Quote of the moment

"I have to tell it again and again: I have no doctrine. I only point out something. I point out reality, I point out something in reality which has not or too little been seen. I take him who listens to me at his hand and lead him to the window. I push open the window and point outside. I have no doctrine, I carry on a dialogue." Martin Buber

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Do’s & Don’ts of Hitchhiking in Chile

Chile Hitchhiking Hithchiking in the U.S. is a dying art, possibly because it may result in you, the hitchhiker, actually dying at the hands of some Charlie Manson type. Luckily, there are still places in the world where hitchhiking is not only possible, but one of the more entertaining modes of transportation. Places like Chile.
Read more

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nostalgia and memories of Christmas back home

As Christmas comes nearer and temperatures start leaving the mid 80's to climb closer to the 90's in Santiago, I'm nostalgically drawn to the photos shared by of friends in the USA of their holiday trimmings and outdoor lights and holiday scenes this year.  For expats, the holidays often cause a longing for the familiar traditions of home. Looking at the photos and accounts of friends left behind in the states,  I my mind begins to weave its way back in time to Christmases past shared with family back home in Virginia and beyond.

Samson decked out with Christmas bells - our living room in VA
A bit of Christmas cheer for the dogs too from the traditional Serrano ham
And to all a Merry Christmas
Pups posing by the fire

Let the feasting begin!

One such favorite memory was the discovery of the Sleepy Hallow Neighborhood, Torrance, CA with Andy when he was little.  We lived in Redondo Beach at that time. Rather than leave Andy with a sitter so we could attend a party (we were encouraged NOT to bring him though other party goers' children were welcome), we opted to skip the event entirely and  go to the theater to view the new release, Toy Story  as a family. We followed the movie with dinner at Burger King (and of course picked up the Toy Story action figures, especially Woody with Andy's own name inscribed on the foot!).  On our way home we were drawn to a parade of slowly moving cars leading into a neighborhood tucked deeply away from the busy commercial streets. Suddenly we came upon the beauty of the Sleepy Hallow tradition:

The view of neighborhood unity with each home's trees linked together to the next with gently swaying loops of lights was breath taking. For blocks our little family marveled at the holiday scenes, many animated, the decorations and the lovely lights.  To see Andy's face of awe was the best part of it all.  On the corners were the neighborhood children with hot coco, and walking along the sidewalks were carolers. Even now, recalling it all brings a warm tear of nostalgia and joy.

Later I learned the party was a bust, with many regretting even attending. Without a doubt I am most thankful for the discriminatory attitude of the host. As a result of his humbug manner we had a most enjoyable, memorable holiday evening that remains with me still. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Failings of the Teletón: Disability and human rights in Chile

Jane Petry of the Santiago Times published an article that challenges Chile's institution of  the Telethon:
Failings of the Teletón: Disability and human rights in Chile
My added comments to her report are included here:
Read my translation of what another advocate- with a disability- has to say about the telethon. I translated his statement and posted it in my blog: Disability is a social relationship / La discapacidad es una relación social   http://tinyurl.com/ce75oxz

Follow up is needed with the various foundations who sent their children to the telethon to prostitute them that they may receive inadequate and insufficient services... and that's just for those children who happen to "suffer" the correct and photogenic disability. Never mind those un-photogenic teens or adults who since matriculated to the steps of the metro for lack of education & services.

Read my report on the Cámara de Diputado's 1st seminar on disability. Note what the director of the Telethon (Milton Gonzáles A.and not Kreutzberger) had to say about the need for change. Also note the response of the Diputado when I asked how Chile plans to effect change when the telethon has become institutionaliz ed?

Further... the image is not only outdated it also flies against the Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities (http://www.un.org/disabilities/) which the Government of Chile has not only signed but also ratified. On a day that should have dignified individuals with disabilities- International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2011 (http://tinyurl.com/69bo4pf), Kreutzberger and his pity party served to carve even deeper the hole in which Chile prefers to bury her citizens with disabilities.

Learn more about what we already know:
Research: http://www.jstor.org/pss/25486174

NPR: http://tinyurl.com/85ygj6p

People living with disability http://tinyurl.com/9s2gb6

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Chile the rich get richer: OECD report shows the inequality gap continues to widen

Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising

Great information published on the disparity and inequality between rich and poor across the globe. In Chile the difference is the largest at a rich to poor ratio of  27:1

In the three decades prior to the recent economic downturn, wage gaps widened and household income inequality increased in a large majority of OECD countries. This occurred even when countries were going through a period of sustained economic and employment growth. This report analyses the major underlying forces behind these developments:

- An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries (free .pdf)
- Special Focus: Inequality in Emerging Economies (free .pdf)

Great interactive information allows you to compare your country to others.
From the OCED site:

Data on income inequality: How does your country compare?
Income Distribution and Poverty Database:
Gini coefficients, real average and median household disposable income, etc. and Methods & concepts 
Download key data from country notes & media brief (.xls)
This "PETAL" interactive browser allows you to compare where your country stands across 6 inequality indicators (.xls)
This TRAFFIC LIGHT summary table allows you to compare where your country stands across 6 inequality and 4 redistribution indicators (.xls)

How does OECD define inequity?

