Living On

Armen is heavily missed. His absence left a hole in independent observation of the political and economic risk situation in Latin America. Beyond the merely analytical though his work was wide-ranging from Armenian philanthropy and social observation of Latin and European lifestyles through to being a "fly on the wall" at the Cannes Film Festival every year and reporting back on the more exotic foibles of the international jet-set.

We miss his wit, his sense of history and his bon mots (in French, Armenian and, even, Turkish). Armen was very much a product of the Levant but then, like so many other Levantines, converted to an international stage where they offer insight into all around them. This record tries to humbly accumulate his collected writings for public consumption so they can be preserved and appreciated for the urgency of the moment in which they were written to the timelessness of the observations.

How best to categorise the uncategorisable? Maybe Armen could be described as an Armenian/Anglo/Franco Samuel Pepys for our times.....

It is ironic that ultimately it was the very mediocrity and self-satisfaction of the Chilean "system", which he documented so thoroughly, that brought about his tragic end.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Armen in Detail

Armen Kouyoumdjian graduated in 1970 from the Sorbonne in Paris where he read Applied Statistics. In 1971, he joined the European Research Department of Vickers da Costa & Co. Ltd, a London brokerage firm (subsequently absorbed into Citicorp), and was promoted to European Research manager in 1974.

In November 1976 he moved to the International Mexican Bank, a London-established institution owned at that time by a number of Mexican and international banks (now totally absorbed into the Banamex-Accival /Citicorp Group), carrying out merchant banking operations in Central and South America. His responsibilities as Resident Economist and Assistant Managing Director included advising the bank on Country Risk and developing new business opportunities.

In February 1991, he moved to Chile. From then onwards he advised financial institutions, business corporations, and diplomatic missions on Chilean & Latin American Country Risk, the Business Environment and Financial Markets. He also writes for specialist business publications in several countries, and his first book, Perspectives Chili, in French, was published in Paris by Le Monde in June 2002.

From 1982 onwards, Armen Kouyoumdjian was European Chairman of the Washington-based Association of Political Risk Analysts (APRA), and subsequently set-up its European successor in London (the Association for Political Risk Management), which was merged into the Society of Business Economists in 1991.

Armen was fluent in English, French and Spanish, also having a good working knowledge of spoken and written Arabic, and spoken Armenian. He was a member of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, Britain's Institute of Directors, the International Consulting Economists' Association, and the Society of Latin American Studies. He was Economic Adviser to the Chilean-Mexican Integration Chamber in Santiago and lectured on Latin America at Chile's Catholic University and the Navy's Maritime University.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Untimely End - 21st of October 2011

Roberto Kouyoumdjian

Many of you have enjoyed my father's essays over the years. Some of you have perhaps taken them more seriously than others but I'd like to think they'll be missed. It was important for my father to connect intellectually with people and give his opinions, however critical and self-consciously ironic they could sometimes be. My father had the talent of being able to discuss any topic and making it sound interesting by providing it with a different, unique angle. This essay will perhaps not be full of the quirky, cut throat remarks that you identify with him, but is a story that my mother has insisted I tell on his behalf. This will be the last essay you will receive from or on behalf of Armen Kouyoumdjian, following his sad death on Friday the 21st of October 2011.

This should never have been the last essay for the simple reason that my father should not be dead. We are all convinced that, had it not been for the inefficiencies in the health system in Chile, he would still be very much alive.

My father would never apologise for telling the truth but I feel I should advise you that the rest of this paper may be explicit and occasionally hard to accept, because we are dealing with someone we all knew that was sadly mistreated and ignored by the system.

It seems that, in Chile, if you require emergency treatment on a weekend you will find it very difficult. If it's on a long weekend, you are in the hands of the gods.

In May, this year my father became one of nearly 350 million people worldwide who has been diagnosed with diabetes. He had seen a specialist who recommended a strict regime of exercise and diet but just after that my father was experiencing various symptoms including nausea and severe constipation which were getting gradually worse..

On Saturday the 8th of October at around 6pm, my mother realised that his symptoms were reaching unprecedented levels and tried to convince my father to go to hospital and have him checked. My father insisted it would be a waste of time as it was on a Saturday, on a long weekend and no hospital would take him in as there would be nobody there with the expertise to treat him. Dismissing his attitude as another one of his outrageous rants she rang a good family friend, a doctor who works at the Hospital Naval in Vina del Mar, to explain the situation. Being such a well known and respected private hospital, my mother was convinced that he would be received in such a place and was desperate to have him seen. Our friend responded that it was on a Saturday, on a long weekend and hospitals would only have a basic, skeleton staff and there would be nobody there with the expertise to treat him properly. My father had it spot on. Undeterred, she rang the Clinica del Mar of 13 norte and had the same response.

My father then had the idea of calling the privately run ambulance/medical service 'HELP', with whom we have a contract, to send a doctor over. Being a long weekend, presumably they were short of doctors so could only provide a basic consultation over the phone so sent my mother to get some medicine that would help, which she did. When she returned, his symptoms had worsened and the medicine had absolutely no effect so she rang HELP again who said a doctor would come and visit as soon as possible.

