Valparaiso (Santiago) Chile
March 3, 2012
We arrived at Chile’s busiest port, rested and ready to visit Santiago. We boarded our bus for the 2 hour trip to Santiago. This part of Chile is very similar to California. Traveling though two rich valleys, we encountered farms with many crops. Also several vineyards producing red and white wines from the area. The Casablanca valley was the first valley over the hill from Valparaiso. This valley produced mostly white wine grapes, seedless grapes for export, as well as many other crops. We crossed the northern Maule River valley, which like our central California valley, ran north and south for many miles in central Chile. You name it, it grows there. This valley is a very important economic region with many of the fine red and white wines produced there.
Santiago is a city of 6 million people. Of course it has a rich history and is the economic center of Chile as well as the capitol.
One interesting note is that the legislature is located in Valparaiso and the Presidential Palace is located in Santiago. Every 48 hours there is the ceremonial changing of the palace guards. It was quite a show. Unfortunately, we did not get to see all of it. Just a glance from our bus window.
We toured the city on the bus with our guide pointing out many of the areas. The older downtown area, of course had the historical sights. We eventually stopped at Constitution Plaza where the Presidential Palace is located. Our guide was very informative about the history here. He briefly explained the various memorials. He even pointed out the roof tops where loyalists of Allende fought the military trying to defeat the coup as the Presidential Palace was being bombed by the military. This is where the military coup of Pinochet took place (9/11/1973) ousting Allende who committed suicide in the palace. Allende had nationalized the copper mines and had aligned the government with Cuba and the USSR. It was a very controversial time in Chile’s history. Augusto Pinochet was the leader of the military coup and later declared himself the head of the junta. Many people disappeared and /or were executed during Pinochet’s rule. Many violations of human rights were reported.
On 9/11/1980, General Pinochet was declared President for an eight year term. During this eight year period, tight rule was gradually reformed and the economic situation improved by the reforms of the “Chicago Boys”, a group of economists trained or influenced by the University of Chicago professors. Slowly the economy improved. Pinochet was denied a second 8 year term and in 1989, Patricio Aylwin’s coalition started a period of transition into a democracy and the economy has stabilized. In 2006, Chile elected the first woman President Michelle Bachelet. Politics in Chile is a hot topic as the country is still divided along liberal and conservative lines. There is no statue of Pinochet in the plaza as some fear it would be destroyed.
Out tour of Santiago continued on to the southern end, or the new civic center. Here you will find the upper middle class and the elite. Shops of all kinds plus new homes and condominiums. Santiago’s largest park is here which includes a ski area. We stopped and had a delicious meal here. The affluent of Santiago live in this area.
After lunch we returned back through the city and through the rich agricultural valleys. Back to Valparaiso where our ship was docked. A very enjoyable and educational day for me. Standing in the Presidential plaza gave me a new perspective on what happened here nearly 40 years ago. Ironically, the historic dates were mostly “9/11/xxxx”.