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Showing posts from 2005


(Nov. 30 ,2005) As Chile celebrates the 25th anniversary of its private pension funds, the first generation of workers prepares to cash in on the promise of a retirement free of the haunting specter of poverty. Sadly, many Chileans are finding that this promise was just more empty rhetoric from a corrupt and discredited regime.

The plan to privatize Chilean pensions was drafted by Jose Piñera, brother of Chile’s current billionaire presidential candidate. The government sold the idea as an attempt to give the worker more individual liberty and control over their own future.

Under the new plan, Chileans would invest their savings in private pension plans managed by large financial institutes with limited government oversight. Security was replaced by opportunity and while not guaranteeing any returns, the plans promised a compounded interest rate on individual investments and the possibility of substantial growth of personal savings sufficient to retire comfortably.

According to Mercedes…


(Nov. 21, 2005) Sixteen former chiefs and agents of DINA, the Pinochet-era secret police, were charged last September by Judge Juan Guzmán in connection with the deaths of 34 of the disappeared (ST, Sept. 6, 2004). The 34 victims named on the indictment were those identified as having been abducted by the regime. Among the accused was Manuel Contreras, the former head of DINA, who is currently serving a 12-year jail term at Santiago’s Cordillera Prison for the 1975 kidnapping of Miguel Ángel Sandoval, a member of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) (ST, Jan. 31, 2005).

Pinochet has been sued twice to assume responsibility for the disappearance of the 119 Chileans: once in September 1999, and, after over five years of stagnancy, in February of this year, when Defense attorney Hernán Quezada filed a lawsuit asking that Pinochet be stripped of his immunity in order to be tried as the intellectual author of the Operation (ST, Sept. 10, 2004).

(Sept. 6, 2004) Nearly 30 years after 1…


The United States announced it has placed Venezuela on the list of countries not cooperating with counter-terrorism efforts and would ban future weapons sales to the country.

“This focuses on concerns that [the U.S.] has in terms of the relationship [Venezuela] has built up with states like Iran and Cuba, state sponsors of terror,” said Sean McCormack, spokesman for the U.S. Department of State. “There are also concerns about their interactions with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army of Colombia).”

The FARC is the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party while the ELN is a Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965 by urban intellectuals inspired by Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Together the two groups have fought the longest running guerilla war in history and are listed as terrorist organizations by both the United States and the European Union.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed the move as an act of an “irration…


(Oct. 7, 2005) President Ricardo Lagos criticized Chile’s national television station (TVN) yesterday for airing sensationalist news stories. The president questioned why 48 percent of TVN’s news coverage on Tuesday evening dealt with crime and delinquency.

“The first five and most important stories [on TVN] were about delinquency” said Lagos, “this is absolutely inadequate.”

This controversy has grown out of Independent Democratic Union (UDI) presidential candidate Joaquín Lavin’s criticism of the government’s new crime initiative. Lavin has spoken out against Lagos’ Socialist Party (PS), as well as their presidential candidate Michele Bachelet as being too soft on crime.

“I assure you that criminal offenders prefer to vote for Michelle Bachelet because they know that she will have the same soft hand that President Lagos has had” said Lavin last week.

The UDI candidate has been trying to put forth a platform to differentiate himself from the other right-wing presidential candidate Sebast…


Judge Links Huber’s Death To Pinochet’s Arms Trafficking

(Oct. 6, 2005) Investigations into illegal weapons sales to Croatia and the mysterious death of Colonel Gerardo Huber have surged forward as new discoveries from the Riggs Bank case shed light on the motives behind decades of arms purchases, bribes, and murders.

Judge Claudio Pavez, lead investigator in the Huber case, asked for the appointment of a civilian judge to his military panel of investigators on Sept 27. New evidence discovered by Pavez has conclusively linked Huber’s 1992 death to the Riggs Bank case, an inquiry into former Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s private fortune, some of which is hidden in offshore bank accounts.

Col. Huber disappeared on January 29, 1992, two months after United Nations (UN) officials in Hungary seized a Chilean shipment of weapons bound for the Balkan state of Croatia. The country was then under a UN arms embargo for its part in the Balkan War.

Col. Huber was the Chief of Acquisitions for Chile’s army …


Celco chiefs met with European Union (EU) members of Parliament in Santiago on Wednesday after Chile’s government decided no to let them visit the environmentally hazardous pulp and paper plant in Valdivia.

At the meeting, Celco presented the EU officials with their plans to minimize the environmental impact the plant would have on the area. Europeans had raised concerns that weak environmental laws in Chile gave an unfair advantage to Chilean exports.

Celco has become the poster child for Chile’s environmental policy after industrial waste from the plant contaminated the Cruces River. In the aftermath of the contamination, environmentalist and community groups accused the government of being complicit in the pollution by not enforcing higher standards (ST, Jan 13).