Approximately two hours after, a doctor arrived, attached a drip, 'stabilised him' and said, unequivocally that he did not require urgent hospital attention and that on Tuesday, in 3 days time, she should contact a gastroenterologist and take it from there. My mother pleaded to take him to the hospital but she insisted there was nothing to worry about in the short term as he'd be feeling better soon. This all took place around 9pm.

At approximately 3.30am my father started vomiting blood uncontrollably due to a severe gastric haemorrhage. In a complete panic my mother called HELP and this time they told her that they would send an ambulance urgently which arrived about 20 mins after and again, 'stabilised' him, and the doctor (a different one) started to ring the various emergency units in the region's hospitals to get him checked in.

This is where the real nightmare begins. He called my father's preference, the aforementioned Hospital Naval who declined on the aforementioned grounds of not having the necessary resources to deal with such a case. Clinica Renaca said the same. As you can imagine, after that, it's all a bit of a blur for my mother but she knows he tried every other hospital in the region, all of which had the same response: it was a Saturday, on a long weekend and hospitals would only have a basic, skeleton staff and there would be nobody there with the expertise to treat him properly. On top of that she had to hear the doctor over the phone saying, ''si, tienen plata" (''yes, they have money'') and "se ve que es gente con medios" (you can tell these people have money). My mother was desperately trying to tell him that money was not a problem, that we did have an excellent international private insurance that would cover all eventualities.

My mother swears to god that when she got in the ambulance with my dying father, in the middle of the second largest city of one of the world's most 'up and coming' countries, they did not have a hospital to go to. At some stage on this journey, in a last ditch attempt to save my father whose blood loss was getting worse, the doctor tells the ambulance driver to take him to the Hospital Naval and just hope for the best.

Once there, they took him in quickly, someone examined him and the only surgeon there was overheard by my mother as saying that he did not want to take the responsibility on his own and needed someone else to help with the operation. As far as we know, they eventually managed, around 5.00am, to find someone to assist, and the operation finally took place.

The agonising waiting game for my family starts. A mixture of all sorts of emotions wrapped in a bubble of incredulity at how a developed country can fail to provide such basic service.

Just before 8am on Sunday, one of the surgeons, briefcase in hand and ready to leave, spoke to my mother and brother and family in the hospital hallway and casually remarked that my father's haemorrhage was contained, that it was caused by a invasive tumour in his stomach and that part of his stomach was taken out. The tumour was so invasive that all his organs had been affected, and that if he survived the aftermath of the operation he would not last long. 2 months were mentioned in case of a miracle.

Over the whole of Sunday and Monday, the same diagnostic was given to us again and again. Gastric cancer with absolutely no hope of a proper recovery. The biopsy, with the results would be ready in a few days but, as one doctor told us, the results ,in this case would only confirm their diagnosis.

On Tuesday, things started to change. Doctors started to appear in the hospital (incredible, I know). Nurses, support staff and general signs of life started to fill the wards and the place had changed completely. My father was put under the care of one of the hospital's best surgeons and examinations, scanners and a whole variety of treatments started to take place. The long weekend was definitely over and it was time to start work again. My father recovered well from the first operation and even came off the artificial respirator on this day. Despite the verdict, there were good signs. Then, this new doctor seemed to show doubts as to the initial diagnosis made by his colleagues after reviewing the scans.

Without going into details, my father's health started to deteriorate again and he made the decision to operate on him on Friday to find out what was causing the pain. After his intervention, he summoned the family and said that, in his opinion, there were no signs of any cancer and that his diagnosis was at this stage: peritonitis and that the haemorrhage must have being caused by a gastrointesntinal tract. In other words, a stomach ulcer. Although the first operation had been a mess, chances were that my father would, as you'd expect, recover from this. It was of course a far better scenario than the cancer that was going to kill him any minute.

On Monday the 17th of October, after seeing the results of the biopsy the doctor concluded that it was definitely not cancer.

He recovered exceptionally well from this second intervention but unfortunately only for a couple of days. On Tuesday the 18th of October things started to go downhill again and my father was put back in intensive care as his organs were again showing signs of deterioration. The doctor said that he had contracted an internal infection, but did not know where it came from. In light of this, my father was given heavy sedatives and was once again connected to all the necessary equipment. He was not responding.

The next day, the doctor decided to operate for the 3rd time as again many of his vital organs were deteriorating because of further infections, potentially caused by the other operations. Whether we admitted this or not, we were starting to realise that something, somewhere had gone wrong and that my father would not get out of this one alive.

The 3rd operation had gone well and they had filled his body with antibiotics to try and kill the infections but my father's body had, by this stage, stopped responding.

On Friday the 21st of October at 6.15am, my father was pronounced dead.

We got a suit ready for him and an Armenian cross to stay with him, took them to hospital and did all the necessary (is it?) paperwork. Next day we went to pick him up at the morgue at the designated time. Despite having given them notice the day before, my father was not ready, dressed or anything. To make matters worse, they had lost the cross. It all took over 2 hours to sort out.

We are convinced that my father died because of the failures in the system to give him the right treatment when he needed it, despite living in a large, urbanised and developed city.

