Two Extremes

Blogger Trevor Zalkind identifies the many aspects of polarization in Chile

As a circle of bohemians chant and pound on the drums in the Calama, Chile, airport, I purse my chapped lips and reach for my 1.6-liter water bottle. Chile’s Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world situated in the northern part of the country, has left its mark on me — mainly in the form of dehydration and sunburn. After a long weekend of mountain biking, swimming in salt lakes and taking in the vast dryness of salt flats, I couldn’t wait to get back to the central region of Santiago and regain all of my water weight.

Just a week earlier I was in the same situation (waiting in an airport), in the same country, but in a completely different environment. Temuco, in the southern region of Araucania, hosts a wide array of water sources, ranging from waterfalls to long lakes. Additionally, rain during nearly the entire weekend dashed my plans of climbing the snow-capped volcano Villarica. Depressed as a result of the bleak weather and my inability to conquer another mountain, I similarly hoped for the sunlight and moderate, dry weather of Santiago.

Chile has practically every type of climate, especially if you include their claims on Antarctica. Yet the polarity of climate is not the only source of polarization found in the country.

After boarding my flight from Temuco, I felt a tap on my shoulder from my program director. My eyes pulled away from the time-killing airline magazine and followed his pointing arm toward a man dressed in an argyle sweater. Pablo Longueira, a prominent ultra-conservative political figure in Chile, was four rows in front of us.

Longueira is quoted as saying that he prayed to the spirit of Jaime Guzman, the brains behind the Pinochet dictatorship who apparently spoke to Longueira from the dead. Longueira’s close ties to Pinochet have also come forth in various statements by Pinochet’s daughter and grandson. He has actively fought against justice for those imprisoned, tortured, and disappeared by the Pinochet regime. According to an article from Chilean news source The Clinic, in 1986, he led a protest against Senator Ted Kennedy when Kennedy visited Chile because Kennedy was there to support defenders of human rights.

My program director was a political prisoner around the same time period that Longueira led his protest. I was baffled that in Chile, current day, there still existed such a stark divide among its people, hidden in plain sight. Even in the most recent presidential election, current President Michelle Bachelet, who was detained and tortured with her Allende-supporting father, ran against the daughter of an Air Force colonel under Pinochet.

Now, writing a blog post in Santiago, I have a nose bleed. I suppose it is a result of the dramatic changes in climate between desert and temperate rainforest. But this amount of blood is miniscule compared to the bloodshed in Chile’s recent past—another battle between two (ideological) extremes. Chile is a place divided, trying to piece itself back together. And with such hidden cracks among the people, one can only hope for the best.


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