The issue has yet to be decided, but EU officials have expressed concern over claims that Celco’s effluent contaminated the City of Valdivia’s water supply and caused a drastic reduction in rare black-neck swan population in …


Government Expected Contentious Debate Over Rights To Loot

(Oct. 5, 2005) A new twist in the story of buried treasure on Robinson Crusoe Island that has kept Chile and the world in suspense for the last three weeks surfaced Monday after Wagner Technologies renounced all claims to the treasure supposedly worth US$10 billion.

Wagner Technologies, the company who claims they discovered the treasure, met late Monday with government officials in Valparaíso in what was expected to be a contentious debate over the rights to the treasure.

According to Fernando Uribe-Etxeverría, lawyer for Wagner Technologies, the company does not believe it is capable of excavating the treasure; all the company wanted was the free press.

This abrupt turn of events surprised government officials who were prepared to discuss excavation permits and decide how to partition the treasure with the company. Wagner instead agreed to turn over the coordinates to the government on the condition that if the treasure is …

CONAMA Raises Qyestions About Barrick Gold Deal

(Sept. 29, 2005) Barrick Gold Corporation’s attempt to buy citizen support for the development of its US$1.5 billion Pascua Lama gold mine has not satisfied government officials in charge of reviewing environmental legislation. Paulina Saball, director of the Region III National Environmental Commission is still concerned about the proposed mine project even though Barrick has agreed to pay US$60 million for contamination and disruption of the Huasca River watershed.

The Company is proposing to relocate three glaciers from the proposed open-pit mining site to Guanaco, an area with similar surface characteristics and elevation located several kilometers to the south. Farmers from the Junta de Vigilancia, the group of local farmers that signed the agreement with Barrick, were concerned that the relocation of the glaciers would negatively impact their land that relies on the Huasca River for irrigation.

The protocol agreement between Barrick and the Junta was signed on June 30 by eight of …


(Sept. 28, 2005) President Ricardo Lagos met with the Assembly of Human Rights on Monday announcing that human rights violators would not be eligible for amnesty. The move was greeted with enthusiasm by the Assembly after waiting two years for an audience with the president and a recent series of set backs on the human rights front.

President Lagos drew sharp criticism on Sept 9 after he initially gave his support for a senate proposal to reduce the sentences of Pinochet-era human rights violators who have already spent 10 years in prison (ST. Sept 9). The initiative was brought to the floor by Hernán Larraín, senator for the right wing Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI).

Lagos’ statement was all the more startling coming so soon after he pardoned Manuel Contreras Donaire, a jailed military official involved in the 1982 murder of former trade union leader Tucapel Jiménez. However, the Human Rights assembly was very pleased that the president decided to change his position on the a…


(Sept. 27, 2005) Wine producers breathed a sigh of relief as Aníbal Ariztía, President of the Chilean Wine Association, announced a historic grape harvest this year - up 25 percent over 2004.

Wine producers have had a hard time over the last few years because of the high cost of primary materials needed to make their wine. In 2004 grape harvests decreased six percent from the year before at the same time as Chilean wine exports grew 20 percent. The high demand for grapes to create wine to export and the short supply of them in Chile drove up the overall cost of producing a bottle of wine.

On top of the rising cost of primary material, wine exporters suffered along with the rest of the world as the value of the dollar decreased on world markets. Chilean wine exporters have earned less in US markets because of the devaluation of the US dollar, further adding to their financial difficulties.

Vineyards have steadily increased the number of hectares planted with grape stock over the last seve…


(Sept. 26, 2005) The island home of Alexander Selkirk, the man whose true story inspired the famous novel “Robinson Crusoe,” has finally been uncovered on Robinson Crusoe Island, 645 kilometers off the coast of Chile in the Juan Fernández Archipelago.

Although the island has long been known as the place where Selkirk was cast away by the captain and crew of his British privateer, the location of his home where he spent four years waiting to be rescued has always been a mystery.

Japanese archaeologist Daisuke Takahashi led the expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic society, which discovered the remains of Selkirk’s base camp. Takahashi is the author of the Japanese best seller, “In Search of Robinson Crusoe” and has been searching for the site for over 13 years. He once spent a month alone on the island just to understand what Selkirk went through as a cast away.

The team found the remains of a fire pit, animal bones, and ceramic pots while surveying likely locations around the …


(Sept 26, 2005) Myth became reality last Wednesday when astonished explorers discovered what could be US$10 billion worth of gold, silver, and jewels buried on Robinson Crusoe Island. Using robot technology, a team from Wagner Technologies claims they have found the lost treasure of Spanish Conquistador Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverría.

