Privatization and the Crisis of Bus Drivers in Santiago

Early in the morning of June 2nd, 2014, Marco Antonio Cuadra walked into a bus depot as he had done for his preceding 25 years as a bus driver in Chile’s sprawling capital city. This morning, however, instead of setting out to cover his routes across Santiago, he doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire, shouting, “This is for the workers! Let it mark a precedent!”  By the time his coworkers grabbed fire extinguishers from their buses and doused the flames, 90% of his body had been severely burned. Waiting for an ambulance to arrive, one of the drivers asked Cuadra why he taken such drastic action. The pained response (as seen in an extremely graphic video uploaded to Youtube): “For our coworkers – because of how [corporate managers] abuse us, how they don’t pay our wages, and how they fire union leaders, but nobody complains. ¿Hasta cuándo?”

Two weeks earlier, Veolia, through its Transdev branch and Chilean subsidiary Redbus, had initiated the firing of Cuadra, a leader of Redbus Union 2. The company claimed he and the treasurer of the Union failed to fulfill “the obligations expressly indicated in their work contract.” Other employees dispute this claim and note that Veolia/Redbus, a private operator for the public Transantiago/Metropolitan Public Transport Directorate, initiated the firing three days before employees were set to present a new collective bargaining plan.

The ambulance took Cuadra to Santiago’s main hospital where he underwent a series of amputations and surgeries as his organs progressively failed over the coming weeks. His wife shared her thoughts in an interview:

A memorial for Marco Cuadra in Central Santiago (picture from Laurel Paget-Seekins)

A memorial for Marco Cuadra in Central Santiago (picture from Laurel Paget-Seekins)

He was distraught because of all the injustice. He was enraged when he saw how [Veolia/Redbus] made the older drivers, and the workers in general, work very late, how the company didn’t respect them, and how they had to use diapers because of the lack of bathrooms and the length of the routes… I pray to God that he’ll come through this so he can tell me what really happened. What I think now, based on what I saw and what his coworkers have told me, is that it was a result of utter frustration, the most extreme frustration that a human being can take.

On June 27, twenty-five days after his act of desperation, Cuadra died from his injuries.
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Surfing Pichicuy and Cachagua

Pictures from a Saturday at two beaches in Chile –

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Andean Skiing Attempt

After being in Chile for a third winter, I finally made a ski trip. The scenery, including great clouds and a view through the smog to Santiago down below, made the trip well worth it, even if my attempts at skiing didn’t. Though somehow, video footage of my numerous wipeouts mysteriously disappeared.

Santiago Timelapse

Above is a timelapse compilation of Santiago I put together from my last trip there.

It doesn’t reach the aesthetic quality of one of my favorite parts of (the otherwise rather crass) movie, Que Pena tu Vida, below. But maybe it still gets across a small glimpse of Santiago’s beauty.
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Mountain Biking in Santiago

Exploring some of the trails around Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago’s Metropolitan Park. The new Sunday Ciclorecreovias have free mountain bikes available to borrow, so I had to try one out.

Sunrise over the Andes

Three quick stop-motion sequences and a video from my arrival into Santiago one month ago:

September 11, Santiago, Sarin, and Syria

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What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way? – President Obama

If only this rhetorical question were truly a contrafactual. In fact, not only do we know a world in which the US government looks the other way from dictators using chemical weapons, we live in a world shaped partly by the US government’s long history of actively supporting such dictators. For President Obama to make some of these claims about the exceptional moral authority of the United States on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the coup against President Allende in Chile struck me as especially hypocritical.

More thoughts on President Obama’s take on Syria from an article entitled “Hypocrite in Chief:”

Of the numberless hypocrisies of the administration, this one is particularly crude. The White House claims to need to punish Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime for the unproven use of chemical weapons (sarin) in Ghouta. Not only does this atrocity, committed by unidentified actors in a civil, ethnic, sectarian, and proxy conflict within Syria, somehow make Syria a national security threat to the United States, but it also suggests we deplore the use of chemical weapons. Neither is remotely true.

During the Pinochet Dictatorship in Chile, paid CIA contacts and graduates of the School of the Americas led DINA, the Chilean National Intelligence Directorate notorious for kidnapping and torture. In my trips to Chile, I have visited a number of the secret detention centers where DINA tortured and killed thousands during the dictatorship. In addition to perpetrating gruesome acts of torture, DINA agents also oversaw the manufacture and use of sarin, botulism, and other chemical agents.
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Paso Los Libertadores and Mendoza

Pictures from last year’s trip over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza. It was probably the second most scenic bus ride I’ve taken (first place goes to the Cardinal Samore pass)

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