Friday, May 24, 2013

So, you want to be an Entrepeneur?

Few days ago I met a friend who is starting his homebrew business and he offered to me some samples to try, so we organized a micro-summit with him; with Jorge del Carpio who is an Entrepeneur from Fibras Andinas; with Tom McDonnell and me, the first two was real Entrepreneurs and the last two was virtual or would-be entrepeneurs.

With Jorge we had a difference on definitions of the Spanish word “emprendedor”. To me the main difference is the origin of capital, when I started to hear about "emprendedores" some 10 years ago, was refered to Amazon, Google and this kind of business. Any model of emprendedores I know are related to venture capital, angel investors or state funded. In the first two cases the entrepreneur accept capitalists as partners, and when is funded by the government is via a grant (gift) or a soft loan.

Those who risk their own money -in my opinion- are rather “empresarios” and in the early stage they are micro-empresarios. Jorge´s definition of emprendedor is for any entrepeneur the first stage of the business, no matter where the money comes. Well, I guess that the distintion of terms it matter more in Spanish than English.

To risk money from others gives the incentive to take more risk compared with bet your own money, but –as lose money from others is less painfull than lose your own- the incentive to do things right also decreases. Usually is very difficult to find venture capitalists unless your business idea is extraordinary, and the new partners probably will limit your freedom to take crucial desicions.

The advantage of working with your own money is the startegic independence, full control and no need to share the profits, the obvious disadvantage is the limited budget with wich most entrepreneurs start their own business.

It depends on personal preference to work with their own money or look for external capital, in my case and with my personality, I could not share the control of my business nor depend on someone for funding. I prefer to take the risks and responsibilities by myself and take all the prize if I do well. That limits me to businesses that do not require capital to leave, but this is my limitation, many others may not have that problem.

But I'm giving a lot of thought and ado. So you wanna be an entrepreneur? Well, here are some of my own ideas:

1. - Do something you're passionate about, it's not for discouraging you, but roughly 8 out of 10 businesses fail in the first 3 years (been there, done that), early mortality is so high that if someone gets to build a business just to make money is likely to suffer and pass pretty lousy. For new business, the ideal is build something you would do for free, turn your hobby into a business is one of the best ways of starting a business, because in the case –very likely- to do poorly, at least you had fun in the process.

2. - Do not make plans, planning is valuable for accountants and bankers when you borrow. Investment projects are usually financial ficction, estimates are arbitrary and based on wishes more than facts (there are no facts when you start) and last thing you need in your newborn company is planning (been there, done that). In the beginning everything is uncertain, and if you seek for certainties better look for a salaried job. Once the company is well established and running smooth, planning and order are indispensable: lot of businesses –initially successful- crumble due an improvised administration as they grew. Moreover potentially good companies never take off because they are dedicated to planning and lowering the uncertainty in a stage when to persevere and take risk is prioritary. There is a time to be crazy and a time to be ordained.

3. - Do not think how good or bad the business is, that should be the last thing you should be interested. Just think if you're interested, if you like it, if is fun for you an enjoyable, listen to your gut. Any excellent business is bad when you think about cold, because the gains comes always from what is improbable. He who starts a business based in data is doomed. Nothing is more common than the guy who follows trends: see what is booming and follow. If sell hot dogs it booming he starts his own hot dog business (been there, done that), that's what they teach in schools and universities, but it is utterly stupid. To create good businesses you have to go against trend, and if your business performs well, you must be prepared for someone with more capital or better skills tying you out of the market.

4.-Beware of consultants, management consultants are -usually- unemployed professionals, mediocre professors or broken entrepeneur (been there, done that, I got 3 of 3). Nobody can give you a prescription for success, if anyone would know it, he would build their own business and not tell anyone about it. Follow your instincts and be prepared to go wrong because business is betting. The probability that you made a big business is similar to the probability that you win the lottery, maybe less. The probability that your business give you for eat in a sustainable manner over time is similar to the probability that you win a raffle, maybe less. But if you set something you like, you'll just have a good time even if you go wrong. If you are obsessed with finantial success, take care not pay a disproportionate price, before you died you could regret it.

I really love the idea of micro entrepeunership, and my dream to “make money doing nothing” can be better undestood as make money having fun. Many years ago I thought that electronics was fun; then I thought that computer programming was super; then it occurred to me that with the trade I could make money without doing anything, and so on. I have gone through many experiments (some unprintable) and many failures, but I always have fun. What I have not won in cash I have earned in life. So in the end I'm going to die, and all that will matter is whether or not I lived happy.

For example Internet is my last adventure. I have spent almost 10 years writing an entry every day in my blog, I have posted a bunch of sites about all kinds of nonsense, and finally it occurred to me that online education could be entertaining, I find a way to got the required equipment and, as one thing leads to another - I happened to think in convert some issues from my blog to video format. In the almost 10 years I have not won a single cent with that, but I had made lot of friends and I earned life in abundance. If I ever get to make money with this, for example with touristic videos or online courses, will be great, more profit yet, but I already got what I wished, I'm already more than paid. Well, that would be my advice, I do not have anything more to say about this, I think.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Arica is the Chilean hub for transgenic research

During 1995, a branch of Dupont Company, arrived to Azapa Valley, in Arica, and started Their First trials on isolated crossing blocks for seed research. It was a very low profile operation followed in 2003 by Maraseed, who was the first to Establish formally in the Valley. Since 2007 the operations boomed, and today all the seed producers in Chile are in Arica, either with their own operations or with third parties.

Arica is not a producer for end users (farmers), but it is where research is done and new seeds genetically modified are tested and developed. The industry of seed research in Arica has several advantages such as the very stable and warm climate, allowing planting any day of the year and obtain more than two crops yearly. This is a sound advantage for the same reason as other studies uses flies who reproduces several generations in a short time: it may shorten the development of new products in one year or more with lot of time and cost reduction.

Arica is no unique as location for this industry, there are a few other places in the world competing such as certain areas in Hawaii and Panama, where you can also get more than one harvest per year. There are also other advantages in our valleys, but probably the weather is the essential one. The Valley of Azapa fields are used to test the behavior of crops, and to multiply crossed seeds. Research is made with soybean, corn, sunflower, sweet corn, canola, vegetables and flowers. The new varieties of flower seeds -despite they are small in volume- are the most profitable and mostly exported to Holland.

In Chile the production of genetically modified foods is forbidden, but not so the production of seeds for export. Anyway corn, soybeans and many other imported food are genetically modified since decades. Krsihna Devotees proudly sell their soy burgers as "pure organic" but they dont know that most of soy consumed in the world is genetically modified. Transgenic products are established in the base of the food chain all over the world, and prohibitions are merely symbolic or for propaganda purposes.

What is the economic impact of seed labs in Arica? The direct impact is not much: 1179 jobs average in a year, with a salary around a thousand dollars a month. Good but not much in the local economy. There is however, some social benefit because most of workforce is unskilled and they are trained in the same companies, obtaining a formal job, unlike of illegal inmigrants that small farmers use to hire.

But the strategic importance is much bigger. Our valleys, with scarce water and limited arable land are very vulnerable with the exploit of small farmers, they operate at a very small scale with low yield and high resource consumption. Small farmers employ informal workers from Peru and Bolivia, they consume water often irrationaly and/or illegaly and have deteriorated soils and underground reservoirs with the undiscriminated use of pesticides and fertilizers. The uncontrolled grown of those small operations menaces the supply of tap water to the city and press to the government for subsidy incredible expensive irrigation systems.