●    Dispersion of hourly wages among full-time (or full-time equivalent) workers.
●    Wage dispersion among workers (e.g. annual wages, including wages from part-time work or work during only part of the year).
●    Individual earnings inequality among all workers (including the self-employed).
●    Individual earnings inequality among the entire working-age population (including those who are inactive, i.e. not working).
●    Household earnings inequality (including the earnings of all household members).
●    Household market income inequality (including incomes from capital, savings and private transfers).
●   Household disposable income inequality (taking into account public cash transfers received and direct taxes paid).
●  Household adjusted disposable income inequality (taking into account the values of publicly provided services such as health or education)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Disability is a social relationship / La discapacidad es una relación social

Luis Alejandro Vera Fuente-Alba (with permission to use)

The following is my translation of an interview by Luis Vera, of the Colectivo Palos de Ciego (White Cane Collaborative) published in Chile's online El Ciudadano.

To view the original in Spanish go to http://tinyurl.com/7sjdxlo

Disability is a social relationship
La discapacidad es una relación social

Once again a weekend of solidarity television mediated by large companies has just concluded. Beyond the necessary aid to children suffering from any constitutional difference, a task abandoned by the State, there is a whole political economy after the event which brings together all from Moors to Christians, to watch with giving smiles the television screens of Chile; a country that only one in five people with disabilities of working age have a paid job, only 50% of them end up basic education, and only 10% have access to rehabilitation.

We spoke with
Luis Vera Fuente-Alba
, who lives with partial blindness, has a BA in political science, is studying sociology at the University of Chile, and is member of the Colectivo Palos de Ciego (The White Cane Collective), an organization whose goal is to enlighten the population of Chile by challenging  the image that the Telethon just finished instilling in Chile, the portrait of persons with disabilities as being different from others based on a medical paradigm.

-The Telethon strengthens the idea of charity and pity with sad background music included.

What makes the telethon work is its appeal to emotionalism. And appealing to the emotional mobilizes many people. The problem is that it can be very emotional, but provides zero awareness. Just as serious is the shame, that I have to help others in a paternalistic manner because the “poor thing” is missing a leg, hand, or can not see well, or not listen, and therefore out of necessity must live an inferior life. They are incapable of fending for themselves and therefore we must come to their aid.

Poster from Chile's Teletón 2011
- What fosters this image?
The association is between disabled and incapacitated. Girls and boys of the Telethon are mere objects of the charity of others centered of the task to normalize them, not converting them into autonomous subjects capable of deciding what to do with their own lives. Of course, nobody is saying that this task is not necessary. The point is how. What we claim is indicated by disability law, health is a fundamental duty of the State. It is the State must take care to ensure our rights.

- Can we talk about the political economy of the telethon?

The Telethon is a gigantic charity. It mobilizes an entire ruling class, corporate elite and the "celebrity" of television, as well as many national and foreign artists with the idea of ​​a "crusade of solidarity." Such is the power of this company, headed by one of the most influential in the political and communication field; which to our knowledge, lacks any transparency regarding the final destination of the funds raised, or obligation of the company to account for them. Add to that the massive communications campaign involving a substantial part of big companies in the country for a month to spend huge sums on advertising. And consider also the fact that nowhere, least of all in Chilean companies, do they"spend" money without receiving compensation.

-There is a cloak of silence regarding it...

I think we should investigate two things: What is the actual final destination of the funds raised by the telethon and what is the relationship between the profits of participating companies and the donations they make. My bet is that in both cases there are people who are making significant gains. The Telethon is a huge business for the few at the expense of the negative effects generated by the show by portraying people with disabilities as objects in need of the charity of others, using such phrasing as "poor little children, how we are not going to help?"

-The Telethon company operates in a reduced state of a neoliberal.