For us, writing this is a chance to vent our feelings of frustration but also to fulfil, what, we believe, would have been his wishes. To tell this story to you. Such a tragic story, both on a personal and an institutional level. A story that digs deep into the very nature of human spirit. Is a human life really that worthless that a man can survive or not depending on what day of the week he gets ill? Are institutions morally obligated to look after us? Should the health care system be more closely regulated? And most importantly, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?

I, on behalf of my mother Pilar and brother David, would like to thank you for reading this and my father's many papers over the years. He took great pleasure in writing and for us, the very notion that there were so many of you out there reading them, fills us with joy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

FRANCE’S SECRET DIPLOMATIC WEAPON …Is none other than the Cannes film festival

Fourteen consecutive years of attending the Cannes film festival as a fully accredited journalist is an eye opener, not just on the international film industry. As this was not my real professional activity (though I am satisfied that I performed it well), I would benefit from considering the wider picture as an international analyst.

A series of events over the years, some of which will be detailed below, caught my attention. Though there is no doubt that the festival is primarily a cinema showcase, it is used regularly by the French authorities to score diplomatic points, taking political postures, and bear influence on world opinion with the smokescreen of the film industry.

METHODOLOGY First of all (and it would require a separate paper to detail in full), the Cannes Festival has a rigid and bureaucratic protocole and structure which are a mix between Louis XIV’s court at Versailles and the Chinese Communist Party. The people who run it, from CEO down even to the security apparatus, remained unchanged throughout the years I was present. Decisions are taken by half a handful of people at the top. You are subjected to strict behaviour, and if you step out of line, depending on the gravity of the offence, you are either called-in for a severe talk, or just expelled in perpetuity. Each year, you have to prove that when you attended last year, you actually wrote about it rather than spend your time on the beach. Still, if you are interested in the movie world and what comes with it, it is a unique experience.

However, the festival is sponsored by the French foreign ministry, and
that is where the discreet diplomat posturing comes in. Sometimes, the
“facilities” are also lent to friendly foreign countries who have agendas
of their own. It is an ideal place for putting across political points
linked to international events. Over 4,000 journalists from all over the
world are present, and not only are they not international affairs
experts, but they are avid to be fed with anything original. This makes
Cannes the third most covered event in the world after the Olympics and
the World Cup, except the the latter take place every 4 years, whereas the
festival is annual.

The system is well known to intelligence services and government image
building departments. Plant a story in a place remote from the event, and
wait for it to be picked up by the mainstream media. Even papers with no
personal correspondens give high coverage to Cannes, so the potential is
unlimited. We have the recent example of the London International
Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), supposedly independent but stuffed
with personnel from British and US intelligence services, publishing
negative reports about Ecuador’s president Correa, and the Peruvian
candidate Ollanta Humala (it seems talking on the phone to Chávez is now
an international criminal offence). The IISS, and I can vouch personally,
has no historical expertise on Latin America. The method even has a French
name: “intox”, short for intoxication (of the mind).

The practical way the positioning is made on specific issues depends on
the circumstances. If it is a matter which started well before the
programming is finalised (around mid-April), it is incorporated into the
official programme. On the other hand, if it is, to quote CNN, a “breaking
story” , then schedules are modified to add it on. This causes problems
not just for the organisers, who may find that there are no screens
available, but particularly for the journalists who are already facing
16-hour working days, and even then unable to cover everything they want.

THE CASE OF VICTOR LITVINENKO Let us start with the most blatant case,
though it is one where Cannes lent its facilities to “friendly
governments”. In late 2006, a Russian journalist, apparently with links
to the FSB (ex-KGB), but who had fallen out with them, died from a
difficult to identify radiation poisoning in London. The British
authorities accused the FSB of having engineered his death. Whatever the
case may be, in the middle of the May 2007 festival, we are suddenly told
that a documentary on his demise would be projected as part of the
festival, followed by a press conference attended by Litvinenko’s widow.
The film was obviously one-sided, aiming to prove the British theory, as
was, predictably, the press conference. The event, was not heavily
attended, probably due to the fact that it was not a hot story any more,
and the difficulty of fitting it in if you had an interview with Brad Pitt
scheduled at the same time (such things, if you can get them at all, take
three days of formalities and pleading with press agents, the most
obnoxious and arrogant bunch of tarts I have ever come across, who torture
journalists during the day, party all night and as a result are
unreachable until lunch time). Connasses!

Back to the Litvinenko event, and the funniest part. As we went out of the
room, a number of journalists who had not been present were waiting to
interview those of us who had. I myself gave three interviews in French,
Arabic and English. The English TV crew caught my attention. They were
over-eager, with short-cut hair, and a camera on which there were three
letters that, after living 20 years in Britain, I did not recognise as
belonging to any known channel. They grabbed me first, and asked me what
was my opinion of the Litvinenko case after this. I told them that I had
an open mind, which did not please them very much. They were obviously an
intelligence service “channel” (MI6-TV?). Their presence could not have
been possible without official complicity, if you know how hard it is to
get a journalist badge for Cannes.

week, where as some readers will know, the controversial Danish director
Lars von Trier was declared “persona non grata” by the festival
organisers, though he had a film in competition. This unprecedented
situation was due to his ramblings at his film’s press conference, where
he tried to say that he had some sympathy for Hitler as a person, and
after thinking he himself was a Jew, found out that he was a German,
therefore a Nazi. The sayings, however rambling, were taken out of
context, as he never said he agreed with the Holocaust or denied it, nor
proferred anything anti-Semitic (contrary to the Dior designer John
Galliano some months ago).