The economic rationality advices that scarce resources must be employed in production of goods with high value, seed research is a high-tech activity who add lot of value. The yield per hectarea and per cubic meter of water used is much bigger, more efficient and less poluting that the small scale farming. To create improved species of seeds is the best possible destination for the valley today and in the future.

In my view the short term impact in local economy is not big deal, but the strategig, long term effects, can be very important, swithching from many small farmers, often inneficient and enviromentally unconcious to a specialized hi-tech industry. The role of government here is watch the operation compilance with enviromental and legal framework, and avoid to subsidy big companies, so as massively do with small farmers: there are no better way to kill the competitivness of an industry than give them subsidies. Only self sustainable business may exist in the valley, based in comparative advantages -and not in taxpayer money- to make profit.

Note: most of the data of this article was obtained from E. Cajio´s "Estudio sobre la influencia económica y social de las semilleras en el Valle de Azapa" (Universidad de Tarapaca, 2013).

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Schools in Chile: an alternative to the voucher system

In Chile during the eighties, the military rule decided decentralizing all the primary and secondary schools system, By those date most of them was managed under direct supervision of the Ministry of Education, with a minority group of paid elite schools and also some who was free with subsidy from government most of them was owned by the Catholic Church and masonry lodges.

The reform quited administrative responsibilities from Ministry of Education and passed to corporations: the schools formerly administrated by Ministry of Education was transfered to municipalities and the private free to corporations created by their former owners. Nowadays in Chile exist 3 different class of schools: one who depends on municipal corporations and is government owned, others depend on private corporations and are totally or partially free. The third group are elite: private and paid and are very few.

Municipal and private corporations received a direct subvention from government in a per-alum basis. Ministry of Education supervises the attendance of students and pay a certain amount for every student. This subvention allow to the owner of the corporation (who may be for profit) make good money as return of investment or re invest in the same or more schools (the most usual). There are lot of competing schools looking for students and offering them extra services, academies, etc.

Municipal corporations finances with money from local government for operation, who receives the subvention and usually receives big amount of money from national government for their investments. They are very politicized, riots are frequent and quality of education is not very good (with few exceptions) due the privileges of teachers, Private corporations finances as any business, with the subvention is enough to cover operation costs and the investments required. It is easy to distinguish municipal schools from private corporations owned: municipal are mostly ugly, bad maintenance and full of graffitis. Private are nice and clean.

When the system started the private owned with subvention where a tiny percentage, now they exceed the 60 percent and municipality has serious problems to keep working, actually many of them had been obliged to close or merge because the lack of students. There are a fierce opposition from many politics, intellectuals, economist and educators, so as unions of teachers from government, but the process in Chile seems irreversible, because even most of municipal teachers sent their kids to private subsided schools. There are many problems yet with this supply side subsidy, who probably may be solved with a system of vouchers who subsidy to the demand, but today it seems politically unfeasible.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What people do for a living in Arica?

This is a frequent answer from people interested to move from abroad, how can I make a living here?. I recently made a research of economic sectors and employement and, based in data of Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas (INE) obtained the following rank of working posts for economic activity:

1-Commerce and Car Repairment 13630 people
2-Agriculture 9260
3-Schools/Universities 6980
4-Minning 6880
5-Manufacturing industry 6490
6-Transport, storage, communications 6090
7-Government/Defense 5980
8-Building 4390
9-Hotels/Restaurants 3910
10-Real Estate/Others 3500

The unemployment rate for July-September was 4.4%, so in Arica there is full employment.

Commerce, hotels and restaurants account for almost 40% of the economic activity in the city. People who work in agriculture are mostly temporary Peruvian and Bolivian workers, many of them undocumented, they work for very low wages, except in the research laboratories for seed production (10 companies in Arica) who hire formally.

There are no minning in Arica and the 6880 people employed in minning have their jobs outside (Iquique, Antofagasta) but have their home and live in Arica during their spare time. There are 3 universities and some 60 elementary and high schools where 6980 people work.

Arica is also the city with more formal micro bussines relatively in Chile: 17720 people are self employed and 51470 have a regular job with a boss in a company. There are 3660 owners of business who employ people.

The minimun wage is about US$ 388 and is the regular for unskilled workers. More specialized jobs rage from 625 to 1040 for blue collar or clerks. Professional or critical jobs start about 1250 for entry level to some 1875 or up. Wages in government are higher by a fctos of 30%-40%

That is -more or less- how people make a living here in Arica.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Everything but money

I read it many years ago at Reader´s Digest. It is the story -autobiography- of a kid raised in a jew´s neighborhood of New York City in the twenties -when most of jews in America was still poor- I dont remember detais of the story but I never forgot the lead "in those years in which we had everyting but money".

While I read, it reminded my own chilhood, into a split family -it was just me and mom- and during many years we had also everything but money. Despite we was falling every year more deep in poverty she never lost the enthusiasm, unconcern about the future and good humor. "Well, God will provide us" she used to say, but she was an atheist and God rarely provided us, except for just enough to keep our mounths out of the water.

Anyway between 4 to 13 years old it was the greatest time of my life, full of odd situations and adventures of any kind. My mother never accepted that we was poor, she lived instead as a queen in the exile, enjoying the pintoresque faces of the poverty.

And that is why I grew with no fear to live without money, just doing what I wish and hesitant to make sacrifices or surrends to obtain "security". I am not sure if this is good or not but to me it works quite well, I have never made fortune but my life is reasonably happy, relaxed and i got a lot of adventures to remember. The fear of poverty is a fuel that I have not at all. I try to live with small material resources, avoid sacrifices, and dont worry about the future.

What the future will bring me? Well, death for sure. Not even the frozed Walt Disney was able to avoid it, so I try to spend the time who is left to me, same as when I was a kid, with everything but money and disregard about the future. And if some day I found a pot full of gold coins in my yard... well, I guess I will not get mad, life oblied us to make sacrifices, sometimes.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Musings on water economics: the problem

Biblic manna was probably water

Some time ago I wrote that the manna was talking about the Bible it probably was water. Water is actually the only food that falls from the sky to us. It is such an important food, that we can live more than a month without trying other meals, but not more than a week without water.

Many important cities had grown besides a river, the first communities settled in such places due the easy availability of water: as London on the Thames, Rome on Tiber, Paris along the Seine, New York by the Hudson, Santiago on Mapocho and Lima along Rimac, among many others.

Water is not scarce

The definition of economics is commonly related to scarcity, Samuelson said something like "Economics is how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and how to distribute it.". This is the main difficulty of water economics: for much of the history water has been an economy of abundance, only at special times, and specific places, water has actually been a scarce resource.

It is estimated that only 2.5% of the world's water is fresh, and just 0.4% is available for human consumption, the rest is locked up in ice caps. But this small percentage is more than enough for the needs of many times more people than currently exists. Although the percentage is relatively small, this is still a very abundant resource because water is renewable by nature. If we get to use nuclear technology to desalinate by example, we can consider water as an infinite resource for all practical purposes.

