September 11 in Chile

11 September 2006
12:24 PM

For decades before September 11 was a day in infamy in the United States, it was in Chile for a different reason. In 1970, socialist Salvador Allende became the democratically-elected president of Chile by a narrow margin. His presidency lasted until September 11, 1973, when he died during a military coup, (though it is not known whether he was killed during the attack or whether he committed suicide). That coup, which lead to Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, is linked in Chilean minds with September 11.

Nowadays, for reasons beyond my complete comprehension, young people riot in the streets every year on September 11. Yesterday, riot control buses and trucks with water cannons patrolled the streets. In the evening, some kids lit bonfires on Grecia, a main street a few blocks away from the Santiago associate house, and started throwing rocks at passing cars. Before long, the police showed up with riot gear to defuse the situation. The power for the entire street went out with a bright blue flash when the power lines were short-circuited. I saw some of the scene from a distance, but I returned home after I got a good whiff of tear gas.

This morning as I walked to the subway, I saw the charred remnants of a bonfire on another nearby street, Los Orientales. I’m leaving town tonight and returning to the countryside where demonstrations are less common—I don’t think there is the student population to support them in Calle Larga. Fortunately safety here or there isn’t a major issue because it’s easy enough to stay out of harm’s way: don’t go out at night when it’s dark. Come September 12 the riots will have come and gone.

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