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Mr. Alarcon is traveling in South America. Below you'll find a note he sent to people recently. His story collection, War by Candlelight, comes out soon. An archive of links to previous notes is below. More notes will appear here every other 
day for a while.


January 29, 2005

Radio Cooperativa is the most popular radio station in Santiago, and also the most respected. During the dictatorship it was the one that bent the least to Pinochet’s politics, the one that many on the left counted on. So it was an honor to be able to sit on on
their afternoon news program on Friday. It was as frenetic as I had expected and hoped: fast paced, funny, full of strange juxtapositions: interviews with Ministers, amused discussions of the controversy surrounding the sexuality of Bob Esponja (Sponge Bob), analysis of the upcoming match with Venezuela (must-win), etc. The big news of the day however was the sentencing of the former heads of Intelligence, former Generals who back in the day put the “dirty” in “Dirty War.” One General was sentenced to life in prison, other prison terms ranged from 5 to 15 years. All of this regards the disappearance in 1975 of a 26 year old tailor, member of the MIR, named Miguel Angel Sandoval. The conviction is pretty groundbreaking and involves a macabre bit of legal creativity: because there is no body, (mass grave, or tossed out to sea) the men were all charged with and convicted of a new crime called “permanent kidnapping.” 

One of the convicted men, General Manuel Contreras refused to be taken to the Superior Court to hear his sentence, and there was a seven-hour stand-off with tense negotiations. The former General told gathered television cameras he was prepared to die, and in fact, he did draw a black handgun from his desk drawer, at which point the police disarmed him, handcuffed him, and dragged into a police van. His family fought the cops, and one of his daughters fainted. Contreras was met at court by a crowd of 300 protesters, family members of other Pinochet victims, who pelted him with rotten fruit, trash, and shouted insults. Many had been waiting all morning for him.

At Cooperativa, the announcers were giddy. The details of the day’s events were analyzed exhaustively, one newscaster speculating gleefully about the nature of a stain in the General’s crotch area when he was taken to court. It was remarkable. And while the image of a former torturer and killer pissing himself is not in itself cause for celebration, that this man is being sent to prison is astonishing to me. I’m basically in awe of Chile right now. It gives one hope in the rule of law, in overused (and often misused) words like justice, democracy, etc. One day perhaps Donald Rumsfeld will wet his pants on the way to prison.

On Thursday night I met a screenwriter named Ignacio who’s working on a script called “Pinochet Boys” about the punk scene in Santiago in the last days of the dictatorship. We talked about script writing, story telling, he told me about his dealings with seventy year old Cuban script doctor who was flown in from Havana. Late in the evening, after many many drinks, Ignacio turned to me and slurred, “Enough of the bullshit, what do you think of my country?” This was pretty shocking, but I told him the truth, that I thought Chile was pretty great, and for some reason I brought up what my uncle had said about how Chileans should apologize to us. I’m not sure what I hoped to gain from this. Ignacio nodded and drew my attention to a painting on the far wall of the restaurant, the size of highway billboard, that I had somehow not noticed. Rather classical, it was of a battle scene, with some Chilean soldiers planting a flag in the earth, and at the bottom, a ditch littered with the bodies of half dozen or so Peruvian soldiers. I asked him why he was showing me this, and Ignacio said, rather vaguely, “Context.”

He went on to say that he was tired of being blamed for Peru and especially for Bolivia’s problems, that if we hadn’t gotten our shit together in 120 years it was our own damn fault. He’s right of course. We should be filthy rich, given our natural resources. It’s also true that Bolivian politicians get a lot of mileage out of throwing around anti-Chilean rhetoric, and in Peru, our newest guerilla movement, the Etno-Caceristas, advocate the destruction of Chile along with the extermination of all Peruvian white people. Sadly, they have an approval rating of more than 25%, according to a recent poll. 


Check back Wednesday for another note -- 
a tale of warning for the prolific, as well
as some sound poetry advice

Previous notes, from first to last:

Buenos Aires, Montevideo, & Colonia

Las Cañas & Gualeguaychu

Steak & Pizza

[Forever after at]


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