What there is not, sometimes, is free water

Although the water is abundant, in some specific regions it is scarce, the water is abundant but with unequal distribution in different parts of the earth. There are places where desertification has dried territories, and still remains people living there, as in northern Africa. There exists a cost to bring water from the places where it abounds to those where it is scarce. In places with large mining operations as northern Chile, water is also expensive because mining use lots of water and may be profitable enough to pay high prices for it.

From the 0.4% of available fresh water, approximately 65% is used for agricultural irrigation, 27% for industrial or mining and 8% for human consumption of drinking water. In the chain of water some links are weaker than others, the weakest link is agriculture because it requires huge amounts of water and often it is not profitable enough to pay high prices, in fact, usually does not pay a single penny for water to irrigate crops occupied. So in times of drought, agriculture is the first sector in busting.

Much stronger is mining, with an economic return sufficient to pay high prices for water, even expensive desalination plants can be instaled, so as recycling, etc. thus they are in a better position than farmers. And the strongest step is drinking water domestic distribution: for reasons of survival all government ensures that this sector is the first to have guaranteed access.

Where water is abundant there is no need of any water economy, because is not worth a single penny in those places the water is still a godsend as in biblical times. But there are other places because of drought or explosive population increase, water becomes scarce and purchase price. In those places where the need is water economy and water use rights, because it becomes a scarce resource.

Scarce water is a local issue

We must understand then that the water economy is a local, not global, it exists only where water has become scarce for some anomaly. Arica is an excellent example: population grew from 20,000 in 1958 to about 160,000 in 1988, which brought an increase in irrigated acres Azapa and Lluta, with the particularity that is one of the very few places the world where never rains, so water availability is subject to rain in far away regions. It is a classic and one of the most interesting places in the world to study the economics of water. Too bad nobody seems to be interested in the subject here.

How to cut the tart

In these cases there is the basic economic problem: how to allocate a scarce resource. There are many alternatives ranging from arbitrary allocation of quotas by any state agency to considering water as an economic good like any other, appropriated by anyone and freely traded in the market. Apart from any other consideration the economical solution to this problem is to split the action so that their use is the most efficient of all possible, that is to benefit the greatest number of people. So is raising the issue and missing now reviewing alternative solutions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Living in the border

Arica has had bad press. It often appears in the national news as an example of economic depression, or due to a corruption scandal, or offenses related to smuggling or drug trafficking. Arica is also talk from time to time by the mega tsunami that can devastate the city at any time.

Sometimes a bad reputation is a good thing, perhaps because of that Arica population has remained stable at around 180,000 inhabitants in the last 20 years, which can be seen as a tragedy for those who believe in economies of scale as key to prosperity, but is very close to what Schumacher, in his book "Small is Beautiful", considered the perfect size for a city at human scale.

Arica is undoubtedly one of the weirdest cities of Chile, in just over an hour away and paying $ 4 -the same cost as a local taxi into the city- there are buses to Tacna in Peru, because the border is just 30 kilometers away. You can go to Peru, where nearly everything is cheaper, lunch, buy liquor and cigarettes without tax and return, all in a few hours.

The city is small enough to move on foot everywhere. They work the same amount of hours as the rest of Chile but differently distributed. In summer, many clerks or salespeople go to their jobs with a bathing suit under their regular suits or dresses. At 1:00 P.M. everything is closed and people are going to lunch at his house or go to the beach until 3:30 PM, then they dress again and return to work. From 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. Arica is like a ghost town: it´s nap time. In contrast, everything is open at least up 9:00 PM.

But not all is wine and roses. Many people hate any kind of work and effort, they are not too interested in doing things right but to make it easy. It is rare to find workaholics willing to make money here. Everyone seems to be more or less satisfied with their current situation. Money is not a strong incentive here so things seldom change. Arica may be quite boring and frozen in time.

As the population has remained stable for many years, most people knows who is who. Social differences are few because there schools and neighborhoods are not clearly segregated: for the same generation, whealty and poor people has been often mate in the school or university. The most ambitious or social climbers usually migrate to Santiago or other larger cities.

Arica is very particular, as a border town is both a Chilean and a little bit Peruvian. It is not a city for all kinds of people: those who are ambitious, who like speed or make things happen, will live in despair in Arica, where everything moves at geological speed. But those seeking a relaxed lifestyle in a boring place with perfect weather, Arica may be a perfect place to live.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The discordy´s mall

(Published in the printed version of ILC NEws Weekly, April 2012)

The mall of the city of Castro, on Chiloe Island, generated an ongoing controversy in the social networks. This bring me back to the my years living in Ancud and Castro, in the seventies, where I spent four amazing years of growth, in my teens.

The photograph that circulated on the Internet is misleading; it seems to be a beautiful town full of nice traditional houses, crushed under a huge mass of concrete that has no relation with the surrounding landscape. Many have cried out in indignation, Twitter has fuelled the fire, as usually happens, with ad-hoc experts in architecture, chilote heritage advocates and arbiters of good taste.

Well, turns out to Castro, I see no local opposition to the mall, and most of those who criticize or have never set foot in the city or just keep memories of a vacation spent in one of the few sunny days that occur in that area.

Chiloe is famous for myths and legends, not just traditional mythology as el trauco, la Pincoya and other fantastic creatures, but chilotes has continued developing an urban mythology, contemporary, much wider and accepted that the traditional mythology.

This mythology has successfully sold the idea of my beloved island as a typical place, with two picturesque towns and hundreds of beautiful villages amid beautiful landscapes where friendliest people in the world live in complete happiness and harmony with nature.

Pure myth: Ancud and Castro are small cities, not beauty nor picturesque, which were destroyed during the big earthquake of the sixties and from time to time there are great fires that burn whole blocks of these tepa-wooden houses. The people reconstruct them as best they can, which result into cityscape that is poor and a bit quirky.

There is a picturesque town that is Chonchi, the people of the three floors. All others are quite poor tiny villages where everyone has done their home as good as they can, as in Ancud and Castro, with the result that there are places that could hardly be described as quaint.

They're beautiful landscapes? Yes, there are many, like a sunset on the bay located on the south of the city of Castro, there is a hostel where you can see wonderful landscape. Or the sight from Fuerte San Antonio in Ancud. Or the sunset in front of the volcanoes in the Bay Quellón: Tronador, Puntiagudo, Corcovado, Melimollo, when the sun sets at about 10 pm in summer.

But the beautiful landscape has its B side, hundreds of acres logged or burned, in one of the few places where it is native forest. and especially the rain 9 or 10 months in a mouse-colored ceiling that throws buckets of water over your head, thunder and lightning, with a howling wind which prevent to keeps your nose out into the street. The smell of wet dog from Ancud still haunts to me.

People are there as elsewhere, good, normal or bad, but they are usually hard as rocks and almost as violent as the nature in which they live. I met amazing people there who where tremendously generous, but I hardly remember one kind or polite. Above all Chilotes are storytellers, fed by legends from their great-grandparents themselves have created the modern legends about the idyllic island customs.

Well, now fell into their own story. When at last a mall is build in Castro, then appeared the defenders of the environment and heritage of humanity, forgetting that the churches are –not the cities- the famous heritage. The city has no unit or urban beauty, in the place where they are building the mall, it probably will be the greatest architectural contribution of the neighbourhood.

