Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Filed at 8:34 p.m. ET
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Raul Alfonsin, who guided Argentina's return to democracy in the 1980s after seven years of brutal military rule but failed to stave off a deep economic crisis, died Tuesday of lung cancer. He was 82.
Alfonsin died at his home in Buenos Aires, said Dr. Alberto Sadler, who had been treating the former president.
Alfonsin was president from 1983 to 1989 and won international admiration for putting on trial and jailing the former military leaders who tortured and killed thousands of suspected leftists in a vicious "dirty war."
He had been a prominent opponent of the junta that took power in 1976 and his presidency restored respectability to a country regarded as a pariah after decades of coups and often thuggish rule.
"Whether you like it or not, you are a symbol of the return of democracy," President Cristina Fernandez said last year when she unveiled a bust of Alfonsin in the government palace.
Alfonsin won the 1983 presidential election after the military dictatorship collapsed, and six years later he completed Argentina's first transfer of power from one elected president to another in decades.
He survived three military uprisings against his rule, but his term ended ignominiously when his centrist Radical Party, discredited for its handling of an economic crisis, was crushed at the ballot box by Peronist leader Carlos Menem. Alfonsin stepped down six months early with the economy in tatters.
"No president has the right to endlessly demand sacrifices from his people," a devastated Alfonsin told Argentines by television as he stepped down.
In the last part of his presidency, inflation hit a record 200 percent per month, sparking supermarket lootings and angry strikes by Peronist-controlled labor unions.
The poverty rate more than doubled under his rule to above 25 percent, and the currency lost 95 percent of its value in four months.
Alfonsin's government struggled to pay a huge foreign debt partly accumulated by the military juntas and debt-ridden state enterprises. Economists blamed the chaos on his reluctance to impose harsh measures to close a huge public deficit.
Born on March 12, 1927, in Chascomus, a town 75 miles south of Buenos Aires, Alfonsin was the son of an affluent Spanish immigrant shopkeeper and his British wife. He went to military academy but then chose to study law.
An eloquent orator, he rose through the ranks of the Radical Party -- the traditional opposition to the powerful Peronists -- and was elected to the lower house of Congress in 1963.
A political activist from his teens, he was jailed three times, first by the government of President Juan Peron and later twice for protesting against the military government that ruled Argentina in the late 1960s.
Married and with six children, he was an influential human rights leader during the 1970s and under military rule he risked his life offering free legal services to present writs of habeas corpus for leftists abducted by security forces.
After taking office he made a bold step unprecedented in Latin America, ordering the trial of former military leaders.
Five were convicted and imprisoned for human rights crimes, and an official report estimated 11,000 people disappeared and died under the regime.
However, Alfonsin later signed a controversial decree to halt trials, under constant pressure from the military.
"I was convinced that we couldn't build democracy based on total immunity, but it was impossible to put 2,000 members of the military on trial. We didn't have any weapons," Alfonsin told Reuters in a 2006 interview.
Alfonsin remained influential during the 1990s, helping to forge an alliance between the Radicals and dissenting Peronists that led to a Radical winning the presidency in 1999.
But when the Radicals were disgraced during the 2000-2001 economic meltdown, Alfonsin distanced himself from the party he had belonged to for decades.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
To be honest it was particularly hard to leave Santiago. I love being in a city with all of the excitement and places to explore. I also love being able to get on a bus or the metro to go do things. I am a very independent person and I think cities afford me that independence. After three weeks of hanging out with other exchange students and Chileans I developed a picture of what my life would have been like in Santiago had I been placed there. Of course I have no regrets and am grateful for all the opportunities and amazing things I have experienced this year. I have learned a lot about myself.
Now on to the Radiohead concert. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun in a four-hour period. Kraftwerk , an electronic music band from the 70s, opened for Radiohead. I think it was a really good pairing of bands though it seems a little weird that a band that has been around so long and that achieved fame earlier would open for Radiohead. Kraftwerk played their hits (Autobahn, Computer World, RadioaktivitÃ¤t, Trans Europe Express, Musik Nonstop, Boing Boom Tschak). Radiohead then opened with 15 Step from In Rainbows. I can’t describe how excited I was to see Radiohead in concert, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a freshman in high school. I sang along with almost all of the songs. I went crazy when they played Paranoid Android, Idioteque, and 2+2=5. I started to lose my voice towards the end. I thnk it was me trying to do the Thom Yorke falsetto. I think I’m going to be one of the parents that shows their kids the records of their favorite band (in my case I’ll be showing my ipod) and tells stories about going to the concerts.
I should note that the concert was held at Estadio Nacional (National Stadium) where dissidents were killed during the military coup d’état of President Allende in 1973. I just watched The Black Pimpernel, a movie about the Swedish ambassador to Chile and they filmed a number of scenes at the gate where I entered the concert. The people running to get into the concert before everyone else looked eerily like the footage of the Chileans running to avoid the police brutality.
I'll leave you with the opening to the Radiohead Concert:
Saturday, March 14, 2009
My friend's host parents had this book in their house. "Chile: Yesterday and Today" is a coffee table book/anti-communist pro military government propaganda. On each spread there is a photo with a caption describing life "yesterday" under communism (usually death and destruction) and life "today" under the military (usually happy people strolling down the street).
Some highlights from my trip to Santiago, Chile:
- Taking the metro. Santiago has really good public transportation and a very clean/safe metro system that's very extensive. Unfortunately it takes me 2 hours to get from where I'm staying in Buin (a suburb of Santiago) to Barrio La Reina in Santiago.
- Cheap food and drinks. Sometimes 1/5 the price of Buenos Aires
- Cajon de Maipo. About an hour outside of Santiago in the mountains. Places to hike, hot springs, solitude.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
We left Gallegos around 12 and arrived in Calafte in the late afternoon. From Calafate we drove Lago Roca, about an hour away by dirt road. Lago Roca is pretty rural. There's a small lodge for tourists at the end of the road, a campground, and a camp owned by the Province of Santa Cruz. We stayed at the camp which is owned by the government and is free for residents. It has over 100 bunk beds in around 15 rooms. Visitors also have access to a communal kitchen and dining hall. Very nice. After we unpacked we went for a short 15 km roundtrip ride to the end of the dirt road. There we met two french tourists and I even was able to practice a little of my rusty french. On the way back we got stuck behind a skunk going down the road in the same direction. We kept a safe distance for about 5 minutes until it wondered off into the woods. When we got back Hugo made us homemade pizza.
The next morning we drove to the entrance of Parque Nacional de Los Glaciers. From the entrace we rode about 20 Km uphill into the wind to the Perito Merino Glacier. After eating lunch infront of the glacier we rode back (downhill with a tailwind). When we got back to the entrance Hugo prepared an asado (grilled steak).
On day 3 Hugo's Calafate friends met up with us at the camp and we rode the 60 Km from Lago Roca to Calafate. There were hardly any cars on the dirt road plus we had a tailwind and were going mostly downhill.
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