CONCEPCIÓN, Chile – On a day when the Chilean police said it would raid homes if looters didn’t return stolen goods taken after the earthquake, President Michelle Bachelet said she will seek prison terms between two and five years for those found guilty of looting, according to The Associated Press. The threat yielded results, as people loaded mattresses, washers and dryers, dish washers and flat-screen TVs onto trucks, which were driven to police headquarters where the US$2 million in merchandise was sorted so it could be returned to the proper stores. “These are items that have nothing to do with survival – they reflect the moral damage of the people, some of whom came just to find things they could take,” Bachelet said to the AP, adding the government will prosecute store owners who increase prices in the cities that have been damaged by the earthquake or tsunamis. In the hours after Chile was rocked by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake on Feb. 27, thousands, including the elderly and children, raided stores and emptied shelves. The looting is attributed to the widening gap of wealth in Chile, which is one of South America’s richest countries. It’s also a nation where the average wage is US$3,200 a month, but the bottom 20% make an average of US$340 monthly, according to the country’s national statistics institute.
‘Chile helps Chile’ telethon generates close to US$60 million
The “Chile helps Chile” telethon this past weekend raised $30.1 billion Chilean pesos (US$59.1 million), a mark that more than doubled the organizers’ goal, according to Business Week. The event, which was hosted by Mario Kreutzberger, known as “Don Francisco,” lasted 25 hours and featured appearances by outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, whose term ends on March 11, and President-elect Sebastián Piñera. The telethon received major donations from private companies, athletes, the armed forces and families. The Luksic family of Santiago was the biggest donor with $2.75 billion pesos (US$5.3 million), according to the newspaper El Mercurio. The Luksics are major stakeholders in the Bank of Chile, the CCU brewery and Antofagasta Minerals and were ranked as the country’s wealthiest family last year by Forbes. Lan Airlines, Latin America’s biggest carrier, in which Piñera still holds an 11% stake, donated $600 million pesos (US$1.8 million), and Horst Paulmann, the chairman of retail chain Cencosud, gave $1 billion pesos (US1.97 million), according to El Mercurio. Anglo American, a mining company, has announced it is donating US$10 million.
Heavy rain, cold temperatures add to Chileans’ misery
Chile’s earthquake and tsunami survivors dealt with heavy rains and chilly temperatures on March 8 that made life even tougher for those left homeless by the natural disasters. Thirty cities were severely damaged by the earthquake or tsunami – or both – and it’s estimated that 500,000 homes were destroyed, according to The Associated Press. The majority of the country’s homeless reside in makeshift shelters composed of tarpaulins and sheets, as authorities determine which buildings still are structurally sound. There is growing concern that inclement weather could lead to the spread of disease, which could be a major problem since many of the country’s hospitals were damaged by the earthquake and tsunamis. “This is the last thing we need, for it to rain,” said Magdalena Cuevas, a 48-year-old who lives with her children in a tent in a park in Concepción, to the AP. “There are children here who have become ill.” Meantime, A Roof for Chile, a volunteer group, is using donations to construct 30,000 small, prefabricated houses in the next six months. Each house has wooden walls and an aluminum roof, but measures just 9 feet by 6 feet and does not have a toilet. The plan is to build communities of these homes along with community kitchens and bathrooms until permanent homes are rebuilt, according to Gabriel Prudencio, the group's representative in Concepción. “As a society we have to stay on an emergency footing until everyone is able to have their house again,” said Prudencio, who expects the materials to arrive in the next two days.