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Chile, South America's Shining Model Now Covered In Sleaze

Chile used to pride itself as a South American answer to Germany, known for business and public integrity. Now a string of scandals have broken the public trust.

Santiago cityscape
Santiago cityscape
Carlos Escaffi


SANTIAGO — I remember a time in Chile when we were proud of the place of public life in our society: the separation of powers, public confidence in the administrative models established by our politicians. We also had faith in each other. A person's word had tremendous value. A deal was a deal. It would be honored.

Nowadays, the national panorama is dismally different. Bluntly put, nobody here trusts anyone anymore. Trust was extinguished by a series of deplorable incidents that have corroded our national soul. Too often now, we hear what used to be a rare phrase: "No te creo" (I don't believe you).

It seems everything today is considered questionable, or at least has various, even unreasonable, interpretations. The new normal is that anything goes, which is hardly surprising given all the political and business-world scandals going on and President Michelle Bachelet's feeble reactions to them.

She said of one incident (her son's shady real estate deal) that she only found out about it from the papers. In any case, the judiciary — nearly a year later — hasn't even begun formal investigations into the affair to find out who did what exactly. The reason, I imagine, is that they are already up to their necks investigating countless other murky transactions.

How could you expect society not to see everything in this country as flexible and "fixable" in one way or another, when collusion cases flourish and simmer like lava seeping out of a volcano — soon to erupt?

Rugby priorities

There are the revelations of anti-competitive practices involving Chile's main poultry firms. Drug stores are being investigated for colluding to raise prices maybe that's why we have more pharmacies now than liquor shops. The nation's proud shipping firms are being questioned as well. There's a price-fixing scam over liquefied gas that didn't start here, but may have involved at least one well-known national firm. And there's even evidence that companies conspired to boost the price of toilet paper!

What happened to our distinguished and at times generous businessmen? Where is the decency that characterized their dealings? Will they realize the damage such incidents do to Chile's reputation and our active participation in the OECD, the group of advanced, industrial states? There's also the harm done knowingly to Chilean consumers, who are being robbed. How much do we matter anymore?

One is mortified to see veteran lawmakers resort to ancient Greek sophistry to persuade us they have been telling the truth all along, that we have been getting a good deal and should just carry on. We the people think otherwise. Regular citizens, regardless of their political leanings, are fed up and no longer believe in the politicians.

Three months ago, when Chile got whalloped by yet another major earthquake, the senator from the hardest hit area skipped town because he had tickets to a rugby match. In England! And they wonder why we're no longer convinced when they say things like, "I know how you feel."

If our politicians really want to help, they should make space for new political blood, for ordinary people without formal party affiliations or interests, people motivated only by a desire to serve Chile. It may sound romantic, but there's nothing wrong with believing there can be a better future. And believing again in each other.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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