I lived in that neighbourhood and we always laughed with my mom for the extravagant design of the houses "do it yourself," I see in the pictures is opposite to the feria, which is a ugly set of sheds.

A mall in Castro will be a great contribution to Chilotes, at least nine of the twelve months of the year it rains and you can not poke your nose or on the street without getting soaked, I have no doubt that the mall will improve the quality of life of people, especially young people who have nothing to do for much of the year. In my day we went to the bar and get drunk every day. Whish they build one one mall in Quellón and Ancud also.

The mall concept was invented to make a kind of square indoor, where one can spend hours without leaving not only shopping but eating, drinking or watching a movie. The idea is specially suited for cities of Chiloé, where most of the year can not do anything outdoors.

The myth of the tourism potential in Chiloé is not consistent with reality, in which much of the year it rains heavy, the idea of the mall seems particularly good where people do not have damn thing to do all day. Planning gurus have said that they would have built on the outskirts of the city "not to destroy the unity of the environment", however most of the people there do not use car, a mall should be at downtown or somewhere where can be reached on foot.

I read today on the plane that crashed travelling from Melinka to Chiloe Island, resulting in death for the pilot Richard Heim and his passengers. I had friends in the seventies who were sailors and risked their life in every trip through the inner gulfs. I left the island some 40 years ago and Chilotes continue creating myths and captains are still die in the channels. People are hard in Chiloé because life is also too hard. Don´t mess with them, if they have no problem with the mall we have no right to interfere.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Minning and water

In the seventies, President Allende used to say that "Cooper is the wage of Chile". Today mining is still the blood of the Chilean economy. From the 83 billion dollars exported by Chile in 2011, 53 billion correspond to the mining. This year Antofagasta will receive 4.5 billion investment in mining projects. Most of the mining activity is concentrated in regions of Tarapaca and Antofagasta wich are one of the driest areas of the world. As mining requires a considerable amount of water to operate, many problems have arisen.

Unlike in southern Chile, where water is abundant and has practically no economic value, in the north the agriculture, industry and drinking water are competing for access to it. The lack of a clear strategy of development to every region makes this competition turn into conflicts that may become violent.

This is what is happening in southern Peru, where the conflict between mining, agriculture and drinking water has already turned into a war over water, involving politics and the economy. In Peru the situation is worse than in Chile because the water market is regulated quite discretionally by the Government. Farmers claims for preferred water supply to have their crops. These crops are usually inefficient, both technically and economically, because require lots of water for a starving economy.

How to distribute the water when it is scarce? Economy say that if a good is scarce, its price should rise to reach the point where supply and demand meets. For water economy this is, most of times, politically infeasible. In rural areas where farmers have ancestral rights over water, they demand to the Government to grant them more and more. In a way the farmers consider theirself as "the legitimate owners" of all the water they can get.

In Chile, Copiapo had this conflict, farmers technically advanced and profitable, increased their crops at a point that now the water resources are collapsed, which also threatens to large mining investments and even drinking water. In Antofagasta tap water users have been hardest hit, the Government installed a million dollars desalination plant, and they have to pay huge bills for poor quality water.

In Arica, where I live, there are national parks and protected areas that have prevented big mining operations, but there is strong local and external pressure -even from the Government- to remove these protections, at least partially, and install large-scale mining in the region. That would hurt all efforts to develop sustainable tourism, which is one of the main regional economic activity today.

How to allocate the water in places where it is scarce resource? It is not a simple problem, specially in a country with a very dry territory and conflicting users. There are many economic, political and social stakeholders, and a myriad of simple answers, most of them false simplification of a very complex issue. The only certainty is that the answer must be based on fine tunned technical studies, and the general economic principles that have brought prosperity to the country in the last 35 years, must be respected. Otherwise a conflict similar to South Peru is expected for our country.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tourism in South America: six charts

Charts are a convenient way to ilustrate a point. I have been researching on tourism in my hometown, Arica, during some years and I want to show you some facts on tourism in Latin America condensed in six charts who -I think- talk better than a thousand words. Here I go:

First, let´s see how many tourist receive every country in South America (Guyanas and Surinam are excluded by their small share):

As we see, for further analysis we can eliminate also Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay because their small market share. Now, let´s see again, but as how much million dollars they have received from tourism:
¿Can you see it is not the same? Peru and Colombia receive more money than Chile despite they receive less tourists. This is explained by the origin of their tourists: Chile receive more visitors from the neighbor countries and those spend less, let´s see the media spend of tourist as their origin:

The lower spend of neighbor visitors is -at certain extent- compensated by their higher amount, that is way the income from tourism in Chile in % per origin of visitors is as follow:
As at the end of the day our interest is how much US$ instead ahow many visitors, it is clear that a good strategy may concentrate in improve the market share of tourists from Europe, USA, and Asia, which explain why Peru with less tourists receive more incomes. This not implies to forbid or desincentivate tourism from neighbor countries but focus the investments in the most profitable segments. If we divide the US$/tourist :
¡Chile appears in the last place!. Now, as we Chileans love rankings, the World Tourist Organization from the United Nations compiles the Touristic Competitivity Ranking based in several indicators and the results are (the lower the better):
We can note that it is not a predictive index, except in the case of Brazil who is more or less obvious. Chile, the last in US$/tourist here apprears in 3rd place, the ranking shows no correlation with tourist arrived neither with incomes.

From those six Simple graphics we can arrive to some conclusions:

1.- Some countries, due political reasons (Venezuela, Bolivia) o due their small size (Paraguay, Surinam, Guyana, Guyana Francesa) are practically out of business.

2.- Brazil and Argentina are leaders in South America, both in number of visitors as in US$ received. Those countries has a mix of vacation tourists (Mar del Plata, Rio de Janeiro) with adventurer travellers (Patagonia, Pantanal). Vacational tourism is massive and requires huge investments. The leadership is explained by the size of the economies and the abundance of natural resources and infraestructure.

3.- Peru is doing fine in tourism, probably has the best relative performance due a good strategy and the important resource of Cusco and Macchu Pichhu. Their tourism is aimed to adventurer travellers, not massive, requires comparatively small investments and the small volume make it quite sutainable. Colombia and Ecuadorare are starting with a similar strategy in the last years.

4.- Chile has a low cost strategy: massive tourism oriented to neighbor countries, wich produces lower incomes despite the comparatively higher volume of visitros. This is due a mistaken strategy, based in the model of vacational tourism following the OCDE strategies, this explain why despite the poor results Chile ranks high in competitivity index: we are successfuly implementing the wrong polities.

A final figure: for those who doubt on the importance of tourism as economic activity, in the world tourism is the fourth source of external income for countries preceded by fuels, chemical products and cars exportations. ¿And what about Chile? Incomes from tourism was US$ 1.978 millions, wich places in 5th place after minning, fruits, cellulose and salmon exports.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Classist Chileans

(Published in the online edition of I Love Chile)
Some time ago, talking with a friend -Chilean like me- about a gringo we met, he told me "he appears to be a lower class”. Well, I guess that "high class" in America is a status reserved to celebrities, oil moguls and people like that. All others are working class and if you're a plumber, electrician or professor at a university doesn´t make big difference, unless you are a criminal or a poor inmigrant.

