I’m writing this post for those of you that are seeing images of Chile, in the wake of their 8.8 earthquake, and are getting the impression that Chile is some sort of broken down, ramshackle Latin American slum. Take a look at my photos of Chile on Flickr. You’ll get a different impression.
Chile is a gorgeous, very modern country with one of the most advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere. Their police officers, or carabineros, are apparently the only ones in all of South America you can’t bribe. Chile is the home of amazing wine and phenomenal art and literature. They produce more copper than any other country on Earth.
Chile is physically gorgeous, a place of wonder for outdoorsy types. It contains a varied landscape, ranging from the driest desert in the world to the Andes (which you have to see to believe). The glaciers, lakes, islands, and the windswept plains of Patagonia are some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen.
I know Chile pretty well. Fresh out of college, I journeyed to Santiago for a once-in-a-lifetime photojournalism internship. I lived in the capital for seven months, worked alongside Chileans, and had the kind of access to high-level people and events only a member of the press can enjoy. I traveled from Puerto Williams, the southernmost settlement in the world, up to the Atacama desert in the north.
When I heard about the earthquake, that it was 250 times more powerful than the recent Haitian disaster yet with less than 1,000 deaths (so far), I was not surprised. It’s a testament to how much the Chileans have their shit together. I wasn’t surprised about the strength of the earthquake, since I had heard about the 9.0 record setter in 1960, and had experienced a minor quake myself. That particular tremor was small by Chilean standards – only a 5.4.
I’m hoping that in the aftermath of this disaster, the U.S. can repair its image in Latin America. In one of the darker corners of American history, the CIA helped overthrow the government of democratically elected Salvadore Allende. The result was the ascension of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, which was replete with typical dictator things, like mass murder, torture, disappearances, and death camps. A lot of folks still were pretty peeved at the U.S. when I was there in 1997. I heard earful after earful of heated diatribes on U.S. foreign policy, as if I were in the foreign service or the official U.S. spokesperson.
So here’s a chance to hopefully make things right, or at least take some of the sting away for what America did to Chile nearly 40 years ago. Para mis amigos Chilenos, quiero que sepan que estamos pensando en Uds. Todo el mundo en los EEUU esta prestando atención a lo que pasó alla con este terremoto horrible. Estamos rezando por Uds. y les ofrecemos nuestra ayuda y apoyo en este momento difícil. Uds. No están solos, sus hermanos Yanquís estan preparado con manos abiertos.