Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Blue Moon

A lunar eclipse was observed in many places around the world last night, including Chile. Coinciding with the solstice (summer or winter, depending on your point of view/geography), I suspect that a Roman or Egyptian soothsayer would have reached some kind of conclusion, positive or negative, regarding the year to come. Or the year just ended.

In fact, in modern times we do something similar. Every year at around this time year-end reviews begin to appear. The Economist published a much-awaited (at least by geeks like me) The World In..... issue, which does its best to reduce predictions to political responsible generalities.

In Chile, we are not immune to this festival of nostalgia/divination. And if we look at the year that is ending, by most accounts, the Chilean versions of these analyses will conclude that 2010 was pretty awful. It began in January with the second round of the presidential election (which, depending on one's point of view, was either fantastic or awful, although these days it is hard to find anyone who will admit to it having been an awful result). Then came the earthquake, the World Cup, the miners' accident, the Bicentenary, the miners' rescue, the prison fire and resulting deaths. In between, the usual noise caused by the President's 21 May speech, the Teletón, and other yearly rituals.

Chileans do not tend to look on the bright side, but one could. The earthquake was far less lethal than it could have been, and Santiago suffered relatively little (downside: the reconstruction has been slow and inefficient, resulting in this week's political dogfight between the government and the opposition). The World Cup was a much needed release from the seismic tension of the preceding months (downside: Chile discovered the genius of Bielsa, turned him into the biggest Argentine national hero since San Martin, and then due to politics and in-fighting, managed to lose him). The mining disaster, or rather, rescue, was a PR bonanza for Chile and its government (downside: no one remembers the miners, and much less the issue of workplace safety). The Bicentenary was muted and classy, not an ostentatious and expensive show (downside: it was a missed opportunity for an imaginative, nation-wide project in the arts, in infrastructure, in something that would last). The prison fire has no upside.

All this hyperactivity on the national scene has given both government and opposition some breathing space. The Concertación has tried to regroup, but it has a long way to go, and bets are still off on whether it will actually survive in its current form. And the government has got away with a series of mistakes whilst the (favourable) press looked the other way.

Meanwhile the economy, buoyed by the high price of copper and Chileans replacing their earthquake-affected TVs, zoomed right along. The (favourable) media ignores the possibility of Dutch disease, of the economy overheating, of the total lack of creativity in terms of development policy, of the creeping privatisation of (what's left of public) health care and education, and fiscal deficits (Bachelet had deficits to finance one of the world's largest (in relative terms) stimulus packages; not to finance spending with 5.5% growth rates).

Since Chileans are drowning their sorrows in consumer spending, they do not seem particularly gloomy. But they are exhausted. Comments on Twitter are all about hoping that 2010 ends soon. One person wondered whether it would be possible to just slice the last two weeks off the year and get it over with. So even though last night's moon was red, the year in Chile really ends with a colour much closer to blue

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