Fiestas Patrias in Santiago de Chile, a little bit of history

Week 8 – The 18th and 19th of September is the celebration of Chile Independence. This was the independence from the Spanish in 1810. Everything in the city is closed! No museums, no shops, no malls, most of the restaurants are closed for 2 days and all the Santiguan are gone or are celebrating in the traditional fondas! Even a 15th of August in Paris looks busier!

Last week was another anniversary, but not a funny one. On 11th September 1973, Augusto Pinochet lead the putsch against president Salvador Allende, starting 17 years of a violent dictatorship. The picture of this week was taken in el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos which tries to relate all the events from the day of the putsch to the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. This is a Memorial to the 35 000 tortured and 3 000 disappeared political opponents to the regime.

So let’s speak a little bit about history. I really recommend El Museo Histórico Nacional which is very interesting too!

End of the XIX century Chile was a modern country. In 1850 started the construction of steamboats and railway, which has revolutionized its ways of transportation and production. Its industry was based on nitrate and copper mines, supplying mostly North America. Chile was deep in its industrial era. It was also an era of growth of the institutions with the creation of the University, blooming press, laicization of the State, urbanism, … By the end of that century, the first commercial banks were created, offering prospects for future financial and commercial development. The women were well integrated in the progress, working in the factories, conducting tramways, or being doctors and lawyers.

At the beginning of the XX century, the contrast between the elite of the society and the rural world was huge and generated anger. The historical haciendas (large rural landholdings, heritage from the settlers era) controlled 80% of the prime agricultural land, Inquilinos (residents) being at their mercy for housing, soil and subsistence. The working class claimed its rights and started moving to the cities.

The creation of Panama Canal and the worldwide crash of 1929, which affected heavily Chile’s economy, intense earthquakes and instable governments lead to emergence of left parties governance. Despite American interventions in the elections (which made Christian Democrat candidate Eduardo Frei won in 1964), Salvador Allende finally accessed the Presidency in 1970. He was the first democratically elected Marxist President and was leading the Unidad Popular coalition (alliance of socialist party, communist party and left radical parties) whose program included nationalisation of mines (mainly owned by US interests), banks and insurances, plus the expansion of the expropriation and redistribution of large landholdings started by his predecessor.

The fall of copper price (main export revenues of Chile), the decline in domestic food production (induced by the agrarian reforms), the expropriation, concurred to the strike of the truckers in 1972 which lead to a crisis in 1973 when the Supreme Court denounced Allende’s government inability to enforce the law of the land. As the government’s authority crumbled, beginning of August Allende appointed an army commander to occupy the critical post of Interior Minister. End of August, this General was forced to resigned as he lost the support of the army and was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet.

On the 11th of September 1973, the Chilean military, aided by the US and its CIA, staged a Coup d’Etat against Salvador Allende. He died in the explosion of the Presidential Palace La Moneda and this was the beginning of the dictatorship.

“Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!”

President Salvador Allende’s farewell speech, 11 September 1973

I’m sorry for this long and unfortunately really summarised history of Chile! This is very interesting and there is so much more to tell! Please go and read about it 🙂

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