Chile celebrates 200 years of independence

By 19 September, 2010

On September 18th Chile celebrated 200 years of independence from Spain, featuring fiestas, cultural events, and redevelopment. Sounds and Colours takes a look at the activities celebrating the anniversary and see how the west was won.

For these celebrations the Chilean government has made a conscious effort to touch as many different aspects of life as possible. Many projects were conceived and put into motion by the previous President, the socialist Michelle Bachelet and looked to build on the legacy of the progressive centennial celebrations in 1910, with the aim of creating a ‘bicentennial society.’

Twenty-four infrastructure projects and programmed of national scope have been set up including bringing internet to 3 million people at nearly 1,500 different locations across all the 13 regions of Chile.

A new city has been built on the land of a disused airfield south west of the capital Santiago featuring houses, facilities, open spaces and areas for exhibitions and cultural spaces. There will also be increased Government funding for Universities in an attempt to develop a knowledge-based economy. Following the success of the women’s Football World Cup in Chile last year football stadia have also been revamped along with new multi-sport community complexes across the country. Earlier this month Chile launched its first satellite into space. The Earth observation program will collect data relating to volcanoes and earthquakes, all too common phenomena in that part of the world.

It’s a long way from space project to ceremonial batons, but that is the journey Chile has undertaken in independence.

At the turn of the 1800s the entire world was in flux. The American and French Revolutions had ignited in people a sense of justice, but the wars that subsequently followed had draped the globe in uncertainty. Napoleon’s armies were wreaking havoc across Western Europe, and had penetrated Spain all the way down to Cadiz, capturing the King in the process.

This left a power vacuum at the top of Chilean affairs. Without a ruling monarch and following the death of the popular Governor Luis Munoz de Guzman continental wide tensions between los criollos (people born in the colonies, but of Spanish descent) and pennisulares (those born in Spain) began to flare as people in Chile began to take sides.

Some still loyal to the imprisoned King, feared the repercussions of the over use of power once the King was free.

Different factions among the Royalists sought the patronage of the young pretender Charlotte Joaquina, as a free relative of the captured Kings of Spain and Portugal, she saw an opportunity to lay claim to the territories of South America as the self styled Queen of La Planta. Many saw loyalty to her as a more practical measure than allegiance to the imprisoned monarch Ferdinand VII.

Completing the ensemble of belligerents were the Junistas, who favoured a military Junta, as a route to independence from Spain.

Facing pressure from all sides the new Governor called a Cabildo to discuss the country’s future. The Junistas engaged some cloak and dagger skullduggery using well-placed connections on the committee issuing the invites to ensure a large vocal presence inside the city hall.

As the meeting on the 18th September began the Governor was drowned out by the calls for a Junta. Overwhelmed, he lay down his ceremonial baton. The date is held to be the beginning of the Prima Junta, the first stage in the war for independence.

With Spain incapacitated, the Viceroy of Peru, acting in its stead launched a counter attack, regaining Chile in 1814.

After the defeat the revolutionary army fled to the newly independent Argentina, where it remained until 1817 when national hero Bernardo O’Higgins, and San Martin (the Simon Bolivar of South America) crossed the Andes and recaptured Santiago. An event that will be re-created as the Chilean Army convoy will again cross the Andes as part of the celebrations.

It’s not all been plain sailing since then. Chile’s economy has been beset by an over reliance on the export of raw materials, an issue highlighted recently by the 33 trapped miners in the San Jose mine, who will be unable to attend the celebrations.

Many South American countries are struggling to incorporate their native communities and Chile’s Mapuche, still feel they face modern colonialism, and there have been recent disputes over apparent ancestral lands being cleared for a hydroelectric dam, aswell as the fact that an ant-terrorism law, brought in by Pinochet, which treats the Mapuche people effectively as “terrorists” is still in effect (you can read more about that HERE).

During the 1970s the democratically elected Salvador Allende was over thrown by the CIA backed General Pinochet leading to the darkest period of Chile’s history with still undetermined numbers of political dissidents ‘disappearing’ and widespread torture in the country’s prisons.

In and attempt to help the countries come to terms with these dark days the country commissioned, and in February inaugurated, The Museum of Memory and Human Rights dedicated to commemoration and education of the disappearances, as well as chronicling similar abuses from around the globe.

However its not all serious societal reforms, and memories of the misdeeds of history, there will be room for a good old-fashioned fiesta, complete with a healthy serving of national fever. To this end the original Chilean flag, next to which the oath of independence was sworn, has been restored and will go on display in the capital where it will be joined by the newest recruit. This new 18 meter wide, 27 meter long flag (about the size of your local swimming pool) will be flown from a 61 meter, 50 tone mast. That is some serious national pride!

Cultural festivals will also be held in plazas around the country. And the tradition of painting houses in time for national celebrations will also be upheld, with thousands of homes having received a lick of paint before Saturday.

To many outward patriotism has become outdated in the 21st Century, often becoming confused, on both sides, with its negative cousin nationalism and its associated bigotry and self-importance. But this celebration has been used as an excuse “to get things done that needed to be done” according to Elizabeth Lira, who is on the advisory committee. There is a desire to make Chile a better place after this anniversary than before it.

With horror of the earthquake earlier this year, followed by the mine collapse, Chile could really do with a good pick me up, lets hope they don’t have to wait another 100 years for an excuse to have another party.

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