The spark that triggered the protests in Santiago de Chile was an increase in the price of the metro. The rise from 800 to 830 pesos at peak times came after a government announcement of a 9.2 per cent hike in water and electricity costs. With rising rents, a crumbling public health system and stagnating wages – the minimum wage is 301,000 pesos a month – living conditions for many Chileans are becoming untenable.
The UK has the highest incidence in the world of poisonings caused by the toxins produced by E.coli O157:H7. It killed 17 people in the outbreak centred on Wishaw in central Scotland in 1996, still a world record for lethality. My involvement in attempts to stop a repeat led to an invitation to visit the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. Security was impressive. The heavily armed welcome at the gate left an abiding memory. It is reasonable to guess that the Russian chemical warfare facility at Shikhany is as well guarded. The notion that nasty substances of high purity could leave it without some kind of authorisation seems highly unlikely.
There’s a video online purportedly of the moment last night’s earthquake struck northern Chile. We’re in a small flat, maybe in Iquique. Women scream, a man keeps saying ‘It’ll pass, it’ll pass,’ as the mobile phone, presumably held by a heartless teenager, sways through rooms where everything is bouncing and falling off the walls. The noise is deafening. That’s what scared me most during my first quake, the huge one (magnitude 9.5) in Chile in 1960. I was too small to understand till much later how deadly it was. Apart from the racket – imagine every single object in the house coming to life, banging, sliding, rattling, creaking, and often crashing down – it was rather fun: tiles flying off the roof, the swimming pool slopping from side to side, the cook on her knees, imploring the Virgin at the top of her voice.
Twenty years ago, I spent a week working in one of Santiago’s poorest barrios. It was only three years since Pinochet had left office; people guardedly expressed a mixture of relief, anger and continuing apprehension. At the end of the week I was invited to a middle-class wedding in Valparaíso. Talking to the bride’s aunt, I incautiously referred to the country's having emerged from dictatorship. She took a step backwards. ‘Dictatorship?' she said loudly. Everyone turned to look at us. 'Dictatorship? There has never been a dictatorship in this country, only firm government.'
From Christopher Hitchens's review of Andy Beckett's Pinochet in Piccadilly, published in the LRB in July 2002: For many people including myself, 11 September has long been a date of mourning and rage. On that day in 1973, lethal aircraft flew low over a major city and destroyed a great symbolic building: the presidential palace in Santiago, known (because it had once been a mint) as La Moneda. Its constitutional occupant, Salvador Allende, could perhaps have bargained to save his own life, but elected not to do so.