The original idea of ​​the Chicago Boys, crystallized in the Constitution and laws of Pinochet still in force and defended by all post-dictatorship governments, was that the involvement in government by the State is reduced to its minimum expression, relegated to a subsidiary role, doing only just what corporations are unwilling to do themselves. This has meant that all social benefits, former State obligations have become a business for the few at the expense of the rights of the majority. And in the case of disability, they have created new mechanisms to deal with the problem. The telethon, in this connection, fulfills a part-a small part for certain-of the void left by a State which is responsible for ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities. And with that, we were turned into commodities and are used by companies to clean up their image under the pretext of "sensitizing" people.

- What effect do you see at this juncture?

One of the most serious problems generated by this, besides the covert negotiations made by this group of companies' “solidarity,” is that it treats people with disabilities as objects, as recipients of the charity of others, deprived of a fundamental feature of being properly human, which is the right to be self determined. And, of course, it falls away as usual in its schizophrenic contradiction between the official discourse that “we are a supportive country” and the real country where the vast majority of people with disabilities have no access to health, or education or paid work. There is even less awareness by society as a whole that they are people who have rights and ability to take decisions autonomously.

- How does it make you feel that a human gesture as pristine as solidarity is mediated through the act of buying a product?

We live in a society of consumers, not citizens. The democratic act has been reduced to get a vote in a ballot box every so often. The creation of the illusion of an inclusive society is used for consumption. So we try to show that the act of buying is a form of participation and, in the case of the Telethon, a form of solidarity. This idea of ​​solidarity, however, obscures the structure of social relations of production: we usually buy in supermarkets, pharmacies, service stations, hardware stores, etc. And in so doing we are helping to swell the profits of a few companies that pay very little tax and, in relation to the issue before us, they do not hire people with disabilities, for example. In addition, in contrast to this image of a country united in developing social relationships between people with disabilities and people without disabilities, there is a lot of individualism and looking the other way even with contempt for the other. And this refers to the lack of awareness about disability, the widespread ignorance that exists in Chile on this subject, which helps to perpetuate a discriminatory society that denies the diversity of realities that takes place in its interior.


- What do you think the concept of “disability?”

The idea that we are trying to show here is disability is a social relationship. It is the individual problem of people who are not able to adapt to the demands of a given social formation, but also the problem of a society that does not consider the diverse needs of all individuals that comprise it. You have to make a differentiate in that sense, between the lack or malfunction of any bodily organ failure, which is the physical or functional diversity-and the disability per se, which refers to the unnecessary exclusion that society makes people who have this functional diversity, by not allowing them to participate in the general social activities.

-There is also the notion of “

In Chile, in official terms, disability is associated with insufficiency and reinforces this idea of ​​deficiency by promoting the notion that people with disabilities are “abnormal,” making them less valuable than the rest of the people who do not have these physical impairments. And the reality of disabled people in the country is, unfortunately, consistent with this idea: only one in five people with disabilities of working age have a paid job, only 50% of them completed primary education, 10% have access for rehabilitation. The relationship between disability and socioeconomic status is straightforward: in the richest group of the population, the prevalence of disability is 5%, unlike the poor, which is 20%.

- What accounts for this difference?

This data is a practical verification of the idea that disability is a social problem,  associated with a set of variables of various kinds that have to do with the living conditions of people in relation to their socioeconomic position: it is clear that families with more resources have greater access to social benefits, health, education, etc., allowing them access to better quality of life, than in the case of poor families, their living conditions are much more precarious. However, in Chile there are no studies that tackle the specific causes of this association between disability and socioeconomic status as a research topic. And here we must reference the enormous debt has with us: in our country the academic world has no researchers specializing in this area, and the amount of literature on disability can be counted on one hand. So there's a major challenge.


-The concept of disability is associated with the idea of ​​“personal tragedy”. Can you explain the origin of this understanding?

The “Personal Tragedy Theory” is the term that some researchers and activists with disabilities, mainly British, refer to as the traditional theory of disability, based on the medical paradigm and sociological functionalism. This theory emphasizes the physical deficiency, the psychological suffering that it entails and the need for people with disabilities are placed under the care of the medical professionals who are able to "restore normalcy" if possible, or at least support them in the traumatic process of acceptance of a disabled identity. It is assumed, with this theory, the idea of ​​a normalized society which excludes and denies diversity, without addressing the social conditions and relations that produce such an exclusion.

- As a stigma?

Yes, this concept is useful to understand the label placed on a person who does not meet the expectations that society has set for the “normal” people. It is not expected that a student may attend college if he is wheelchair user or is blind, for example. This idea, coined by Goffman, is useful to describe the situation of persons with disabilities in a normalizing and intolerant society like ours, but which is not concerned with addressing the causes of this situation, assuming simply that there is a very normal given rooted in subjectivity, claiming a certain homogeneity that dismisses and denies diversity.

- What role is assigned to different people in this scheme?