In Chile is a bit different because your job determines sharply your social status. Some jobs are less “worthy” than others: a sergeant “worth less” than an elementary teacher. An elementary teacher “is” less than a dentist or an engineer, and so on. At the top of our social pyramid are the politicians, wealthy heirs, and, in general, all those who make lots of money doing nothing: those are our non plus ultra.
Jobs related with cleaning or serve are considered unworthy in Chile. That explain why our quality of service is so bad: we hate to serve, jobs as waiters or salespeople are considered socially inferior and underpaid. It is not just funny but quite Freudian.
Formal education in Chile is mostly a matter of status: a college degree has more value as a badge of status than as a proof of competence, no matter how great engineer you are, the important is if you graduated from an expensive university, which implies that you are coming from a “good family” and therefore trustworthy.
Even the most prominent left-wing politicians in Chile are the ones that come from "good families" (note the language again, in Chile “good” families’ means “rich” people). However, most of people in Chile is not class conscious, our classism is unconscious and automatic, most of Chileans consider ourselves as “middle class”, some more “middle” than others just as in Orwell´s farm.
Classism is not so bad as it appears., it fulfils the psychological need to consider ourselves superior to others. In Chile the social mobility is high. Chile is a country of new riches and social climbers, our classism replaces our lack of true aristocracy. Rich families in Chile seldom last more than three generations, so nobody takes too seriously the classist prejudices that we claim so often.
The good new is that racism –the other way to feel superior to others- is almost inexistent between us. Money talks in Chile and a depreciated “indio” or “cholo” may turn into a king as soon as he got a good amount of money. Respect, a “decent” job and money march together in our materialistic country.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are we inmorals?

(Published in the online edition of I Love Chile)
A good American fellow who lives in my town, told me that we Chileans are immoral people. Despite we claim to be Catholic –he said- we seldom go to church, we use to take commitments with no intention to fulfill them, we provide information having no idea what we are talking about, just because we are ashamed to say “I have no idea”. “You immorals!” –he told me- “are the biggest liars I've ever met in my life”. The hardest thing to accept for him is the lack of seriousness with which we Chileans use language, he said that we seems to speak just because we are unable to remain silent. He is convinced will never be able to distinguish when a Chilean is talking serious, kidding or simply is cheating him.
It's funny because I use to say or thought many of those things about Peruvians, Bolivians and Argentines. Maybe I see a mirror of my own faults in them, who knows?. However I cannot accept that Americans are as correct as they think on themselves, in my experience they lie, cheat and steal more or less same as us, but they respect some forms that in Latin countries we consider naive. Maybe it has something to do with religious puritanism.
The different approach to religion is, in my view, fundamental to understand many differences between gringos and latinos. We may be seen as a country of atheists considering the inconsistency of our actions and the catholic moral standards, but catholic religion is fundamentally different from any branch of protestants.
Catholic relation with God is a sort of permanent bargain for miracles. If God can not give us miracles it has not worth for us, our religiosity is more practical and positive. Few people in Chile think that they are obliged to go to church, our relationship with the church is relaxed, the very pious Catholics are the only who take seriously the Mass and rites. In Latin countries it is rare to find someone who actually believes that God is watching their actions and will punish him after he dies, most Catholics think that's a ridiculous superstition.
In Anglo-Saxon countries to "fear of God" is a highly prized virtue, it is almost synonymous with being a decent person, kids are raised in the fear of God in Sunday Schools, and the evangelical preachers describe in great detail the hell that awaits those who are evil. Fear is a strong motivation for gringos.
We believe in miracles instead, we see God, the Virgin and the saints as a kind of Santa Claus dispensing miracles and good luck. For miracles people are willing to make sacrifices that horrify the non-Catholics, have you ever seen people paying promises in the religious fests? Moving in their knees for long distances, they pay cash and in advance for a miracle, no need a virtuous life, with a physical sacrifice you can obtain the same.
I think those are two fundamentally different ways of looking at religion. Which of the two forms is best? individually I think that believe in miracles it is much more practical, because we can almost immediately see the results of our faith, those who fear hell and hope the heaven have to wait all their life to see if their religion was true. However, from the social point of view, the fear of God is much more useful because it forces people to behave according to rules of conduct dictated by the preachers, among others.
My personal faith is entirely based on the hope that miracles can happen. I do not care what he's going to happen after I die, but I pray every day for the things I hope to get. I got enough worries in my life to worry about what will happen to me after I die. So I prefer the religion of miracles and saints offering me the impossible, and I trust in the guardian angel caring for me. Although sometimes seems he is not doing a great job, but nobody is perfect, not even the guardian angels.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11 and "no al lucro"

(Published in the online edition of I Love Chile)
September 11 still divides opinion in Chile. 38 years after the coup few people knows how it was Chile in 1973, I remember well those years when I was a 18 years old Allende´s supporter. Unidad Popular was a weird attempt to turn on socialism within the democratic system, and I think that the figures who follow demonstrate why it was a failed experience, and why some of those policies may not be replicated as some people is advocating now.

The first year of the Allende government was devoted to setting prices to below production costs, duplicate salaries (teachers received a bonus equivalent to four months' salary), to increase the amount of government employees and to acelerate the agrarian reform, expelling the land owners and replacing them with peasant committees. The result was that Chile, which normally imported about 140 million dollars in food, in 1973 had to import over 700 million, leaving the state without dollars reserve and the country without food.

In early 1973 the government's economic committee reported that 34,000 small and medium business were taken over by the government, with a result similar to the agrarian reform: national production came close to disappearing. Not a single title of property was given to peasants nor ownership to workers of the business, they were used as a mean for the state to appropriate the productive system. With this combination of prices under cost, wages multiplied and productive system broke, in 1973 all goods began to disappear, we had notes: no bread, food nor anything, but all we had was lot of bills, it was the first major Inflation in Latin America.

In 1973 the economy had declined by 3.5% and the deficit of state factories was five billion dollars, equivalent to sales of copper, the main and almost only export of the country, for the past 7 years. The official inflation rate that year was 740% and the fiscal deficit was 50% of the national budget. The losses of state enterprises –at those years almost the half of national productive system- amounted to a full national budget and the Central Bank's reserves fell from 450 million to $ 3.5 million, foreign debt rose one million dollars a day. The balance of payments deficit was $ 885 million in 1973

Social housing was built by government´s CORVI, almost all health was served by the National Health Service, almost all colleges and universities was owned and administrated by the Ministry of Education. The housing deficit was huge and most of poor lived in "villas miseria" (eliminated decades ago), the infant and adult mortality was very high as well as infectious diseases, only one in ten secondary school graduates can study at universities.

“No al lucro” championed now by some leaders of students means, in practical terms, to come back to 1973 with the government in charge of more than half of national economic and teaching system. They never knew that, but still there are people who remember, we do not march nor throw stones but we are determined to prevent such huge step back.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Inequality: the standard theory

(Published in the online edition of I Love Chile)
“In Chile nowadays, despite the good macroeconomic figures, prosperity is not reaching to the people, this is because the huge inequality, one of the largest in the world where the poorest people live at the same level than African countries and the richest enjoys of European standards. People rebels against the inequality and this is the real clue of the protests”.

I had heard that for years, it is the mainstream of the progressive thinking. However I have an alternate theory, but first I must refute the standard.

