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TWO IMAGES OF THE CHILEAN MIRACLE

Posted by CYNTHIA SHUFFER AND PAULA ARRIETA over 2 years

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PULPERIA PIÑERA

   

   

   

   

Today on the national television

They ask him why it is timely to speak today, now. He believes it is necessary because, for years, the leaders have dedicated themselves to misinform the audience through lies and myths. Even more, he dares point out that this kind of forced ignorance would be the cause that people share that general unrest in their daily lives. He believes there exists a big problem and he illustrates it with examples in this way: the governments evidence shortcomings in the system, which the press amplifies, and then they act in a contradictory way, since they do not work to find solutions, but just to manage the same system, to improve it. He points out emphatically that the present government has been responsible for validating this model, according to them imperfect, and that his concern resides precisely in this inflection. How could people not be confused if, on the one hand, they show the people that there is a crisis and, on the other hand, they work to consolidate it? Why don't the governments change the system tomorrow morning? Why do they have projects sleeping in the parliament for years? He deeply believes that in this country they say "A", they deceive people, they act "Z", and they keep the economic system, and the pensions system intact, the Constitution of the country, the private companies...

He has his arms crossed, and says, with a distrustful look, that he will explain it again. He indicates that if all the political class says that the system is bad and the press repeats that the system is bad, how could the people on the streets say that the system is not bad? What do you want them to say, if we are living in a lie...? And that lie is taking us to general unrest, to frustration, to demonstrations. This is very dangerous. Even so, he considers it's not possible to deceive a country for twenty-six years. He believes the gap between what the political class says and what they do is what keeps them at a standstill.

He doesn't speak about what they ask him, because he hurries to deny everything they say about his model. He mentions a letter that was sent to two million people. He says that he will read it aloud. The men who have contributed for thirty years or more have pensions over 650.000 Chilean pesos. I repeat: pensions over 650.000 pesos. The average? No, I'll have to read it again. It's impossible to talk if you don't listen to me. Are you saying that the numbers lie? I believe the press publishes what they want, mistakes like this that they are spreading. Here we have to put an end to these lies. He maintains that the demonstrations are against the government, who have the approval of 20% of the population, and who cause so much damage to the republic. That's why he considers it's necessary to sweep away lies and tell the truth about the system he proposed. He says of course the system is perfectible, like the Sistine Chapel. Every time I go there, I look at it, and there are some colours that could be a little redder. Everything is perfectible, that’s obvious.

He holds the letter in his hands while he asks himself who should lead the change, and he quickly says that it should be the Chilean government. That's what we pay congressmen for. Here we've had twenty-six years in this system, and why hasn't it changed? Why do you think it will have a political cost if you say that everybody would applaud? What the demonstrators propose is to expropriate 10 million Chileans, to expropriate them. You use a phrase that nobody understands: what is the pay-as-you-go system? I use a phrase that everyone understands. Check your accounts, check how much you've got, may be it's the last time you see it. Kirchner did it, and you can see how things are going in Argentina. They even have thrown out his wife. If it is like that, there will be an economic, social and political crisis here.

He looks at his interlocutor with disdain: he raises his eyes and ignores him. He says that he won't give any solutions, that he has them, but he will only defend the model he has designed. He points out that there are only three or four journalists who, with their natural bias, install this unrest. Or do you think those people represent the whole country? I'll have to read the letter for a third time. 650.000 pesos. In which part of the discussion do they signal this? Do you know what they have taught me in Harvard...? When you say something and nobody says the opposite, what you are saying is something trivial. Everybody agrees that it is perfectible, so they should perfect it. And the state AFP (Administradora de Fondos de Pensiones, or Pension Funds), where is it? That was a proposal during the campaign. The multiplication of the loaves.

