Friday, June 28, 2013

Chile Now: Rocking Santiago, Political Toponymy, and Visa Waivers

Today’s entry contains several Chilean-related topics, including one of the country’s historic rock bands, the continuing street name controversy in the Santiago borough of Providencia, and Chile’s pending participation in the US Visa Waiver Program.

Chile’s Rock Royalty, in Santiago
For those of us who enjoy rock music, Argentina has an flourishing rock nacional scene with artists like Charly García, Fito Páez and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Chile may better better known for its folk music, thanks to the legacy of Violeta Parra, Víctor Jara, Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún and others, but it does have a contemporary rock scene, thanks to groups like Los Tres and Lucybell. The most durable presence, though, has been Los Jaivas, founded in Viña del Mar in 1963; the video above shows an hour-plus performance at the Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar in 2011.
It’s hard to categorize Los Jaivas, but their closest counterpart in the English-speaking world might be Pink Floyd, but with strong folkloric influences. Though based in France, they tour Chile every year, and I managed to see them in 1999, when I also had the good fortune to meet keyboardist Claudio Parra (second from left in the photograph above) as I was purchasing tickets at Providencia’s Teatro Universidad de Chile. A modest and gracious person, he invited me backstage that night, where the band’s rapport with its fans was admirable – this is not a band of prima donnas. 
Now in their 50th year, Los Jaivas play this coming Sunday and Monday nights at downtown Santiago’s Teatro Municipal (pictured above), an impressive venue where I happen to have seen the only opera of my life and also a version of Man of La Mancha (semi-subversive when I saw it in the Pinochet years).  I won’t be in Santiago myself, but I encourage anyone there to see this landmark band in a landmark venue. Surprisingly, it will be the group’s first appearance on this prestigious stage.

Renaming the Streets
Recently I wrote about the pending name change in Santiago’s Avenida 11 de Septiembre, named for the date of General Augusto Pinochet’s coup against constitutional president Salvador Allende in 1973. Borough mayor Josefina Errázuriz pledged to change the name in her election campaign but, on Tuesday, her plan failed when four conservative councilmembers refused to attend a council meeting, denying her a quorum.

In the long run, the name may still change, perhaps when the politicians in question finally appreciate that even appearing to stand up for the dictatorship is toxic to their own political agenda – not just for Pinochet’s notorious human rights violations, but also for financial corruption that came to light after his arrest in London in 1998. With the four other councilmembers in favor of the change, the council will presumably meet to discuss the issue again on Tuesday, July 2. Should the dissident conservatives condescend to provide a quorum, Mayor Errázuriz could cast the deciding vote.

Visa Waiver Update
A couple weeks ago, several travel providers from southernmost Chilean Patagonia appeared at a promotional event in San Francisco: the official state agency Sernatur, the regional airline DAP Antártica, the regional cruise ship lines Cruceros Australis and Cruceros Skorpios, and Hotel Lago Grey and Hotel Remota. I also had a chance to speak with Rolando Ortega, the Chilean consul here, on the issue of his country’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program and the pending elimination of the US$160 “reciprocity fee” now required of US citizens traveling to Chile. While not at the top of the diplomatic food chain, he was able to inform me that “The topic is well underway, but there remain some administrative details. Certainly it will be ready toward year’s end or the beginning of 2014.”

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