On this day in 1879, the Chilean Navy lost the battle of Iquique to Peru. The Chilean Navy regrouped, learnt from their mistakes and eventually won the war. They commemorate this day with military marching, fanfare and processions.
We went down early in the day but couldn’t get close enough to Plaza Sotomayor to see all the military units parading before the President. We did however manage to buy some patriotic flags complete with pinwheels. We were about three hours too early for the march so we headed back home. We had been advised that the best way to see the procession is to either be seven feet tall or have a front row seat and watch it on TV. We chose the latter.
Since 1926 today has also been the same day that the Chilean President addresses Congress. At one end of town we had a parade, at the other end we had a protest. Thanks to our TV we were able to be in both ends of Valpo at once. High leg kick marching on one channel and people throwing rocks at riot police on the other. We’ve been told that this level of protest is uncommon but with two protests in one week we’re being cautious of large crowds. We even saw our first real, men in black suits with ear piece and Matrix like sunglasses talking into their wrist, Presidential body guards. Just like Hollywood but with a different accent.
The Chilean government has just given the green light to the Hydroaysén project which would see five dams built in Patagonia and about 6,000 acres flooded to generate hydroelectricity. Chile is facing an energy crisis and with the recent events in Japan many people are strongly opposed to nuclear power plants being built here. We believe that the need for electricity should be approached from the other end of the equation. Instead of trying to create more ways to produce power we should be looking at ways to reduce our consumption. It would be a great shame to see so much wilderness destroyed.
Patagonia is an environmentally sensitive area overflowing with natural beauty and many people are opposed to the idea of spoiling it for the sake of hydroelectricity. This, plus students wanting more money spent on public education, was the cause of today’s protest.
The parade is a big event and numerous vendors appeared with paper sailor’s hats, balloons, Barney the Dinosaur riding a bike (I still can’t work out the significance of this but we see them at every event) and other snack merchants.
The police presence at Plaza Anabel Pinto, the plaza we walk through to get to the Plan, incuded ten riot police with dogs and a tear gas canister on their hip as well as standard police. The dogs get to wear their own flack jackets.