According to legend, the treasure was originally stolen from the Incan Empire during the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish navigator in charge of bringing the treasure back to Spain buried it on the island in 1715. Years later, an English pirate Cornelius Webb uncovered the treasure and reburied it somewhere else.

Last week the team brought one of their robots “Arturito” to search for the lost treasure buried on the island. The robot can detect and analyze the atomic composition of elements from metals to petroleum located up to 50 meters underground. It was used by the Chilean government to unearth an arms cache buried…


A team of engineers was run off by fishermen Monday after pulp and paper manufacturer Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (Celco) announced plans to dump industrial waste in their fishing grounds. The team was surveying potential dump sites near the coast of Corral in southern Chile when they were confronted by the concerned fishers and forced to leave the area.

The fishermen were protesting Celco’s decision to pipe industrial waste into regional waters, fearing pollution levels would damage the local fishing industry. Attempts to install pipelines from the plant to the Pacific Ocean were originally defeated by local groups in 1996, causing the company to change plans and route its effluent into the Cruces River near the city of Valdivia.

Ten years later, Valdivian community groups blamed the company for contaminating the city’s drinking water and polluting the nearby Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary, decimating large populations of black-necked swans. Celco closed the plant on June 8 in re…

Chilean Vineyards Bet of Carmenere

(Sept. 23, 2005) If you are looking for that distinctive taste of Chile, Carmenenère may be what you’ve been waiting for. Ten years after Chilean vineyards invested heavily in the distinctive wine, connoisseurs around the world are ready to taste the fruits of their labors.

There was a “rediscovery” of Carmenenère wines in Chile in the early 1990s that caused producers here to invest heavily in the product. Planting hundreds of hectares of Carmenenère grapes between Regions IV and VIII (latitudes 30 and 40 degrees south) Chilean vineyards are starting to harvest the first crops of what they hope is a very successful flavor.

“This is a grape stock that requires a lot of care.” said Sergio Correa, chief wine expert for Grupo Tarapacá, “It takes a long time to produce and must be planted in warm valleys.”

The creation of a new wine requires years of hard work as well. “Purple Angel,” a new Carmenenère from Viña Montes, took over ten years to produce. According to Aurelio Montes, president …


Tax Exemptions And Military Pension Fund Cost Chile Over US$5 Billion In 2005

(Sept 22, 2005) In an effort to reduce government spending, government officials reopened two controversial debates in Congress this past week: tax shelters for business development in the extreme regions of the country and the apparent insolvency of the military pension plan.

Fundamental problems with the pension plan and tax exemption laws will cost the state over US$5 billion in incomethis year. Speaking to Congress, Chile’s Minister of Defense Jaime Ravinet called the military’s pension deficit “absurd” and asked Congress to take immediate action to fix the bankrupt pension plan.

Finance Minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre called for a review of the myriad tax breaks and incentives originally designed to promote development in the mineral-rich north as well as the under-populated south. Last Wednesday, Eyzaguirre told Congress that these tax incentives were not achieving the desired results.

As early as 1966, Chile …


(Sept. 20, 2005) Chilean and Argentinean officials announced an agreement on wheat tariffs Friday. Following more than five years of tense negotiations, the agreement was greeted with mixed emotions around the country.

Chile agreed to suspend protective tariffs on 10,000 metric tons of Argentinean wheat - representing 0.8 percent of national wheat production – in return for Argentina’s agreement not to file anymore lawsuits against Chile with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The move allows Chile to resume talks with Mercosur, the regional trade organization of which Chile is an associate, after a 2003 “stand by” was imposed on Chile pending resolution of the wheat issue.

Carlos Appelgren, Chile’s ambassador to Uruguay, praised the agreement as a step forward for Chilean business. He explained that because of the agreement, Mercosur will move forward on eliminating all import tariffs on Chilean manufactured goods to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

Chilean wheat and flour prod…


(Sept 14, 2005) Ex-Colonia Dignidad doctor Harmut Hopp was released on bail last week after denying charges of human rights violations. Pointing the finger at Paul Schafer, leader of the right-wing paramilitary group of Germans in the south of Chile, Hopp denied any knowledge of illegal activities at the Colony compound.

Colonia Dignidad was a settlement founded by German immigrants in 1961 near Catillo in southern Chile. Members of the group have long been suspected of aiding the military regime of Augusto Pinochet to torture and execute political prisoners. The group’s leader, Paul Schafer, was arrested on March 10 outside of Buenos Aires after an eight-year man hunt. He was expelled from the country and returned to Chile to stand trial for multiple counts of child abuse, tax evasion, and human rights violations (ST Mar. 11).

Chilean authorities recently charged Schafer’s second-in-command, Harmut Hopp, as an accomplice in the kidnappings of three left-wing activists missing since 1…