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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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.

Buses of Santiago

After last week’s rant, now back to your regularly scheduled program.

An urban design and transportation engineering team from Santiago came up for a visit to MIT last week. Next fall, a joint MIT-PUC workshop will be focused on BRT corridor planning in the Boston area and for Transantiago. In anticipation, here are some photos from my visit to Santiago last summer:

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Cerro Santa Lucía

Pictures from the hill next to my summer (winter) apartment in Santiago:

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Student Protests in Chile


Students, many wearing signs displaying the debt they are incurring to pursue higher education, dance to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

Demonstrations earlier this year against HidroAysén piqued youth discontent about the Chilean government’s trending towards increased privatization. As winter approached in May and June, this discontent exploded into massive sit-ins and creative protests against profiteering in Chilean secondary and post-secondary education. Especially egregious were then Education Minister Joaquín Lavín’s attempts to funnel more government funds to his private universities. In three months of continuing demonstrations, charismatic young leaders have put forward a cogent critique of neoliberalism and the widening income gap in the country, and this critique has resonated widely with educators, healthcare workers, and labor unions. Students have been marching with many of these allies, and I found their creative messaging to be quite impressive. In late August, a national labor federation called a general strike, and 600,000 people are estimated to have participated in demonstrations during the two day strike. Even though national media has been working to turn public opinion against the demonstrators by focusing on the actions of a small contingent of violent troublemakers, President Piñera has felt widespread public pressure. He has made some significant concessions, but more seem inevitable as the popular movement continues to grow and he is forced to negotiate further with students.

Education Cartoon

Cartoon about educational privatization produced by architecture students from the Catholic University in Valparaíso (click on the image for an English translation)

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Buses of Maipú

Many of the bus routes in the southwest parts of Greater Santiago have been realigned with the recently opened extension of Metro Line 5.

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