He goes on without answering and he focuses in pointing out that his system was conceived as a mixed system of individual savings with a solidary base from the start, when it was implemented in 1980. He considers that Chile has grown five times, generating more fiscal resources. He takes another piece of paper out of his pocket while he announces that he will show them an extraordinary chart about the growth of the country; he speaks ironically about the content while he says that surely they will discredit the numbers. This is it, this is a chart of the growth of income in Chile over the last 200 years, and you see that during 200 years it shows a curve of growth that is mediocre and, however, since 1975 this curve that looks like a rocket is the growth of the per capita income in Chile. And Chile goes from 4000 dollars per capita income to 23.000 dollars, that is, the wealthiest country in Latin America. This reduces poverty to 7,8%. Here there are children's lives that have been saved. With great patriotism, and great dedication, we have saved seven million people from poverty, and that is the most important and noblest thing.

 

Foto: Pulperia Piñera.

On a black and white photograph

The photograph dates back to 1915. It shows a long solid wooden table, in a diagonal line from the lower left corner of the picture to almost its exact centre. Behind the table, two employees with sleeveless jackets and white shirts, ties, hats and moustaches, look at the camera in an identical position, as if they were part of some choreography. Behind them, rows and columns of imposing shelves, full of goods. On the wall at the back, there hang chairs and clocks. The customers are varied (or not much): six men complete the scene, five of them wear suits and all of them have hats. The only man without a suit is on the left, the closest to the camera. Unlike the others, he wears a white shirt and has a big blanket around his neck and covering his back. His trousers are loose and rolled up. He seems to be the only one choosing a product, while the others read the newspaper or stare into the space.

The shop, a grocery store from the days of splendour of the saltpetre mining, was the only supply point for the population. Immersed in the most arid desert in the world, the settlements that grew exponentially around the offices were an example of economic organization. The State had decided to leave the exploitation of the mineral, that would bring infinite prosperity to the public treasury, in the hands of foreign companies, mainly British. Men and women arrived to the North from every corner of the country, with the expectation of improving their living conditions in those territories that had been annexed after the war.

Work was hard. Without contracts or decent working conditions, the men and women who arrived to those pampas received their salaries in chips that were valid only in the office; with them, they could buy the fundamental things at the grocery store of the place, owned by the administration. Without any kind of supervision and with the complicity of the state, the shops fixed the prices as they pleased and, many times, they falsified the quantities of the products they sold. Thus, without any solutions and with the basic things to survive, at the end of the day the chips of the workers returned to the owner of the office. And the following day, everybody got back to work.

It's difficult for us, right-bearers, to imagine a similar scenario nowadays. It's almost impossible to think of an economic structure so perverse that it brings economic prosperity at the same time it creates an impoverished and almost enslaved social class. And to our solid democracies the grocery stores represent just a grotesque figure.

Photography has that ghostly quality. The time has stopped and forms the spectre of something impossible. People were subjected to an unequal and discriminatory regime, in which exploitation and misery were a better option than hunger. It's impossible for us to think that way in our days. It would be as if, presently, people worked for a boss who evades his contractual obligations, avoids paying taxes or simply doesn't sign contracts; one who resorts to tricks in order to prevent the workers from organizing to demand their rights, who threatens to fire them if they don't accept his conditions. And who, on top of it, pays them little money, so that it's enough for the basic necessities only, or less than that. And at the same time, he makes an agreement with his friends for them to raise the prices of the basic consumer goods –because, unusually, he's also the owner of a supermarket chain- so that every worker has to get into debt to eat and dress themselves. So, the same boss/owner-of-the-supermarket can offer a loan to the worker, because –I forgot to mention it- he's also the owner of a bank. And he can impose high interest rates, to his liking, so that, by the end of the day, the money he handed over as remunerations returns to his hands, but now the amount has increased. And the following day, they have to go back to work. And it is as if all of this, besides, was accepted by the State, in the beginning because of omission and lack of intentions, but then because of convenience: because the boss/owner-of-the-supermarket/owner-of-the-bank is a friend of the minister, and a cousin of the congressman and the president's son-in-law. It's an impossible scenario, a nightmare we are at a far distance from, thanks to our serious democracy, where institutions work.

The past has that quality, the distance of the unusual, a place where men and women accepted the unacceptable. I breathe with relief. We know that the system is not perfect, but we are one of the countries with the highest economic stability in Latin America and, certainly, our social conditions have no basis of comparison with those they had 100 years ago. I repeat: none.

Translation: Fernando Aita

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