Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Chile: Controversy over street name change

There is a political dispute in Chile over proposals to change the name of a street currently called Avenida 11 de septiembre in commemoration of the coup which brought Pinochet to power.

The avenue is located in Providencia, greater Santiago, and local mayor Josefa Errázuriz wants to return it to "Nueva Providencia", the name it held until 1980. A council vote on the issue was supposed to take place yesterday.

However, Manuel José Monckeberg from the Renovación Nacional (RN) party - to which president Sebastián Piñera also belongs - objected to the move. He called for a citizens' consultation before the vote.

One of the objections is apparently the administrative costs to businesses of a change of address. On the other hand, 600 people recently signed a petition in favour of the switch.

As it turned out, the vote did not take place yesterday since the opposing councillors, Monckeberg and three others, decided not to turn up and thus quorum was not reached. The vote may now be rescheduled. Errázuriz called on the absent councillors to "show their faces". Rodrigo García Márquez (Partido por la democracia, PPD) criticised his colleagues as well. He also responded to Pilar Cruz, who had said that changing a street name would not "wipe out history".

"The 11th of September was a painful day for Chile, it is a date which marks the most tragic day in the whole of the 20th century. There was no other political, social, or human act more dramatic in all the 20th century than the 11th September 1973, only comparable with the civil war of '91, in the 19th century," said García. He added, "I believe having one of the main streets of an important area like Providencia with this name is abusing the pain of a lot of people who lived through those years and above all the relatives of the victims who are no longer with us."

I would agree with García. Of course, you could argue that changing the name is like trying to pretend the past never happened, but I would disagree with that. A country uses its street names to commemorate worthy people and events. They are not neutral. They are part of the image of a place and make a statement about its values. Merely being well-known does not get you a street; that's why your average serial killer does not have anywhere named after him. Commemoration of traumatic events takes place differently.

Incidentally, quite a lot of the streets where I live in Germany are named after prominent people and under the street name is a small plaque explaining who the person was (like this one). I think this is really great idea and you could imagine something similar in this case, with an explanation of the previous name and why it was changed.

Providencia cita a concejo por cambio de nombre de Av. 11 de Septiembre (La Tercera)
Av. 11 de septiembre: no se vota cambio por falta de quórum (Terra)
Concejal PPD de Providencia refutó actitud "indecorosa" de sus pares de la Alianza (

Thanks to Setty for pointing out this story. See here for more discussion of street name changes in Argentina.

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