“Chile is living through a period of transition ... it’s the transition to democracy, not democracy. There is currently no freedom of expression in Chile.”
—Ernesto Carmona, author “Los Dueños de Chile”
Investigative journalism in Chile? It might seem like a contradiction in terms, but television and print periodista Ernesto Carmona shows that investigative journalism is alive and well, though limited in scope, in post-Augusto Pinochet Chile.
Carmona has written a new book, “Los Dueños de Chile” (“The Owners of Chile”), a study of the 100 wealthiest Chilean citizens. The book teases out, in great detail, the hows and whys of the 100 who, out of a population of 15.4 million, have come to be known as the owners of Chile. In some respects the book appears to be a Chilean equivalent to C. Wright Mills’ “The Power Elite” and G. William Domhoff’s “Who Rules America.” Although the 100 individuals and families possess most of the wealth in Chile, there are five among the super rich, including at least three billionaires, according to Carmona.
Carmona is on a speaking tour in the Bay Area, and on a recent gray Sunday he spoke with the Daily Planet in the offices of La Peña Cultural Center on Shattuck Avenue.
He talked about how he was exiled from the country for 18 years during the Pinochet era. He now runs a small publication, “La Huella” (“The Fingerprint”), in Santiago and relies solely on the cover price — the equivalent of about $1.50 — to support him and his tiny staff. Its monthly circulation of 10,000 is part of a nascent alternative press in a country with few alternative media outlets.
Carmona will speak in Berkeley at La Peña on Sunday and at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco on Wednesday. During his two-week stay in the area he also plans to speak at Sonoma State University and at San Francisco City College. He will also be a guest in Conn Hallinan’s journalism classes at UC Santa Cruz.
As Carmona began discussing Chilean politics and journalism his gestures became lively. The interview, which was conducted in Spanish, was translated by the reporter:
Is there a free press in Chile today?
“In fact, there is no freedom of expression in Chile and there are just two companies [El Mercurio and Copesa] that control the written word. Investigative journalism is done, but independently. ... Small papers with no advertisements do it.”
Why are you basing yourself in Berkeley on this book tour?
“I have been invited by the Chilean community here. There is a strong, active Chilean community in the Bay Area. In addition, I am working with Fernando Torres, the publicist here at La Peña, to open a center for investigative journalism in Santiago based on the Media Alliance and Media Watch models here.”
Berkeley is known for its politically left culture and ideas. What is the state of the Left in post-Salvador Allende Chile?
“There is no political force on the Left right now. I do not see a resurgence in the Left, I see a great crisis among progressives in Chile. The Socialist Party has turned into a European-style Social Democrat Party. It was a party born out of the urban workers movement and now it has taken the word ‘worker’ out of its current vocabulary ... similar to the Labor Party in England. There is no political force on the Left currently in Chile. What is going to surface [next election] is the Right with a leftist mask. What is emerging right now is populism ... a discourse on leftist ideas, but actual decision-making in favor of the Right. That’s what will happen in the next round of Chilean elections.
“What’s happened is that the country was robbed under the dictatorship and the problem is that the people forget this. In Bolivia and Ecuador there is a leftist resurgence ... and it is linked with indigenous movements. In Brazil, too, there has been a resurgence of the Left in the form of Lula, but that is all.”
Is there democracy in Chile?
“There is no democracy at this time in Chile ... There cannot be democracy when a high percentage of members in the Senate are appointed and not elected. Eight out of 50 senators are not elected.”
Why didn’t Chile support the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraq war?
“Chile never supported the United States in Iraq. It was a question of business. [President Roberto] Lagos and his people were going to support Bush, but the people of Chile were very much against it … Right, Center, everybody was against it … Chile has a free trade agreement with the European Union’s 15 countries.”
What would you like the American people to know about how we are affected by the fabulously wealthy people in Chile? What does this book, “The Owners of Chile,” have to offer?
“It’s important because it has much to do with what has happened in Chile. It’s very relevant to the role the United States played during the intervention of the government of Salvador Allende [1970-73]. That government was a constitutionally elected one, a legitimate one. I would like the American people to understand that the process of globalization of the economy permits and implies that the poor in our countries [Latin America] finance the well-being and quality of life for the wealthy countries with the only thing that we have, our natural resources. And they impose governments on us that facilitate that process.”
Ernesto Carmona speaks in Berkeley this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Ave., and at Modern Times Bookstore on Wednesday, May 14, at 888 Valencia St. in San Francisco.