, unusual for this small, relatively quiet country. One of the rescued miners even ran in the NY city marathon draped in the tri-color Chilean flag, closed the NY stock exchange the next day, and that evening sang Elvis songs on David Letterman’s show; his “Spanglish” and stage presence oh so Chilean!

With the 33 miners’ rescue progressing slowly but surely, Chileans took a well-deserved 4-day holiday around September 18th to celebrate their bi-centennial, an energizing event that helped to lift national spirits after a long, rainy, cold winter. But as spring blossomed out throughout the fertile fruit-growing and wine producing central valley, attention turned back to the pace of reconstruction of the earthquake-affected areas. There were growing concerns that the more difficult stages of reconstruction were going too slowly, so new and ongoing initiatives were strengthened, to speed up rebuilding permanent homes, new hospitals, and more schools.

At year end, the President of Chile made a un-precedented public speech to present his accounting of what his administration has accomplished since taking over only 9 months earlier, in March. Reminding us all too much of the debilitating partisan polarization in the US, the leaders of the Chilean opposition coalition, still licking their wounds from the electoral loss to Pinera, chose to snub their President by not attending his presentation.

According to a public opinion poll released at year end in Santiago, Chileans are closing out a very exciting 2010 with optimism. 56% believe 2011 will be “very good” or “good” for the country and 62% believe the same for them personally and their families. According to this survey, they feel safer than they did in the recent past, and much less concerned about being assaulted or robbed in the street or in their homes.

So what is in store for Chile in 2011, if the President’s agenda prevails? According to him, the priorities for public policy are reform of the education and health sectors, elimination once and for all of extreme poverty, decrease in crime rates, modernization of the bureaucracies of State institutions, and a doubling of education scholarships. We shall see.

We began this blog as a way to share our experiences with the February earthquake. Since then, we have meandered through the “Peace Corps”, “Chile’s development”, “La Roca, Dago’s and Maria’s restaurant in Loanco”, and beyond. These themes seem on the face of it quite disparate, but to me they are all connected by what makes Chile so special, the extraordinary spirit of the Chileans themselves. That, coupled with the natural abundance and beauty of the country, continues to suggest that there may be, as President Pinera likes to boast, “The Chilean Way”.

As we watch Chile and Chileans during 2011, we will continue to share some of our experiences and thoughts with you, family and friends, all fine readers of this blog. So, please have a Happy New Year 2011, and stay tuned to DAVESCHILE.

Viva Chile!!!

Written in Leesburg, Virginia, on December 31, 2010.


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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.
David Joslyn

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