Prosperity is not reaching to the people?
Most of indexes of quality of life show that Chileans, in average, are living in best standards than ever: poverty, education, life expectations are better compared with the past decades and with other Latin American countries. There is an acid test of the impact of economics on people: unemployment. The unemployment rate in Chile reached 8.1% in 2010, 1.6 points less compared to 2009, when it reached 9.7%, according to a report by the National Statistics Institute (INE). Considering that the labor force in Chile grew 7.9% and the 1.6 is additional, 428,280 new jobs were created, something considered impossible by many economists not long ago.

Certainly, nothing is enough. Like Monty Burns used to said "I would give all I have just to have a little more," but 428,280 more people employed is, from any point of view, a significant improvement . All other statistics may be debatable, but an increase in employment is a definite sign that prosperity is reaching people.

The poorest people live at the same level than African countries?
Not true, this idea was stated by the Chilean economist Andres Zahler, in an article called “What country Chileans live?”. I remarked him by twitter that in Angola, the country with which he compared Chile, "more than two thirds of the 16 million inhabitants of that country live on $ 2 a day, and 4 million people survive on U.S. $ 0.75 day or less" His explanations were very poor.

People rebels against the inequality?
It is hard to believe that in a country rage against inequality, the political parties of left obtain less than 9% of the vote, and the party of extreme right is the most voted. Much harder to accept this idea as true if we consider that people elected as president to one of the wealthiest billionaries of the country. Are Chileans resented with the inequality? I guess not, Chile has been always same as unequal, under any kind of rule, we have not been an equalitarian society, ever.

An now, my alternate theory on social unrest

The double discourse
In Chile, as most of Latin America we use the double discourse in abundance. Many parents advocate for a public education, but they prefer private schools for their own Childs, even teachers of public system prefer private schools for their kids. Chileans may be very socialist and revolutionaries in discourse, but they often choose individualist and conservative choices.

The communist party
Communist Party plays a central role in protests, their political future is uncertain because, with no help from la Concertación, they are loosing their seats in congress in the elections to come. That is why they have go go out to the streets.

The vanguard
Street figthing obeys to old rules clearly recognizable, as Lenin's idea of the revolutionary vanguard, a small and well organized group to lead the process. Camila Vallejo and Jaime Gajardo, both communist militants leads the vanguard. They make alliance with useful idiots (concept attributed to Lenin) and lumpen proletariat (Marx's concept). The street figth with lumpen proletariat aims to shock to the public opinion, but they also need a good press, a role that must meet the useful idiots.

The supporters
Obviously not all protesters are communists, most of them are students and their parents, part of the 49% of Chileans who voted against Sebastian Piñera and feel happy to cause problems to a rigthist government, they are in charge of the good press and to prevent that those who want to study broke the movement.

The President
President Piñera has alientate his base trying to attract part of those 49% who voted against him with sucessive offers. He feeds the protest trying to negotiate with those who are not interested at all in the end of conflict: is the dialogue of the deaf.

And this is my theory, not a mainstream but I think it explain more reallistically the protests than the standard.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goodbye teacher!

(Published originally in I love Chile)

Few have noticed the announcement by the minister of education about alternatives to end the school year. Two of them are well known: to study elsewhere where the schools are not on strike or to be assimilated into other schools. Both have many practical shortcomings, but the third, which encourages students to take final exams as independent students, is revolutionary and can give a tremendous boost to home schooling in Chile.

The ministry of education started the website, Yo Estudio, with content for students to prepare for their final exams by themselves; this option has always existed, but has never been supported, directly or indirectly, by any government. This is the first time in our history that a government explicitly supports home study and independent examinations, not merely passively but actively by delivering online content for students to prepare for their exams.

Many will look askance at this initiative and will think that the future academic performance of those students will be less than those who go into the classroom; it remains to be seen, especially when comparing results with the municipal education. It could be a big surprise.

Chile pioneered many revolutionary ideas in the eighties: pension reform; flat taxes; new mining and water rights, and so on. This is the first really good idea to be implemented that I have seen in thirty years. I hope the protests of the municipal schools will continue indefinitely as it would lead to a massive number of students moving away from dependence on poor teachers and take over for themselves for the first time in their education. I think the massive support for homeschooling could make a Copernican shift in the Chilean educational system.

What about universities? Well, for many of the old professors all they do with their computer is read e-mail. They are unlikely to develop distance learning content, because they come to lectures with yellowed pieces of paper from the era in which they studied. But if there is a corporate policy from universities to support distance learning many courses could be saved. It seems clear to me that neither the rectors nor the professors from state universities would like the idea. They chose the path of least resistance and maximum gain many years ago, and there is nothing for them out of this.

When I went to study at the University of Tarapaca, in 1978, they had just removed a pedagogical experiment that proved disastrous in the teaching of engineering, called the "Keller Plan" or system of personalized instruction, where instruction is divided into modules with goals to achieve, similar to the current skills education.

In the Keller Plan students were not going to classes, but rather, received huge piles of notes and exercise guides to learn on their own with the help of assistant instructors. When students felt safe they asked to take the exam. Keller popularized his system with a book entitled “Goodbye Teacher!” Well, the title says it all.

The Keller Plan failed due to poor implementation: in the late seventies there were not even photocopiers and paper notes were mimeographed, while computers or internet were the stuff of science fiction. The professors had no experience in preparing the material properly, and "study notes" were mere copies of the textbook where, in engineering, are characterized by murky language that is difficult to understand without help from someone who knows.

And what of the students? As they were not obliged to attend classes, and they were asked when they felt ready to take exams, they simply spent their time at parties and drinking, never feeling ready to take any damn test. I do not remember having met a single mate who approved a course with the Keller Plan, during the only year the experiment was implemented.

Many might think that now the same thing will happen and set an example that shows the poor results so far of distance learning. I do not agree. First of all the technology that exists today to learn is light years ahead from that of those years. With the Internet we have at a click the world's most comprehensive libraries. The dream of the Library of Alexandria today is a reality. Any place with an Internet connection has more resources and content than the best library ever. Also the Internet is readily available, at least in most of Chile.

Preparing the courses is not a big deal now that the Internet is full of courses from the most prestigious universities in the world. The teacher now has only to find, choose, cut and paste. Prepare classes today is easier than ever before because not even the greatest sage has more knowledge than what is now available online.

And again the students: are they as devoted to parties and drinking as in my good-old-days? Perhaps at first, because they have been trained like monkeys in standard classrooms, forced to listen silently to their boring teachers from their early childhood, and never being asked to think on their own.

Also we have to realize that children today are already accustomed to learning on their own. Every day there are more kids in Chile learning to read and write in English if only to communicate and participate in forums or chat with their fellows in that language. I'm pretty sure that, at least in the learning of English, the prospect of getting to say goodbye to the teacher it is accomplished.

There are things that seem bad but over time can achieve good results. The student strike may be the beginning of the true solution to many of the problems with education in Chile, and perhaps the teachers, without realizing it, are digging their own graves. I hope so. We will have to wait to see what happens.

Ollanta In A Nutshell

Ollanta Humala took office as the President of Peru in the middle of a cloud of doubts felt not only by his country fellow citizens, but by the international community as well; less than two years ago, he was a hard-line leftist. Now, one of the most important questions is if he will become an ally of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and, if he does, how far will he align to Chavez’ internationalism. Some time ago, he declared that the only way he would visit the Chilean city of Arica –on the other side of the border between Peru and Chile, would be only if he were riding a tank, making a reference to his desire to invade and reclaim Arica, the city that Peru lost to Chile in the 1879 War.

