Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting a Read on Internal Security Issues

As protests continue, 2011 is going down as the most politically violent year in Chile since the return of democracy in 1990. For months, student groups have taken to the streets demanding reforms in the education system. Some protests turned quite violent, with students throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at police. At least one store was set ablaze during one riot. Police have responded with water cannon and tear gas, suffering scores of injuries and in a few cases even gunshot wounds. The shooting death of one teenager by police further inflamed protesters, some of whom are left-wing extremists happy to pound on the conservative government and destroy businesses. While the scenes from Santiago and other cities are dismaying, the country is far from being paralyzed. Protests are noisy and disruptive but not violent the majority of the time. Student and government leaders are in talks, which has cooled the crisis to some degree. Still, there are extremist elements that threaten to undermine the progress in negotiations. For example, Carabineros found bomb-making materials at one university. Meanwhile, the conflict with the native community shows no sign of abating. This month, Mapuche militants fired at police guarding a ranch that has been a flashpoint of the long conflict. In another recent incident, a rancher is accused of shooting a 13-year-old and wounding him after an altercation. Like the student conflict, the Mapuche war remains contained to certain troublespots in the south of Chile.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Crash of Air Force Plane Kills 21 Crew Members, Civilians

In one of the worst military aviation disasters in Chile's history, an Air Force plane with 21 on board crashed Friday, Sept. 2, near the Juan Fernandez islands. All on board are presumed dead. The island's mayor said the twin-engine CASA C-212 aborted its landing attempt amid high winds. On its second attempt, the plane veered off behind a hill and was never seen again. A day later, four bodies were found in waters south of the island, some 600 meters from the airstrip. Recovery efforts continued through the weekend, with the Navy putting its new C-295 Persuader maritime reconnaissance airplanes on the mission, in addition to two frigates, support vessels and helicopters. Civilian and Navy divers searched underwater for remains. The Air Force (FACH) deployed its own rescue team but, alas, a hydraulic problem forced one of its planes to return to Santiago. The crash is getting plenty of media coverage in Chile, increased by the fact that among the dead was a television personality and his news crew. The Television Nacional team was flying to the island to report on how Juan Fernandez villagers are recovering from the 2010 tsunami. Government cultural officials and members of an earthquake recovery group were also aboard. The C-212's pilot was Lt. Juan Pablo Mallea and the co-pilot was Lt.Carolina Fern├índez, one of the few female military aviators in Chile. The pilots and four other crew members were based at the Cerro Moreno base in the north of Chile. What could have gone wrong? Aside from the winds, there was no obvious cause. The plane had enough fuel for the 600 km flight from Santiago, and was not overloaded, FACH says. Update: After two days of fruitless search, complicated by heavy seas, more bodies and wreckage were found Tuesday, Sept. 6, in waters 7 km from the airstrip. The plane was a C-212 Series 300, tail number 966. It was the fourth accident in Chile since 1986 involving a C-212, which is used by all three branches of the armed forces. FACH says the plane did not miss its first landing attempt; it was a routine flyover of the runway to make sure it was clear to land. Winds recorded at the island were 25 knots and erratic, which would have affected the landing.