We live now in a world where you can insult the Arabs burn Korans, carry
out extra-judicial assassinations, deny the Armenian Genocide (as did
the Swedish Prime Minister who was in Santiago this week, and who when his
parliament passed a resolution recognising the plight of the Armenians,
sent a letter of apology to the Turkish government). However, it is
forbidden to criticise the State of Israel, nor any Jewish person or
institution, or even upset them, without at least being branded an
anti-Semite, losing your job, or even ending up in jail.. Voltaire was
certainly absent from this year’s film festival.

Now Lars von Trier is a clown, not a very common trait in Scandinavia, but
to use an untranslatable Spanish expression, a “tonto grave”. He came to
fame by founding the Dogma school of film-making, and after acquiring a
number of followers, suddenly dropped it. He pretends to be a Communist,
but lives like a bourgeois. The first time one of his films was selected
for the festival, and contrary to protocole, he said he would not be
attending. The organisers pleaded with him to change his mind, and he
finally ceded, driving all the way from Copenhagen because he has a fear
of flying. However, he imposed one condition: when going up the red
carpet, the music (which normally is something related to the film),
should be the Internationale. I can imagine the ensuing discussions, but
he got his way, and from the balcony of the press room, seeing all those
beautiful people going up the steps with von Trier raising his fist and
the Communist anthem playing, was rather surreal.

Within 24 hours, the festival authorities published a communiqué declaring
him “non grata”, and all the media concentrated on the fact that he said
he sometimes sympathised with Hitler. His film is unlikely to get any
prize, whatever its qualities. Would it have happened if he had said
instead that Muslims are promiscuous because they can hav up to four
wives? I doubt it. After all, it was in his country that a cartoonist got
away insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Would it have happened if instead of
him, it had been Jean-Luc Godard? Well, some years ago, there was a social
conflict in France involving temporary workers at artistic events (such as
Cannes..). Godard had a film at the festival. He came into the press
conference and said he was ceding his time to one of these workers, who
was shown in and delivered a political diatribe totally unrelated to the
film. Godard was not expelled, nor is ever Catherine Deneuve, who smokes
like a chimney at each press conference she attends, though it is strictly
against French law. Opening a Chilean parenthesis here, the death this
week of two more Carabineros in a car accident, because they were not
wearing seat belts as the law demands (FOR EVERYONE), is a ridiculous
waste. The police are supposed to enforce a regulation they themselves
they do not obey (most Carabineros drive around without belts). Too busy
clobbering pregnant women at peaceful sit-ins? Or protecting my psychopath

Now we know which side of the Middle Eastern conflict the sympathies of
the Sarkozy adminstration are to be found. This being said, and after
being criticised for their dilly-dallying in the early days of the Arab
protests, they had to appear to show sympathy to the cause. An “Arab day”
was added on to the festival, with Egypt as special guest. Now Egyptian
cinema has a long and honourable reputation, although contrary to the more
recent Iranian phenomenon, it has not circulated much outside its own
region. From time to time, a bone is thrown to Palestinians with the
screening of a rare film made by a Palestinian director. When that
happens, be sure that there are one or two Israeli films in the programme

The Kurds have had their moments. Of course, it is only the Iraqi Kurdsh
community, not the much bigger and equally discriminated minority in
Turkey. Never mind that the Kurds have never had a country or national
structure at any time in history. There is an exiled Kurdish director
living in Paris who made the first Kurdish feature film. He was invited.

I shall not even dwell, for lack of detailed knowledge, on the African
aspect of French dilomacy, in a region with traditional links to its
former colonial power.

THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE After Israel, one of the darlings of the French
authorities, under various governments, is Turkey. The festival is pleased
to oblige. In 2004, the film Ararat, one of the few ever made dealing with
the Armenian Genocide despite 96 years having passed, was premiered in
Cannes, under the direction of the respected Canadian-Armenian director,
Atom Egoyan.

The film was eventually screened in Cannes, but at what price. It did not
take part in the competition section in case it won something, and that
would have upset the Turks. An anti-Armenian demonstration was organised
next to the red carpet, an area normally under strict security. The
following year, “in compensation”, two Turkish films were selected to take
part in the festival, and the former personal yacht of Ataturk was moored
just off the Palais des Festivals with a Turkish flag nearly as big as the
boat itself. In 2007, Turkish Nobel Literature prize winner Orhan Pamuk
was a member of the festival jury, though I am not sure what they meant by
that considering that he is one of the few Turkish intellectuals to have
condemned the Armenian Genocide.