In 2008, while I was visiting Mazuko -a remote town in the Peruvian Amazon- a group of Humala’s supporters showed up in town wearing clothes that looked a lot like military uniforms. They gathered in public places calling attention to their nationalistic vision and selling “The Ollanta”, a self promoting newspaper. Although attendance to their public meetings was minimal, they told me they had been travelling through small and isolated villages for years.

The family of Ollanta Humala is quite unique, even under Peru’s standards, where the bizarre is normal. His father, Isaac, leads an ethno-national movement, graphically represented by symbols disturbingly similar to those of the Nazis. His brother, Antauro, attempted two coup d´etats, and is now in jail for the death of a policeman during the last coup d’etat. Currently, the Supreme Court is studying an appeal to commute his 25 years sentence for house arrest.

The arrival of Humala to the presidency of Peru follows the traditional and famous unpredictability of that country, where “nothing is impossible”, as a famous Peruvian saying goes. An example of this unpredictability was his dramatic conversion from a left-nationalist into a moderate social democrat just a few months before the presidential election; this allowed him to become the president. All of this is known history; what is yet more important is to be able to predict Humala’s actions in order to anticipate what kind of president will he be, as well as the results for the Peruvian economy and its international relations.

Inside Peru, Humala faces strong pressure to raise taxes to big corporations, and to increase public spending. This pressure will add up creating an intricate problem-mesh that will become more dense and difficult to solve as it grows in size, in the long term. However, from a political perspective, the same circumstance may benefit him on a day-to-day basis because he was elected under the premise of distribute the wealth to the poor taking money from corporations, this is a mandatory obligation he has to fullfill. (Necesitas explicar el porque dices la ultima frase –en rojo- porque no se puede afirmar una generalidad, en un paper, sin explicar la razon).

Currenty, Peru is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and perhaps is better suited than most to withstand a time of crisis due its rich natural resources as gold, whose demand increases in time of crisis and coca crops who are fairly is independent on world economic situation. Even in worst situations as the late 80s terrorism crisis, informal economy in Peru has remained strong and healty. (lo mismo que mas arriba, necesitas citar numeros o algo que concrete tu idea, en forma breve).. But the Peruvian electorate is fickle and demanding, and to maintain his popularity, Humala will be obliged to approve policies that will curb down investment and impoverish the country’s treasury.

With Ollanta the formal economy probably will slow, but much of the wealth of Peru is informal, as the production of gold and cocaine, two products that can withstand any financial crash, which independence on large investors and immune to any government policies .

In My view, the Ollanta Humala is an ambitious, intelligent, adaptable and very realistic guy. I do not think he held rigid principles, nor a fanatic willing to perish himself for a cause. He has always behaved strategic driven by objectives instead principles, that is how he became President. Its main objective is power, and he will do everything necessary to maintain its domestic popularity to sustain his own power. That is why I guess he likely will maintain a distant relationship with Chavez, if it perceives too involved can hurt his political image. He will almost certainly buy weapons and equipment for the Peruvian Armed Forces, in large quantities, because Peru is rather weak nowadays. It is also almost certain that frictions and hostile statements occur frequently between Peruvian and Chilean officers, because that brings profit to any politician in Peru and Ollanta Peruvian will need lots of popularity. However as he is a realistic politician, the most likely is that all dissolves only in bitter statements, war or skirmish is virtually impossible in the region.

I think that great times are coming for Peru, mostly for the informal economy and probably the official figures for growth and foreign investment will slow down and things will worse for big corporations compared with the years past. Anyway in Peru, “everything is possible” as is one of the more difficult places to make predictions in the world.

Why Students and Teachers are Striking in Chile

(Published originally at

In 1981, Chile changed the educational system, big time. This structural reform was aimed at decentralization, more competition, ending entry barriers and cost efficiency. Teachers were no longer civil servants of the Ministry of Education. Municipal education bureaus were created for primary and secondary schools, which had to compete with private schools receiving the same government grants for each student served. It also opened the possibility of creating new private universities with few requirements and state universities had to compete with them under conditions of self-financing.

The system gave interesting results, but was far from perfect, because some of the designed institutions barely met the efficiency requirements that they were expected to achieve. The biggest failure was municipal education because municipalities have been chronically inefficient in managing primary and high schools. Every year they lost enrollment, compared with private subsidized schools that are also free. When a school looks dirty, dilapidated with broken glass, and on strike, it will most likely be administered by a municipality.

Nevertheless, the reform also brought great advantages over the old system centralized in the Ministry of Education. In 1981 there were 8 universities in Chile and only 2 out of 10 secondary school graduates could enter university. There are now 179 higher education institutions: 59 universities, 43 professional institutes and 77 technical training centers, and 5 out of 10 graduates now entering middle school to a university. The old dream of “college for all”, the revolutionary slogan in 1967, was fulfilled in the most unexpected way: the private way.

After the military rule, during the 18 years of center-left governments, Chile did not attempt to change the reforms introduced in 1981. On the contrary, the system of subsidies was strengthened, and although they closed the door to the creation of new private colleges, they maintained the principle of self-funded state universities that compete on equal terms with private ones.

As I recall, since the return to democracy in 1990, each year there have been two major strikes in Chile: the public employees and students are as predictable as rain in winter. Strikes are sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker, but it is rare to spend a year without two strikes. Behind the strikes of students is always the claim to re-nationalize education, which is in the corporate interest of the teachers who want to go back to being public servants. It also eliminates competition from private education that is killing them. Students are only the instruments, as they are always ready to go on strike for any reason as long as they miss classes. It is a well established Chilean tradition.

Full education coverage has succeeded with primary 99.7% enrollment and 87.7% secondary education enrollment. However, It has had the paradoxical effect that completing secondary education now is not valuable for finding a job. Several studies have shown that there is little advantage to having a high school diploma. In the future, as university education comes to the masses, it is likely that professional qualifications will also start to lose value.

The problem comes when politicians began to assert the theory that if education was a tool to improve income, making it general could achieve greater social equality. This concept of egalitarian education led to higher levels of demand, and now to have a professional degree does not distinguish someone for their expertise. Education as a tool for egalitarianism is a contradiction since it does not take into account that people educate to differentiate themselves from others, not to be equal to them.

In Chile today, almost all our young people have completed secondary education and this does not qualify them at all to earn a living. Almost half are admitted to college, and as the demands are relatively low, many leave with diplomas, but without special skills needed to make a living. They also have to pay or borrow for a quite expensive education because of waste in state universities or the race for the prestigious private schools. Having finally obtained a diploma, this doesn’t make any difference because everyone gets one, even stupid people. If we add all these conditions, plus the corporate interests of the teachers, who dream of going back to being public servants not having to compete with more efficient private teachers, explains why each year, with the same regularity as the rainfall, Chile has a student and teachers strike.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

From Arica to Santiago overland

I just take a long long ride, driving from Arica, my town, to Santiago , 2050 Km. away down south.