In the best case scenario a person adapts to the society, developing their full "normal"  potential  available, and in any case being stripped of his humanity, is forced to bow to the medical professional "experts", thus losing their ability to decide about themselves, to be self-determined.

-Now there the notion of 'difference constituents' is circulating.

Yes, and also the idea of ​​"functional diversity" and others. The point is how to articulate these concepts in practice, because the State of Chile has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and has enacted a Law on Equal Opportunities and Social Inclusion of Persons with Disability, texts that incorporate cutting-edge concepts that go beyond the traditional theories, but in practice is a dead letter. So rather than a conceptual issue that is important, we must characterize and challenge the social relations that produces disability. The case of disability in Chile, in my opinion, is a paradigmatic example of the dynamics of normalization and exclusion of neoliberalism: it is not for nothing that the majority of people with disabilities in our country are poor, women, and have no access to education or work, this is the maximum exclusion within exclusion.

- What happens with the need for a normal body such as useful body in a capitalist society?

In order to install an educational system and labor market that demands certain minimum standard bodies, it is necessary to establish some idea of ​​ normal, what is expected of our bodies. This immediately excludes people who do not see, who do not hear, who ultimately require some adjustment given their original disadvantages with respect to what is considered “normal”. We are interested in having normal individuals under the criteria of efficiency; persons with disabilities implies a higher cost. In whatever capacity you wish to include a disabled person you will have to invest more, since you have to make accommodations, you need sign language interpreters or special software, which cost much money. As such, definitely we face  challenges in order to compete, and besides that we require investments that, through the scope of the dominant ideology, are clearly inefficient. Hence the idea of ​​efficiency in spending, for example, must necessarily be displaced by the idea of ​​universal guarantee of rights.


- Is it the problem of these differences only in the individual?

What the system is doing is psychoanalyzing social problems, to make them appear deceptively my problems as unique and specific to me, in circumstances where there are millions of people facing the same problems every day.

- How do we question this?

By challenging the current model of society. Attacking its foundations, which are individualism, efficiency and competition, that leaves people with disabilities always in a position of losers. In this system demonstrated as a success, exists the reality of the vast majority as losers and a minority as winners. The perversity of this competition stems from the fact that to gain those few, the many must necessarily lose. And in the meantime the many lose more and the few gain more. It's the same logic of the Lottery: shown as a mechanism to make money, but in reality it is a huge machine to lose money: millions must lose their money for a few to gain, and it is impossible impossible for all to win. To this logic one must put into opposition the true solidarity, cooperation, respect for diversity, the idea that we can all work together for the good of all.

Politics of difference

- Is it important to position the constitutional difference as a political issue?

When you take into account that in Chile we are about 2 and a half million persons with disabilities, 50% of whom end up basic education, only 20% have jobs, that 60% are women, compared to the wealthy,  the constitutional difference is five per cent of the population and the poor is 20%, you realize that there is a political problem behind it. It is a political problem above all because the reality of exclusion and neglect statistics contrast with the official statements made about inclusion and the guarantee of rights. It is also a political problem because the very same foundations of economic systems allow people with disabilities to be disadvantaged by promoting individual competition.

- As part this process?

What you need to ask is what is the origin of social relations that produce disability in Chile, and with that comes inevitably, the means in which they are articulated in our country's economy, the state and civil society. There is, in short, a logic of domination that determines that physical deficiency is a particular type of social exclusion. Exclusion is within the already existing exclusion based on the direct relationship between disability and poverty, and gender and disability.

- Do you already have an agenda?

It must be emphasized that critical reflection on disability was not born of sociologists or political scientists locked up in universities, nor cloistered bureaucrats in government offices. It was born by people with disabilities themselves in the heat of the social struggle for the vindication of their rights. The situation of persons with disabilities in core countries only changed from the demands of new social actors who formed the social movement for the disabled, publicly positioning their problems and demands for a deep political content.

- But what about the reflection in Chile?

In our country this has not happened and we remain an “object” set apart by medical professionals or politicians in power. We need to go through a process similar to that taken by the women, the sexual minorities or the indigenous peoples, which in a given historical moment became aware of their situation, took to the streets with their public agenda to assert their right to freedom, autonomy, to be treated with equality and dignity. These demands are also ours. And with some comrades we are working at it, working on the establishment of a social movement disability in Chile. We recently formed a group called White Canes Collective, which is open to all people with any type and degree of disability which, like us, think that it is time to take the initiative and mobilize for our dignity and our rights. We here by call to all people with all types of disabilities-physical, sensory, intellectual or other, to join this initiative open, independent and wide.

By Mauricio Becerra R.

@ Kalidoscop

The Citizen