In my 14 years there, not a single movie from Armenia itself was selected
for the festival. Last year, there were two shorts, but they were from
Diaspora Armenians (Russia and Lebanon). On four occasions, I sponsored
the presence of journalists from Armenia (there were none otherwise). The
problems I had to get them an accreditation and a French visa were
tremendous. On two occasions, staff at the French consulate hinted that if
the girls accepted to be “friendly” or paid a bribe, it would make things

For the 60th anniversary of the festival, there was a get-together of
many famous directors to speak about the present state and future of
cinema. I rose and asked why was there so little Armenian presence at the
festival since independence ? Roman Polanski walked out saying “he was
wasting his time here with stupid questions” (sure man,. we do not want
any competition for the Pianist). Next day, I was called before the
headmistress (I mean the head of the press office), and told not to
misbehave again. However, lo comido y lo bailado..

PUNISHMENT “Punishing” misbehaving countries whose actions are not
appreciated by France is also a regular feature. Iran and China, if they
have jailed or put any restrictions on film makers, are publicly pilloried
by various manifestations of public support for them during press
conferences, etc..

Sometimes, the tables are turned and France, as represented by the
festival, is the subject of criticism and boycott, particularly from the
Americans if the government has failed to support or criticised any aspect
of US policy.

So as you can see, in France, cinema is politics by other means, not just
local “engagé” film-making, but a way of scoring international diplomatic

Saturday, May 7, 2011

CHILEAN REACTIONS TO WORLD EVENTS - Strange Analysis & Unpublished Letters

Long protected by a chain of high mountains and a difficult sea journey
away in pre-Panama Canal days, the flow of information and knowledge about
faraway places and events has not been a forte of Chilean society. Even
after air travel and telecommunications made instant exposure possible,
the threat of the “foreign” and the “different” is set with clichés and
prejudices. When the main national cable TV franchise was owned by
Argentines, you would get channels from most of South America and Mexico.
Now you can only get Argentine TV and a Mexican variety channel. Sure, you
can, as I do every morning, view the whole South American press on
internet, but how many people do, even if it is up their professional

The further and more different the events and culture behind it, the
bigger the ignorance. The sin is magnified with a compulsion to expose
that ignorance, feeling safe that as the rest of the population knows even
less, nobody will know better, and they will all praise the “expertos”
because they are famous or come from one or other institution.

From the various major events that have made the news in the past
fortnight, I have selected three examples whch I shall detail below.

THE CHILDREN OF THE ASHRAM Where have those who manage Chile’s economy
and finances studied? Chicago? Wrong! Harvard? Nope! MIT? No way!
Stanford? Cold! No dears, they have all been to a secret Ashram in India
specialised in Economic thought. They probably learned the words of
Kautilya “One should crush the sands forcibly and extract oil;a thirsty
person should drink water from a mirage; wandering ceaselessly, obtain a
hare's horn; but one should never try to reason with a fool who is
characterized by stubbornness." Ministers and undersecretaries, together
with their academic fan club, recite mantras. They could of course also
have gone to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery where prayers also have Sanskrit
roots, and it is less tiring because the Buddhists have the prayer wheel,
whose spinning is equivalent to reciting the mantras aloud. I have never
seen a Chilean official with a prayer wheel (I am sure their wives’ Opus
Dei confessors would not like it), but they certainly practice the oral

The main object of recent mantras has been the exchange rate, with the
constant reciting of two texts: “The dollar is falling abroad and there is
nothing we can do about it”, and the other is “The answer to the strong
peso is productivity”. I will suggest another one “Why did they transplant
your Lingam into your brain?”.

Strangely enough, though the dollar has fallen everywhere, other
neighbouring countries have managed to limit the fall to a fraction of the
Chilean one? Maybe they have better traders. I wonder how many public
servants managing the economy in Chile have spent even an hour on a
trading desk?

When things really get dramatic, and most of the damage is already done,
they organise an intervention. Can you imagine a military operation where
the commander announces in advance at what time and where he is going to
attack, for how long, and the maximum quantity of ammunition he plans to
use. This of course allows the enemy to take cover and wait the passing of
the small cloud. Thus, pre-announcing an intervention with a fixed daily
sum (equal to no more than 5 % of market turnover), for a limited time, is
the most ridiculous thing I have seen in financial markets over more than
40 years of career.

Interventions should be like intelligence and commando operations. They
should strike by surprise, at moments of vulnerability, with variable
means as befits the daily situation. No wonder they do not work in Chile.

Productivity. The suffering sectors are led by agriculture and tourism.
They are both labour intensive. What “productivity” are they expected to
introduce. Reduce staff and create an unemployment problem? Put up dollar
prices and price themselves out in a very competitive market? Make the
berries smaller? Use contraband fuel to counter the authorities disgusting
hydrocarbons pricing policy? Can we please get some details of the
“productivity” measures learnt in the hills of Darjeeling?

I sent a very short version of this analysis, concentrating on the lack of
expertise in intervention methods, to El Mercurio. It was not published.

LACKEY OR GENERAL? The Royal Wedding gave mental orgasms to all the
media which in any case spends its time and resources, in Chile and
elsewhere, following the antics of the famous. This was their apotheosis
and they fully lived up to it .

It could only happen in Chile, but someone decide to use the event to
score a military point, though the pages of El Mercurio. Unfortunately, he
got it wrong. A former commander in chief of the Navy, admiral Vergara,
wrote a letter saying how pleased he was to see “so many uniforms” at
Westminster Abbey, contrasting it with the fact that in Chile, “the
military appear to be like an embarassment” adding that even the
presidential AdC at ceremonies took a back seat.

