Chile: Earthquake in Chile

The catastrophe reveals the precariousness of the Chilean state and the capitalist model presented as ‘very successful’.

The earthquake of 27 February revealed the inefficiency of the Chilean state and its inability to respond to a major catastrophe. The state apparently does not even have an alternative system of communications, a ‘back-up’ system of satellite telephone or radio for example, and shows that all the arrogance of the ruling elite on the superiority of the neo-liberal system prevailing in the country has no basis in reality.

The attempt to solve or alleviate some of the most urgent problems facing broad layers of the population following the earthquake has been extremely slow and inefficient. Today, the poorest sectors have no access to food, unlike the wealthiest people who have warehouses or cellars with food in their houses. Most people live on a day-to-day basis, with food for one or two days.

This is just another example of the unequal distribution of income in this country, where a tiny minority is swimming in abundance, while the vast majority lives in abject poverty and high indebtedness.

The lack of electricity and water helps to demonstrate the inefficiency of the system, since water entrepreneurs are not doing anything to distribute this vital commodity, because the distribution would not get through their meters and then they wouldn’t be able to charge people, despite their unfortunate situation.

The lack of food and water has led people into a hopeless situation. Nobody wants to see one’s children crying from hunger or thirst; this is what has led people to enter supermarkets by force in order to get food, vital for their subsistence and their families.

The lack of food and water has led people into a hopeless situation.

Social decay

The desperation of the earthquake’s victims, with no food and water, with supermarkets closed, and in addition, without cash (remember that even if you have money in the bank, you cannot withdraw it in many cities); but also acts of vandalism, such as robbery and looting against homes of working families and small businesses in popular neighbourhoods, show the severity of the social fracture in Chilean society today, with one of the most unequal distributions of income in the world. Besides emotional acts of solidarity, social decay and individualism, promoted by the brutal Chilean capitalist model, have dramatically increased.

The authorities are more concerned to show off than to provide solutions

While of course, delinquents are using this situation to loot and to steal electronic equipment or appliances, the authorities are using this situation to their advantage, masking their inability to provide real and concrete solutions for the population. It is easier for them to blame a few delinquents and order repression.

None of this would have happened if the authorities and supermarket bosses had delivered food in an orderly fashion to the population in need. Unfortunately, the ambition of the bosses is greater; they are worsening the despair, by further raising the prices of food and basic necessities.

The bosses are worsening the despair, by further raising the prices of food and basic necessities.

According to Bachelet, there wouldn’t be any tsunami

The fishing creeks and tourist towns along the coast are devastated. A tsunami followed the earthquake. However, President Bachelet announced on the radio that, according to specialized monitoring services of the navy, there was no danger of any tsunami.

Given the following embarrassment, the Defence Minister, in a public statement, blamed the Army for the mistake, but the latter leaked the document that had been sent, which warned of the danger of tsunamis.

In general, there are many stories to tell about the reaction of neighbours, policemen and local fire-fighters, who called for the evacuation of coastal towns to high areas, had the good sense not to listen to the government and ignored the official advice; these acts saved the lives of thousands of people. Apparently, the government was more concerned about presenting an image of tranquillity, underplaying the seriousness of what was happening. This was probably responsible for many deaths.

President Michelle Bachelet and future President Sebastián Piñera have spent their time making helicopter flights and being seen on television, but are not doing anything concrete, while fire-fighters and rescue specialists with dogs had to wait more than 24 hours before moving to the most affected cities, to rescue victims from the buildings which had collapsed because of the earthquake.

Many governments of other countries quickly offered to send material aid, rescue services and specialised medical equipment, but the Chilean government arrogantly responded that it had sufficient resources of its own. It was only after many precious hours had been lost in the battle to rescue trapped people and supply collapsed hospitals that it became evident needs were exceeding the means available and the government agreed to accept foreign aid.

But even the available resources are not used properly. Equipment rescuers from the mining companies, located in the north of the country which was not affected by the earthquake, are still waiting for government instructions to assist disaster areas.

The unscrupulous construction businessmen are real criminals

The number of buildings and houses that have collapsed only serves to confirm what we always said about the lack of control over the construction of new buildings and the failure of ‘market rules’. As the President of the College of Architects, Patricio Gross, said: “No well-designed building should have fallen down or been severely affected with an eighth grade earthquake in Chile; this is a relatively common grade of earthquake.”

The lack of supervision has led to unscrupulous businessmen and criminals having constructed buildings well below the existing standards for a country that regularly suffers earthquakes. Julio Alegría, an academic from Talca University, was extremely clear when he said; “This is due to the withdrawal of the measures for controlling quality. We foresaw this, it was predictable and now the results are obvious. Chile did not pass the test.”

The least we can demand is that all these unscrupulous employers should go to prison and they must be fined equal or greater to all the scams that have been made. Facing the blatant failure and inability of the market to provide good quality housing, the construction sector must be nationalised under democratic control of workers and the communities, who must draw up a systematic plan for reconstruction. Nationalisation must be extended to the big supermarkets sector, in order to prevent private bosses profiting from the general despair, and to provide people in need with basic food supplies.

It is necessary to build solidarity and action committees in all affected areas

We, residents and neighbours, have to organise and demand real solutions, not only to the current emergency but also to long-term problems.

One of the first demands we have to ask for is the cancellation of the debts linked to all the houses severely damaged or unusable, together with assistance from the state for reconstruction, all with control and supervision from affected residents, together with social organisations of working people.

These committees should be used in the first instance to protect ourselves and to organise solidarity among all inhabitants from working-class areas. It is clear that, facing emergency, we must organise to defend our neighbourhoods.

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March 2010