Chilean Chronicles, Part 89: October Behind, November Ahead

Our journey just keeps expanding.

If September was about an unprecedented eruption of memory on the fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup followed by a week-long celebration of the nation’s independence, October was marked by journeys to countries and places we had never been.

We flew first to Rio for the Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

Traveling to Brazil was by itself a remarkable experience, and what struck me even more was being in a community of 1,300 investigative journalists from 90 countries around the planet.

It was like a wedding in which all of the guests loved to dig dirt on public officials, Four days of conversations begun and interrupted, but no one took offense.

Though these interactions I met colleagues whose work in countries where, as opposed to the United States, there are no laws requiring authorities to produce the information they request.

Journalists whose work in revealing the truth about what is happening are met with threats or blackmail.

Like a female journalist from Azerbaijan whose revelations of malfeasance by the president’s family prompted authorities to plant a hidden camera in her bedroom and record her intimate moments with her boyfriend.

Or a young woman from Iraq who conceals her identity to preserve her safety.

Or a new friend from Brazil who traveled up and down the nation’s borders to expose the trafficking and abuse of children.

Their dedication and courage and resilience moved and inspired me.

I returned from Rio to teach, but Dunreith continued to Brasilia, where she spent rich and relaxing days with her former student Veronica and her family.

A week later, we flew to Buenos Aires with its wide tree-lined boulevards and European-influenced elegance to meet Dad and Lee before they embarked on a 17-day tour that will take them down to the continent’s southernmost point and around into Chile.

We saw the groups of mothers who have marched since the beginning of Argentina’s Dirty War, waging a ceaseless struggle to learn the whereabouts of their disappeared children and husbands and brothers and sister, calling over and over again for those who ordered and carried out these heinous actions to be brought to justice.

We visited the detention center at ESMA, the former naval school, the largest of the country’s network of hundreds of sites where Argentines were tortured and killed.

About 5,000 detainees entered ESMA.

Only 200 survived.

But we also visited Cafe Tortoni, the continent’s oldest cafe that oozed with Old World charm and swagger, a place where poets and artists and writers and dancers and plain folk have come for more than a century and a half.

We had lunch at El Ateneo, the former theater turned bookstore that in 2008 was named one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.

We had a parillada, a plate of all kinds of meat, with Colombian friend and fearless journalist Jenny Manrique in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. The plate was filled so high with ribs and chicken and sausage that a friend of Facebook deadpanned that she gained five pounds just by looking at it.

I visited and learned from the folks at La Nacion, the country’s second-largest newspaper and a place where the data team is showing remarkable persistence and creativity in accessing, cleaning and displaying data online and in the newspaper.

All of us soaked in the energy and openness and generosity of the Argentine people we met and whose eyes showed their pleasure when we told them how excited we were to be in their country.

We also traveled to Colonia, Uruguay, a town of just 25,000 a ferry ride and a country away from Buenos Aires. Together we strolled along the cobble-stoned streets in the community that alternated between Portuguese and Spanish control nine times during the years 1680 to 1825, when the nation won its independence from Spain.

We spoke with our tour guide Maria, a woman with short, pulled-back brown hair and a blue pants suit, about why Uruguayans twice had voted against reversing a law that granted amnesty to the leaders who ruled the country during the dictatorship from 1973 to 1985.

There was a war, she said. People did bad things on both sides.

And, at the end of the month, Jon and I learned that our application to gain funding to use the upcoming elections here in Chile to explore the degree to which the country’s past lives in the present had been accepted.

Each of these experiences, each of these journeys to places which for years had only been places on a map and not somewhere that we would actually visit, has meant something.

Each conversation and encounter with someone with whom I have a shared passion for story and uncovering and sharing truth, has mattered.

They’ve mattered because they’ve contributed to a continually widening and deepening yet also shrinking sense of the world and of the interconnection of people who come from different backgrounds and cultures and classes and races and languages, but who share values and commitments and beliefs.

October’s behind us.

November begins today.

I’m optimistic that the expansion will continue.

2 responses to “Chilean Chronicles, Part 89: October Behind, November Ahead

  1. I feel like I’ve just read a story in Condé Nast Traveler, Jeff, great observations.

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