Taking that last point first, presidential AdCs at ceremonies ARE supposed
to be unobtrusive unless needed, so a very bad example to complain about.
As for the uniforms at the wedding, maybe admiral Vergara did not know
that all the British royals, including female ones, and I am sure many of
the crowned heads and princes invited from abroad, hold honourary military
ranks. In the UK, various other officials also have military-looking
uniforms (as do staff at the Palace). The bridegroom being a military
officer, it would also be normal to think that his fellow officers were
invited, and as they do in Chile, came in uniform. I would be very
surprised if the whole high command of the armed forces had been invited
to the wedding . You may want to check the guest list with the British

I am the first one to think that the military in Chile have been badly
treated, having had to do the élite’s dirty work by protecting their
privileges threatened by Allende’s regime. They then were the only ones to
be tried and imprisoned for human rights abuses, whilst their civilian
puppet masters enriched themseves on privatisations, became senators and
deputies, sometimes ambassadors, without a single one of them spending a
night in jail.

The final coup de grace on the horizon is the plan to repeal the Copper
Law, completely handing over major procurement decisions to venal
bureaucrats and politicians, helped by “advisers” of very dubious quality
and hidden allegiances.

The problem with admiral Vergara’s complaint (as I explained in another
letter to El Mercurio which similarly went unpublished) is basically
incorrect. I studied for three years in France and worked for 20 years in
London. I have been interested in military affairs since I was 8 years old
, but in all these 23 yearsin Europe, I did not once meet or even see a
military officer at a social event, inauguration, conference or seminar
(except when they specifically dealt with military affairs). It is true
that the presence of uniformed representatives at diplomatic receptions in
Chile has fallen since I first arrived, though I am not sure which part is
due to their not being invited, or not going. In fact, spouses are
generally not invited either these days (not even to the Royal Wedding, as
we heard). Can you imagine my wife writing to El Mercurio complaining as
to why she was not invited to the national day of Uzbekistan, though David
Beckham’s wife was at Buckingham Palace?

AFTER LENIN DIED Though Marx was the theorist, Lenin was the practioner
of Communism. He died in January 1924. The Soviet Union went on for
another 66 years without him, even surviving the demise of Stalin for 37
years. The USSR and the Communist system in general were very centralised,
with orders coming from the top and having to be obeyed. Al Qaeda is a
loose franchise, so why is it going to fall apart because Usama bin Laden
is dead? Not a chance.

I have mentioned in my two previous notes on the Egyptian and Libyan
upheavals, about the poor state of knowledge and analysis of the Middle
East in Chile. Despite the presence of a large community of Palestinian
origin, even culture and language among them are a minority activity,
whereas the rest of the population knows nothing about it. The only Middle
Eastern studies centre at the Univeristy of Chile is non-descript. One has
to say that Arab embassies have done little to counter this situation,
even letting the government palace host annual Jewish celebrations as if
it was a Chilean holiday (how many Chilean ministers have been to the
Santiago Mosque?).

Ah, but we have the “expertos”. They surpassed their performance on the
Arab crisis by commenting on the killing of Bin Laden. Among the three
comments I picked up, the best one was the analyst who placed Pakistan in
North Africa on a TV debate, but the others were also notably off the

“A Great Victory for the USA”, a columnist wrote. Really? What is great
about it? The fact that it took you 10 years to locate a guy sitting with
a large part of his family in a house 40 km from your embassy in
Islamabad? And that with a U$ 40 bn annual security and intelligence
budget and airport procedures which transformed air travel into a hellish
experience? Was it the great performance of the Navy Seals (parasail down
from helicopters onto a house full of women and children where nobody shot
back, and the main target, unarmed, was killed in cold blood)? This is
back to the times of the Far West posses and lynching of Blacks in the
Deep South. The law West of the Pecos river. It is now politically
incorrect to lynch Blacks, particularly if your president is one, so there
are the Arabs, neigh, Muslims in general (never mind that your president
holds the second name of Imam Husain, the most venered Shia martyr).

Can you imagine the scandal if during Pinochet’s detention in London,
Spain had sent a commando unit to shoot him at the London Clinic? Remember
the complaints high in the sky about the Bulgarian secret service killing
a dissident in London with a poisoned umbrella- high marks for
originality- or the more technically sophisticated disposal by slow
radiation poisoning of a Russian dissident, also in London. Let us not
even mention the breach to Pakistani sovereignty, however well or badly
exercised by its government. The US of A, like its devilish offspring the
State of Israel, has never bothered about legal niceties in international
relations. Full marks to Ricardo Lagos as the only Chilean politician who
did not deem it necessary to lick arse in his reaction.

Another academic declared that the killing of Bin Laden was good for the
prospects of the US economy. Wow! So the budget deficit and the bankrupt
Social Security system were all due to the wicked Osama, huh? Like with a
magic wand, the deficit is going to disappear and the unemployed will all
find jobs.

