From issue: Natural Resource Extraction in Latin America (Winter 2013)


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In this issue:
Wheels up: a biker gets some air while racing through Valparaíso. Photo: Jacob Biba. Homepage photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty


In October 1988, a national plebiscite to extend the military rule of then-Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was voted down by 56 percent of the electorate. This transformational event has been re-imagined 24 years later in a film named after the “No” coalition of 16 political parties that led the opposition campaign.No is the third and final work in a cinematic depiction of the period of Pinochet’s rule (1973–1989) by Chilean director Pablo Larraín, 36. The first two were Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010).

The 110-minute film, starring  Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, is based on Plebiscito, an unproduced play by Chilean novelist Antonio Skármeta about René Saavedra, a young advertising executive who spearheaded the “No” campaign and managed to outflank the pro-Pinochet forces, who were outspending the opposition 30-to-1, with a shrewd messaging strategy that mobilized almost 4 million supporters. 

The film’s principal financier was Participant Media, a U.S. company that funds “compelling, entertaining stories that also create awareness of the real issues that shape our lives,” according to Participant’s website. Larraín and producers Daniel Dreifuss and Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo’s brother and co-founder of their joint production company, Fábula, tracked down archival video of the original television spots and interviewed participants from the “No” campaign. To give the film an authentic 1980s look, No was shot in its entirety with a 1983 U-matic video camera.

The filmmakers’ meticulous efforts have paid off. No won the top prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section, and has been chosen to represent Chile for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards in February.  The film, which debuted in Chile and Mexico in 2012 to wide praise, will be released in theaters in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere in the hemisphere in 2013.

Larraín, who was 12 at the time of the plebiscite, believes the film conveys a timely message to young  Chileans—especially as Chile gears up for the November 2013 presidential election—about the power of politics to change society. “Art, like political campaigns, has the power to shape our views and expectations of the world,” he says.

Watch a trailer for No below:

Cerro Abajo

Olivia Crellin

Linking “Chile” and “extreme sports” usually conjures up an image of off-road vehicles racing at breakneck speed through the Atacama Desert during the annual Dakar Rally [AQ, Summer 2011], or of high-endurance hikers climbing the Andes.

But downhill racing in Valparaíso, Chile’s bohemian harbor city? In fact, since 2003, romantic “Valpo,” which counted Pablo Neruda among its residents, has played host to the world’s largest urban bike race every summer. This year, the one-day Cerro Abajo (Downhill) competition is scheduled for February 24.

The race takes competitors on a 1.24-mile (2-kilometer) daredevil course that begins on Cerro Cárcel, a cultural park located on one of the city’s many hills. From there, bikers navigate a series of challenges, including a spectacular 26-foot (8-meter) jump known as The North Face, a mind-bending left-hand wall ride and a 13-foot (4-meter) drop through a gazebo, before reaching the finish line at the central Plaza Aníbal Pinto.

When the race is on, Valparaíso’s busy metropolitan center  shuts down. Last year, 15,000 spectators—2,000 of them tourists—lined the course, often within touching distance of the bikers. The devoted fans add character to the Cerro Abajo, says Mauricio Acuña, a Chilean who won last year’s competition with a time of two minutes and 38 seconds. “The bikers feel like true rock stars for a day.”

Would-be racers must receive an invitation from organizers. Roughly 60 competitors from around the world participate each year. Corporate sponsorships plus funding from Chile’s Instituto Nacional de Deportes (National Institute of Sports—IND) cover the costs.

IND has already committed to partially subsidizing the race for the next three years—a move that government officials hope will promote the international aspect of the Cerro Abajo and encourage tourism. Meanwhile, competition organizers are working on a syndication deal that will broadcast the race to its growing fan base. 

Watch a trial from the 2010 Cerro Abajo from a biker's point of view:

South by Southwest Revolucionado

When culture and entertainment enthusiasts flock to Austin, Texas, on March 8–17 for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, they’ll have a chance to join in the first SXSW production with a distinctly Latino flair: The Social Revolución (TSR).

