Santiago de Chile
11 December 2019
Demonstrations in Santiago – the current state
At the centre of Santiago is Moneda Palace. The office of the president of the republic, it is monolithic in its grandeur with simple façade and neo-classical scale. The palace was shelled by General Pinochet’s forces at the time of the coup d’etat against Salvador Allende, who had remained inside. The palace is rich in history, but today, it is dwarfed by corporate banks, enclosed by barricades and generally inaccessible to the public.
We have entered Chile at a time of political groundswell and uncertainty. How will it end? We haven’t seen this many people, young and old, so politically motivated and mobilised as this. We were reminded of the Cuban revolution, and thought about how, since the loss of the Spanish Crown, countries throughout Latin America have suffered from a perceived lack of legitimate authority – except in Cuba.
Everywhere in the central part of the city there were graffitied shuttered shops and buildings (including a burnt and deserted Crown Plaza) and political slogans encouraging Chile to rise up, and warning against tyranny and torture. There were many references to torture. On the first night we walked towards Italia Plaza by the Mapocho River, but with the swelling crowd of masked protestors we decided to leave when the paramilitary police stepped up the action and we caught a display of water cannon and riot control. Time to go!
The next day we retraced our steps. The same square, covered in dust, was almost deserted. But the statues were covered in slogans and the heads and cases draped with face masks and bandanas. The head of a general’s horse was covered in a yellow sack. There were no police or army, and it felt as though the government had tactically given up pockets of the city in a hand-to-hand and long-term fight between government and people. Perhaps the heart of the problem lies back at the presidential palace, constrained by the towering banks?
Pre-Columbian Art in Santiago
The Pre-Columbian Museum is housed in the former Spanish-colonial Mint opposite the judiciary buildings in the centre of Santiago. Downstairs is an ultra-modern black spot-lit gallery – “Chile before Chile” – where exceptional indigenous artefacts down the length of Chile are preserved. These include fabulous examples of native weaves, pottery and jewellery. We were struck by a number of items:
o Large wooden face monuments, that were mounted on graves. The Mapuche people who believed that – after death – chiefs and warriors went west, across the seas, and lived in paradise; everyone else went east over the mountains and ate bitter potatoes.
o Spiritual drums that are cross-patterned and used by spiritualists in chanting rhythms to bring forth spirits of the dead.
o Large, web-like knotted weaves that were used to record debits and credits in a society that did not have a written language. Finally, a system that’s easier that double entry accounting!
As you can see, many of the treasures are mostly ceremonial responses to death and grief, with a strong desire to maintain contact with ancestors through the ages. We were struck at how much this echoed with Balinese-Hindu beliefs, although artistically the cultures are very different.