Two and half days driving, two days in Santiago and then come back to Arica, It was crazy but I had made the same trip many times ago so It was not so hard to me. If you want to see some of our crazy geography and my adventures clic here to see the pics I made along my trip.

North of Chile is not a "nice" place, as a typical touristic expects. It is incredilbly dry, arid, wild and desolate. Humans fell dwarf in front of the huge nature. There are small mining tonws and many ghost towns along the way to Antofagasta, then miles and miles of "nada" just desert and desolation up Copiapó. Then landscape turns gradually green and thing are at a human scale again. There is a shocking contrast between the giant desierto and the civilized Zona Central

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Bombings on London's transport system filled news media around the world passing time after time the same images and similar comments. In practical terms, this huge media coverage just help to terror purposes. I bet that in London has died more than 40 peoople in a day due traffic accidents, if they would have paid the same media coverage, surely people would be much more carefully driving. But bombings sell, and serve to political purposes also.

So that is the way on the public opinion, feed by TV and pollitically correct comments, develop an irrational fear, starting from the most coward and most impresionable people. Terror aims to cowards, those that are easily shocked and impressed with the image of death or suffering and media coverage is special to spread fear and insecurity among those people.

The goal of terror actions is mostly psicological, even the biggest strikes are neglictible compared with any conventional military attack but it is aimed to spread the fear among the cowards. There is no need bravery to plant some bombs, explode them remotely and then run, it is an action made by and aimed to cowards, but I think that british people is not easily amedrented, propably the effect will be oposed than those the terrorist wished.

Anyway all we must die some day and, if I could choose I surely prefer to die in a blasting instead of a long, dirty and expemsive illnes. In my view is a nice way to die, maybe that is why the bombings do not impress nor scare me, nothing at all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The trap of a confortable life

Time ago I met a guy which I met in the eigthies, when I was poor. He rented a bigger room than mine and worked as mailman, I remember him about my age, married with a big woman and his finances was far better than mine; paycheck assured every month with no problem to finance room and food, much more than I obtained with sporadic jobs (when I can get one).

Well, the fact is that he recognized me inmediatly, for me was hard to recognize him, he seemed a very old man with holes instead of front theets, he explained me that he was working as junior, cleaning and carrying cases in a shipment office. He was very impressed to see me driving my own car and I cannot convince him that I was not into drug traffiking, for him it was no other logical explanation for Mr. "zero pesos" that he met in the eigthies now had a car to drive, and a truck also.

This made me think how lucky -at least in fiancial terms- I was since those hard times, It is true that I live now with few money but my economic progress was amazing: years ago no one gave a cent for my future, my natural place in this word was -with luck- to be a mailman or a junior same as my friend, working hard like a trained monkey for a couple of bucks every month. Now I see all those people which I lived in the eighties and all of them are in the same misery as before.

I was thinking that if I would followed the commonsense to look for security today I woud be the same, or worse, than they. Thanks God I never considered look for security.

So, if some young people who is starting his own figth for existence is reading that I will give him this good advice for free: never look for a confortable life, this is the worst trap. If you like take it, if not leave it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

To live with style

I was reading the Steve Jobs speech to Stanford graduates, thinking that surely those words will be very popular in the future. Every certain time an impressive speech or piece of writing appears amazing people and remaining as inspiration for years to come.

This happened with Churchill speechs, the Macarthur farewell, Luther King, Lincoln and many others in the past. Now Steve Jobs with simple and clear words talked to graduates about his own story, his shinning times and cloudly times.

As most of motivational adress Jobs told a lot of obvious things, so obvious that we rarely are aware of them: the importance to do which we like most, to be able to stand up after the fall, how important may sometimes become some insignificat things as calligraph, and the onminous reality of our death.

But besides to be a good piece of text, which I liked most of the speech was the fact that Jobs itself cannot be considered as a winner in the traditional sense. He does a lot of bad moves and mistakes, under his first ruling Apple was close to bankrupt and most of his long term strategy finally was far from good.

Compared with Gates, Steve Jobs achievements are not so impressing, however he has always exited the imagination of people and has harvested consistently a lot enthusiatic followers. Steve Jobs is a happy guy with a great ability to transmit enthusiasm. He is a real champion despite the fact that Bill Gates has defeated him, same as Muhammad Ali was still the champion after Foreman made it bit the dust after broking his jaw.

So ¿what is my moral?, I think that the achievemnts are not the esential, any asshole with a little luck -or some skill- may obtain a big achievement, but to live with style and be consistent with your own beliefs is a very different matter. Not any asshole can do that, no way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Politically incorrect

 I´m aware that may be not pollitically correct to say that, but what is the idea behind Creative Commons licences? Okay, I understand that people who earn their living writing may be afraid to be copied their valuable work, but It seems to me hilarious that blogs like mine and yours claim for a sort of "license". Maybe bestsellers like Tom Clancy or Isabel Allende may be interested to "protect" (and I doubt they can do it) their writings, there are extreme cases like J. P. Salinger, if you even write his name you are in danger to be sued, however every Salinger book that I had read, I had obtaines in the web, illegally, of course.

So what is the purpose to claim certain "rigths" on the trivialities that we write daily in blogs? I think that those ideas only strenght among common people the ideology from the big editorials and entertainment industry: that people has sort of natural rigths on every single thing that they can write, or sing or whatever.

But the Internet spirit has been always opposite, freedom to copy for masses, even being illegal. I said at first, may sound pollitically incorrect to endorse something ilegal, but is the reality. Slavery was also legal in the past and when we live under dictatorship here in Chile, we experienced many unfair or stupid laws, may we obbey blindly even stupid laws?.

The strongest support of any law is the punish: without trials and jails very few laws would survive and, as long as technology allow to broke laws with no practical consecuences, people will begin to disrespect them. Frankly speaking I had no guilt sentiment infracting copyrigth laws. So, acording with this idea I wrote my own:

"Not so Creative and Uncommon License

The contents of this weblog are not protected under any kind of licence, so please fell free to copy (just as I does) anything you wish. However in sake of basic good manners I kindly advise you to mention the source, if not you are exposed to receive the old curse from my gipsy ancestors, you surely will catch AIDS and may every tooth will fall apart from your mounth!"

Which I added to my blogs to unprotect them from any of my hipotetical copyrigths<

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Karma NOW!

For those who love mechanics (like I do) surely will understand my feelings when I heard the big crunch in the rear axle of my truck followed by onminous sounds of iron pieces falling apart as long as I acelerated, the dices are trowed I say to myself, and continued driving up to my home with the axis noising as close to explode.

So, me and my neighbor who is a skilled mechanic openned the case to see what had happened, well: the morons who adapted a new rear axis left loose the nuts which support the assamblage so they crashed. "Cheap things cost a lot" states a popular saying, it is true. You can find very cheap labour here, but you must be very luky to find the rigth man. So I am almost one month with the truck broken and praising will not have the need to tow my trailer!

To move myself meantime I find a "new" (second hand really) rear axis I had to invoke the Gods of mechanics and repaired my old and stroked Mitsubishi Colt 81, which now runs nice except I have no papers for this car , hope no policeman stop me because I will have to give a lot of explanations.

Anyway, I love mechanic works so I will got some fun making the fixes, but anyway I wish the stupid mechanic which left loose the bolts loose their theets, one by one, same as my truck, I demand for karma now!