The can’t-miss cavalcade of film, music and interactive media this year will feature a meet-up for Latino techies known as the Latino Lounge, along with an awards event, Revolucionario Awards, first introduced last year to honor influential Latino change-agents. Conceived by Cultural Strategies, an Austin-based multicultural marketing agency, both events seek to appeal to young Latinos operating on the frontiers of social media.

The inspiration for TSR came from the Web 2.0 users who propelled the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. Recognizing Latino digital leaders made sense because they tend to be “much younger and open to adapting new technologies,” says Cultural Strategies’ founder Sebastian Puente.

Thanks to the buzz generated through Twitter and Facebook, and with support from digital partners such as The News Taco, Latina Lista, Twitteros, and Juan of Words, news of the competition reached 1.3 million people in 20 countries within two months of TSR’s launch, generating 140 award nominations.

The 2012 awards recognized winners in four categories: “New Americanos,” “Mobilizers,” “Innovators,” and an all-encompassing “Leader of the Revolution.” Winners included Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino (Fall 2011 AQ Innovator), and Oscar Morales, creator of the “One Million Voices Against FARC” Facebook page. Music-philanthropy duo Calle 13 won “Leader of the Revolution."

With TSR planning to build on last year’s momentum and crowdsource future concerts, Latinos’ multimedia presence in SXSW is certain to expand.

10 Things to Do: Havana, Cuba

Richard André and Alana Tummino

Havana, a city of 2.2 million on Cuba’s northwest coast, is the island’s political, cultural and industrial capital. The weathered buildings in Habana Vieja and classic U.S. cars seem like a time warp. The U.S. embargo makes Cuba off-limits to most U.S. citizens, but the island attracts millions of visitors each year. 

1. Stroll along the Malecón. A 5-mile (8-kilometer) promenade hugging Havana harbor, the Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) has been called the “heart and soul” of the city. Sunbathe or fish from the boardwalk during the day; join the vibrant, youthful crowd out for a paseo at night.

2. Experience Cuban art. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana (National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana) contains over 1,200 works dating from the colonial period through the late twentieth century. Admission: CUC5. (One Cuban Convertible peso [CUC]=$1.) Closed on Mondays.

3. Relish Havana cuisine. Doña Eutemia (Callejón del Chorro #60C), a paladar (privately owned restaurant) in Old Havana’s Plaza de la Catedral, serves Cuban specialties such as tostones rellenos (stuffed plantains), frituritas de malanga (malanga root fritters) and ropa vieja (shredded steak).

4. Enjoy pre-revolutionary nightlife. Havana’s premier cabaret, Tropicana (Calle 72 #4504 y Línea del Ferrocarril, Marianao) and its open-air Salón Bajo Las Estrellas (Salon Under the Stars) have been thrilling clubgoers since 1939. The pricey tickets (CUC75–95) include rum, cola and a cheap cigar.

5. Step in Papa’s shoes. La Bodeguita del Medio (Empedrado #207 e/ Cuba y San Ignacio) was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda. Choose the añejo rum over the tourist-priced mojito.

6. Indulge in Cold War Nostalgia. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba (Calle O y 21) served as military headquarters for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now houses a museum dedicated to the conflict. Head to the hotel bar, La Teraza, for a great view of the Malecón.

7. Sample beisbol. The 60,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericano (Consejero Aranjo y Pedro Pérez, Cerro) is the place to experience Cuba’s favorite sport. Catch a “Super Clásico” grudge match between the Industriales, Havana’s home team, and the Avispas, their cross-island rival from Santiago de Cuba. Price: CUC3-5 for tourist section seating.

8. Sniff a puro. The best Cuban cigar, the 7.5 inch-long “Trinidad” (a favorite of Fidel’s), is made at Fábrica El Laguito (Av. 146 #2302, e/ 21 y 21A, Cubanacán), the home of the Cohiba brand. To schedule a visit, call Tabacuba, the state-run tobacco company.

9. Ride in a 1957 Chevy. Havana is home to one of the world’s largest working collections of classic American cars, which comprise the city’s taxi fleet. Privately licensed since 2009, they are officially off-limits to foreigners—but rides can be booked legally through Gran Car company at $15 per hour or $90 per day.

10. Salsa the night away. The grandson of Buena Vista Social Club’s Compay Segundo carries on the salsa tradition on Monday and Wednesday nights at the Havana Club Rum Museum. Shows start at 9:45 p.m. Price: CUC30.