Though it has nothing to do with the subject, except to signal the level
of competence of the security services in Anglo-Saxon countries, a
headless corpse was fished out of an English river recently. The press
gathered and asked the senior police officer about more details. Sorry, he
replied, he could not confirm the person was dead until he had been
examined by a doctor. Just shows that you do not nned a brain after all.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Though it was unplanned, I am proud that the day
of my birthday was chosen as the yearly celebration of International Press
Freedom Day. I shall continue to live up to the honour whenever I feel
like it, and that despite of the fact that me and my family have been
under undescribable pressure to make our lives hell. It takes more than
that to stop Armenians, but if something happens to me, do suspect foul

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A BASKET FULL OF CHILEAN EASTER EGGS - Otherwise known as Huevadas

“It was the first thing that shocked me about Chile: people only work
because they have to, for the money. Nobody really sought success, or was
passionate about what they were doing. If they find elsewhere a job that
pays the same money for less work, they leave.”

Yoel Gutierrez, Cuban-born trainer of Chile’s Olympic athletes

The unworthy and ungrateful readership of my deceased Chilean weeklies
supposedly enjoyed the Huevada de la Semana, which has also stopped.
However, as we are leading up to the Crucifixion of Our Lord later this
week, I thought I would crucify a few Chileans (though I fear it will not
save the world), and include some foreigners in the process too.

ECONOMIC HUEVADAS Because Chile is the only country in the world where
every aspect of life is ordered by economists (or the Church), what they
say is always headline news, and God knows they talk a lot, both in and
out of government. Among very fierce competition, the winner of the Golden
Egg competition is unanimously named as Central Bank president José de
Gregorio. Of course, he did not comment about the OECD report pointing out
Chile as having the most unequal education system among members, nor that
Chilean adolescents were the region’s second highest cosumers of cocaine,
but 90 % of them does not have even a basic working knowledge of English,
hardly surprising when in a voluntary testing of 11,000 public sector
teachers, 36 % were found as incompetent. There is no explanation as to
why the sale of cigarettes was up 13.3 % in the first quarter of 2011

Here is a non-comprehensive selection of declarations made by the laureate
since the beginning of the year:

-“We shall not submit monetary policy to exchange rate considerations”
-“ We are surprised by the high level of consumer interest rates”. This is
a perennial discovery, as if all astronomers died every few years and
their successors “rediscover” Halley’s Comet. Finance ministers and
Central bank presidents beat their breasts from time to time as to why
with inflation and Central Bank intervention rates at around 5 %, stores
charge from 30 to 150 % to customers. In a country where they cannot even
calculate compound interest !
-“The intervention of the dollar was not meant to push it up, only to
relieve (sic) tensions”. Have you tried masturbation instead?

A very poor second comes Finance Minister Felipe Larrain in the
competition, though his single entry was of high quality: “ The cut in
expenditure for 2011 is to help the poor and needy”. This reduction is in
fact the most stupid economic measure taken by any Chilean government in
years. In a year where the budget will be balanced, cutting U$ 750 million
is pointless. He was also “economical with the truth” , by initially
saying that it would apply only to current expenditure, such as
travelling, paper clips, entertainment and new cars, but when he presented
the details (much later) it turned out to include a postponement of the
recruitment of new Carabineros (supposedly a government priority),
freezing defence procurement and kicking forward the already behind
schedule new army headquarters. There are probably more such surprises if
and when we see the full documents). How does all this helps the poor? It
is all in the Codex Chicageum, which replaces the Bible in Chile. If you
lower expenditure, you lower inflation so people have more money to spend,
goes to theory. Tell that to the unemployed who were going to join the
Carabineros or the building workers at army headquarters. Read the whole
book next time you are at a US university. It DOES NOT apply if the budget
is in balance.

Private sector economists also took part, and I shall single out as
consolation prize the pronunciation of Chicago Boy Francisco Rosende, who
said that “extending maternity leave was a tax on employment”.

NON-ECONOMIC DECLARATIONS Of course, as I said that all aspects of life
in the country were in the hands of a small coterie, there were other
themes too. One current hot debate is a government initiative to improve
health of young people and fight obesity ( which has become catastrophic,
particularly among women, most of whom now have bums the size of the
Hindenburg..a few spoonfuls of beans and they might fly). A law was
prepared banning the sale of junk food in and around educational
establishments. The business community, in typical Chilean fashion, the
business community objected and started lning up its congressional pet
dogs in defence of “free entreprise”. Forgotten were the “role models” of
Scandinavia which had taken the bull by the horns on such matter, with
very positive results.

That is what produced a declaration by senator “Spotted Dick” (imagine
that for years this guy was a heartbeat away from becoming president of
Chile. He described the uathorities as “Talibans who thought they knew
better as to what people should do”. Considering the senator’s own past
baggage, if I were him I would refrain on commenting. On anything.

