Sunday, 13 December 2009

Chile: Election Sunday Round-Up

Numerous bloggers with more Chile-specific knowledge than me will doubtless be following today's elections.

My attention was caught by an article in the New York Times about the reluctance of young Chileans to vote.
Just 9.2 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds are registered to vote on Sunday, the lowest number for a presidential election since democracy was restored in 1990
That really is an amazing low figure. The article identifies a series of interconnected reasons for young people's rejection of the electoral system.
I hope that 9 percent becomes zero percent,” said Gonzalo Castillo, an 18-year-old history major at the University of Chile, who said he refused to register. “All the candidates represent the interests of the oligarchy, of big business interests.”

Chile’s young people say they are frustrated by a system that requires anyone who registers to cast votes for the rest of their lives, and slaps a fine on those who do not. They say the system, set up under General Pinochet, limits their freedom of expression and discourages them from registering.

But the younger generation is also deeply apathetic about traditional politics in general, and fiercely independent of the issues that concern their parents, most of whom lived through the dictatorship.

“Chile’s youth today see political discourse as the language of their parents, not as their language,” said Juan Eduardo Fa├║ndez, the director of the National Youth Institute. “These are the children of democracy, and they have other options and other demands of Chilean society, and of the political class.”

As the article points out, young Chileans will engage with political issues which they feel affected by - but using methods such as public protest, not by voting. This is an interesting legacy of the dictatorship; simplistically, one might expect the population to have an enthusiasm for the democratic process fostered by the length of time it was denied to them, but this is not exactly how it works. Susana Kaiser's book Postmemories of Terror, for which the author interviewed many young Argentines who were too young to remember the dictatorship personally, revealed a similar reticence to engage with the political system. Aside from activists who had strong personal connections to victims of the regime, such as members of HIJOS, many young Argentines were uninterested in party politics, vague about the exact causes of political repression, and still felt inhibited by the belief of their parents that political involvement could be dangerous. For both countries, the lack of engagement of younger generations could pose a serious challenge in coming years.

Chile's 'Children of Democracy' Sitting Out Presidential Election (NY Times)

In other news, exhumations of mass graves may shed light on the death of a British-Chilean priest in 1973.

Woodward died at the Valparaiso naval hospital on September 22. The official cause of his death was “cardio-respiratory arrest.” But this official version has always been contested, with his family insisting that the priest died as a result of torture.


Witness reports claim that Woodward was beaten and repeatedly dunked in a swimming pool until he suffocated. He was taken to the Esmeralda, which was then be used to hold political opponents of the military regime, where attempts were made to revive him. His body was then buried anonymously in a mass grave with other victims.

Search for remains of British priest killed when[sic] 1973 coup (Mercopress)

The international media has picked up on the story of the six arrests in connection with the death of former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, whose son is a candidate in today's elections. Frei senior was originally said to have died of natural causes, but it now seems that he was poisoned.

Pinochet's other victim (Guardian)
6 Arrested for Murder of Former Chilean President (Impunity Watch)
Chile judge charges six over ex-president's 1982 death (BBC)

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