Watch a slideshow from Havana. All photos courtesy of Diego Ruiz.

This Is Your Year, Quinoa

Leani García

Quinoa, which the Incas once considered the “mother grain,” has earned a distinctive honor. In accordance with a December 2011 resolution by  the United Nations General Assembly, 2013 will be known as the International Year of Quinoa (IYQ).

But this is not just a salute to an ancient crop. Once marginalized by Spanish conquistadores as a food of the rural poor, quinoa—grown mainly in the Andean altiplanos (highlands) of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru—is taking the rest of the world by storm.

The European Union, Japan and North America account for a considerable increase in quinoa’s global consumption, thanks in part to consumers drawn to its nutritional benefits, the low environmental impact of its farming, and its organic and gluten-free character. “With the increasing move to eat healthier, and the upward trends in celiac and gluten-free diets, people are looking for more options,” says Christopher Algea, founder of Keen One Foods, a Colorado (U.S.)-based food company.

Quinoa has been harvested for over 7,000 years through techniques perfected by Indigenous peoples. It can also be grown in diverse agro-ecological regions, at a broad range of temperatures. Bolivia, one of the major producers, has been a driving force behind IYQ. Two years ago, it proposed a special year for the grain, and President Evo Morales, an Indigenous Aymara, now serves as the Food and Agriculture Organization’s special ambassador to IYQ. Bolivia produces 46 percent of the world’s quinoa, and has benefited handsomely from the crop’s demand boom—exporting 14,500 metric tons, $25 million worth, in 2009.

But quinoa’s popularity isn’t the only thing that has escalated: its wholesale price increased sevenfold between 2000 and 2011. Many farmers prefer to sell it now instead of keeping it for consumption. For many poor families the onetime staple of the Bolivian diet is now too expensive. Partly because of the price increase and partly because they are eating more rice and noodles, Bolivia’s consumption of quinoa fell 34 percent in the past five years. Today, only one-tenth of the quinoa grown in Bolivia stays in the country, according to Nemecia Achacollo, rural development minister.

As IYQ starts, the year-long commemoration represents a mixed blessing. As the world learns about and adopts a fabled Bolivian staple, the country that brought it to fame is finding less of it on its own dinner tables.

From the Think Tanks

How are Latin America’s anti-drug policies resonating among the region’s youth? Asuntos del Sur (ADS), a multinational think tank in Argentina and Chile, surveyed 4,000 people ages 18 to 34 across six countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, and Mexico. The results, published in Estudio de Drogas y Opinión Pública 2012 (Study of Drugs and Public Opinion 2012), indicate that young Latin Americans are clamoring for change. When asked if police intervention was the most effective way to reduce drug use, only 3 percent of Mexicans and 24 percent of Salvadorans said yes. Similarly, while 23 percent of Salvadoran respondents approve legalization of illicit drugs, this figure surges to 80 percent among Argentines in the study.

Mexico is undergoing political change, following the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto and a new congress late last year. In response, FundarCentro de Análisis e Investigación (FundarCenter for Analysis and Research), a nonpartisan institution based in Coyoacán, D.F., launched Propuestas para un nuevo sexenio (Proposals for a New Six-Year Term). This micro-site is divided into five key policy areas: legislative power; fiscal and budgetary transparency; health care; transparency and access to information; and the justice system and human rights. For each plank, Fundar teamed up with a roster of Mexican NGOs to spur debate about the country’s priorities and political trajectory in the current sexenio through 2018.

Transparency International’s annual report on perceived levels of public-sector corruption across 176 countries and territories reveals a troubling trend in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 (CPI) reports that two-thirds of LAC’s 32 countries register in the bottom half of all nations evaluated. The CPI is a composite index that includes a combination of surveys and corruption assessments, and countries are assigned a ranking between 0 (highly corrupt) and 100 (very clean). In the region, Haiti and Venezuela tied for the lowest score (19) and the lowest ranking (#165) of hemispheric countries among the 176 countries. Conversely, Barbados scored the highest in LAC (76, #15), followed by Chile and Uruguay (both 72, #20).

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