THE HUEVADA THAT NEVER WAS The self-promoting crook (she should have
married Segovia of the SEK) and former Prefect Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe
was finally cornered into resigning, but she had barely left her office
with the cardboard boxes containing the witch’s brew, that some wise guy
started mentioning her as a possible replacement for her UDI congressman
colleague Mr Lobos who died in a car accident. In Chile, parties replace
any resigning or dying congress member at will without going through a
by-election or a pre-appointed stand-in. However, common sense seems to
have prevailed, and the idea abandoned. Talking of Mr Lobos, can someone
explain to me why the first reports said he was not wearing his seat belt
(his daughter riding next to him did, and survived), and then this was
“corrected” by the police who declared that both occupants were wearing

DIVINE JUSTICE ON EARTH As some veteran readers know, in the early 90’s,
soon after my arrival in Chile, I was the victim of a theft, in fact a
scam, committed by one Fernando Hurtado Lambert. He is the nephew of
Carlos Hurtado, who at the time was minister of Public Works in the Aylwin
government, and his nephew carried out his scams (there were other
victims) from the offices of a construction design company owned by his
minister uncle.

I lost over U$ 20,000 in the episode, with no possibility of redress as no
press, lawyer, business organisation or consular authority would touch
such an “honourable” family. In fact, one of them, a lawyer by the name of
Sven Herlin Kaiser, brother in law of Fernando, rang and threatened me
with unspecified dire consequences if I even told the story about town.

Why am I bringing this up again? Because the Lord moves in mysterious
ways. The other day, Carlos Hurtado’s household was the subject of a
telephone scam ending up in around U$ 50,000 being stolen. I am genuinely
sorry to say I did not organise it, though I would have been pleased to do
so given half an opportunity.

NO CANNES, THANKS TO CHILEAN INDOLENCE In the past 14 years, at this
time, I would be starting making my bags to go to the Cannes Film
Festival. I did it as a serious hobby, to the extent that quite a few
people at the event started respecting me sufficiently to interview me
about films etc..One year, I was even co-presenter of a Chile day, at the
request of the festivalk organisers.

This was made possible because my sister and I had inherited a penthouse
there, and it reduced the cost (which I entirely covered) of the trip. I
reported for a number of Chilean media, which paid not a penny towards the
benefit of having their own correspondent at what is, after the Olympics
and World Cup, the world’s third largest mediatic event. It allowed me to
be there, so each side benefitted, though I think the Chilean media got
the better deal. Not that they were grateful. La Nacion, when it existed
in printed form, basically ignored all material sent over the week-end,
when all the interesting stuff takes place in Cannes. So exclusive
interviews that had taken days to set up would be wasted. El Mostrador
last year decided to cover Cannes on its online video system frm Santiago,
and did not even bother to tell me. I arrived in Cannes without anybody to
report to. Only Chileans can be so pendejos, though I also have to mention
that as one of only two or three people from Chile covering Cannes, I was
never invited at the pre-festival gathering for the Chilean delegation
(the rest all being paid by the taxpayer) given by the French Embassy (nor
to nay other event at the said embassy, soit-dit en passant). .

Alas, financial needs forced us to sell the apartment, but I did not lose
hope. By now, as I said, I was respected by the organisers, who already
paid all expenses for El Mercurio to be there. I heard that La Tercera was
not using its Paris stringer any more, so I hinted to the festival press
office that if they could treat La Tercera with an invitation as they did
El Mercurio, I could represent them. Though they did not give a firm
commitment, they were pretty positive in their reponse, and asked me to
get a letter frm the paper appointing me as their correspondent. I passed
it on to the power that be at La Tercera and waited, and waited, and
waited. I sent four chasers. Nothing, until 5 days before the process
closed, I was told that they had been “too busy”. My guess is that they
decided to send osmeone else and did not consider it was the minimum
courtesy to let me know. Adios Cannes!

LINGUISTIC AND FACTUAL EGGS The website of the newly created and
already under its second incumbent, the Joint Chief of Staff, has, like
all government departments, a list of staff, contract and consultancy
employees. They are an excellent osurce of information about perosnnel
movements and related matters. Currently, the list of consultants includes
one Ricardo Ibarra, whose job description is put as “labores de
extención(sic) docente”. He is thus involved in extra mural training
activities, which I hope do not include spelling.

I am not sure who owns the Citroen dealership in Chile, but they are also
in dire need of syntax advice, as their publicity describes their products
as “Créative Technologie”, supposedly in French and I am sure inspired by
the 1980’s Audi slogan “Vorsprung Durch Technik”. The problem is that in
French, you should write Technologie Créative in that order.

In one of the few occasions in my nearly 41 year career when I was
actually “dismissed”, the Stockholm Peace Research Institute SIPRI,
considered the standard reference work on military expenditure, took
umbrage at something I had written in one of my Chile weeklies (nothing to
do with them, or Defence), and declared that they “could not be associated
with me any more”. To the extent that I was not making any money out of
it, and they did not even allow me to say publicly I worked for them, It
was no big loss. A couple of weeks ago, they published their yearly
analysis, and the person responsible for working out Latin America, even
thought she should give an interview, widely reported by the international
press. This Argentine woman was obviously an expert. Citing the reasons
for the fact that Brazil and Chile had the highes procurement expenditure,
she referred to Chile as “wishing to project its power regionally”, and
for good measure that “the Copper law has been abrogated”.

The morale of all this, coming on top of the super huevadas written by the
IISS in London some years ago, again on Chilean procurement, is that you
should never take a declaration, statement or analysis at face value
however supposedly prestigious the source is. And I am not just talking on
military affairs.