Countering a cold blast of wind from the devil

Blank two-storey, wood-frame row houses line the main street through Lota, Chile. The stark functionality of worker's housing in this former company town can't be escaped.

Blank two-storey, wood-frame row houses line the main street through Lota, Chile.

The stark functionality of worker’s housing in this former company town can’t be escaped. It has been a long time since I wandered those streets but I hear that the coal industry there has fallen on very hard times. Closed mines, people trapped in poverty and toxic slag heaps don’t leave much room for optimism.

Lota sits on the Pacific coast about 30 kilometres south of Chile’s second largest city, Concepcion. It was a year ago this coming Sunday that the 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit this region.

By GPS calculations, the powerful shaking displaced the whole city roughly three metres to the west. The quake left more than 520 dead, thousands injured and hundreds of billions of Chilean pesos in damage nationwide.

The quake did provide some relief for this region’s chronically unemployed miners and their families. Emergency government work programs, like the Military Work Corps, provided needed jobs. For several months thousands of men and women took on the tasks of cleaning up debris, installing emergency housing and other reconstruction work. These jobs didn’t last.

By fall, the government of Sebastian Pinera, a conservative multi-millionaire, had cut the emergency work programs. Once again, economic and concomitantly psychological depression faced the residents of Lota. In November, 33 local women inspired by the dramatic rescue last October of the 33 miners trapped further north in the San Jose mine on the edge of the Atacama desert, launched a hunger strike.

After unsuccessfully petitioning government officials and marching on their offices they took their protest nearly 1,000 metres below Lota into the former El Chiflon del Diablo, “the cold blast of wind from the devil,” coal mine. The Chiflon del Diablo mine had been a major employer in the area until supposed high production costs shut it down in the early 1990s.

The women protesters reasoned if the Pinera government could pledge to spare no resources in the rescue of the trapped “Atacama 33,” it could do the same to save the jobs their families depended on.

They wrote, “Today we want to ask the government and parliament officials to, with the same drive, use the country’s economic resources to keep these jobs.”

After a week, the hunger strikers were able to reach an agreement with regional governor, Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe. She announced her government would fund 2,000 new jobs in the area. The governor also pledged the workers would receive training offering hope for future permanent employment. The protester’s creative non-violent collective action succeeded in getting the powers that be to listen to them.

The World Day of Prayer this year has been written by a committee of women from Chile. The women describe devastating events in their land “when people chose to resist evil by forming community.”

They urge us to “consider times in your country or community when evil was overcome by people acting together for the common good.”

These Chilean women hope to inspire us in our dealings on today’s critical problems like homelessness locally and people elsewhere confronting challenges like systemic violence. They urge us all not to despair. Together we can in word and deed remake our world into a global community where the multitudes are fed and justice prevails.

The World Day of Prayer will be celebrated this year at the Whitehorse United Church at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 11th. For more information call 667-2989.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read