Category Archives: Bureaucracy

What’s Hers is Mine, said the Hospital to the Bank…

Check Writing

Photo credit: CarbonNYC

Got a shock this morning… It started out as just another Friday—until I checked my bank balance to see if any of my clients had made a deposit, and Pow! Virtual sucker-punch. Chile’s hospital policies and Chile’s bank policies were at odds—care to guess whose dime—make that gamba (100 pesos)—took the hit? Continue reading


Insider tips to Chile: Part I

What do you need to know to get your bearings in Chile? This is the first in a series of posts on the basics of getting acquainted with everyday aspects of life in Chile… in other words “Cachando Chile 101.”

Chilean FlagI don’t get a lot of visitors from “back home.”
I have to admit—we really aren’t kidding when we say that Chile is at the ends of the Earth! But I am very happy to report that my best friend from grad school, Kathleen Skoczen (now Chair of the Anthropology Dept at Southern Connecticut University) is here for research (and pleasure), and I’m doing my best to bring her up to speed on the do’s and don’t of getting around. It’s not the Spanish that will get her, but rather Chile’s particular quirks.

The following is something of a fast-track Intro to Chile, with some very basic yet vital information about how to get started in Chile, from the airport to your door to the street…

Continue reading

Your Tax Pesos at Work: Park Your Motorcycle Here

Chile’s Internal Revenue Service (Servicio de Impuestos Internos / SII) proves it knows how to save a buck luca… no need to waste money on fancy signage for motorcycle parking! Just clear away old vines and paint on the neighbor’s wall.

Sign spotted behind the SII office in Providencia, Santiago de Chile, August 2010.

Chile's Internal Revenue Service (SII) saving taxpayer's money

Chilean Elections-Round 2 Brings Change…

I started writing this post this morning, thinking it would be a long, lazy day waiting for the election results to come in… and figured I’d pass the time rambling about the ins and outs of Chile’s electoral process. But I live in an area that gets lots of traffic whenever news is being made, and when more and more cars started going by around 6:15 with the classic beep-beep-BEEP- BEEP-BEEEEEP! I started checking the news: Guess what… I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today’s run-off second round of presidential voting ended in record time with the gran gol going to Sebastián Piñera, who topped Eduardo Frei in no time flat.

I had suspected Piñera would win, but truly thought it would be very close with counts and recounts continuing well into the night! As I write this, the streets are filling with cars, flags, cheers, and the blaring horns of the supporters of the Coalición por el Cambio—the right. And now, after 20 years of the Concertación (center-to-left), the Change has begun. Interesting times certainly lie ahead…

And just to avoid letting my earlier efforts go waste, here’s a bit about how Chile’s electoral process works

Who can vote

* Men and women aged 18 and over can register to vote. The literacy requirement seems to have been dropped (although Chile does have a very high literacy rate).
* Women could not vote until 1949.
* Foreigners with 5 or more years of permanent residency in Chile can vote (citizenship not required).

Voting is compulsory

Well, mandatory for those who have registered, anyway. All of the 7.5 million people who signed up to vote in 1989–the first election since 1970–and everyone since, have been locked into the system forever. Yep. Register once, you’re in for life…don’t vote, pay a fine…This means you must get out and go through the process not only for presidential elections, but every senator, congressional, and municipal election as well…which means that a lot of younger people simply don’t register. Forced apathy.

Make that Almost compulsory (the rules for getting around the rules)

For those who find registering to vote somewhat akin to getting a tattoo (a no-looking-back decision that seemed like a good idea at the time), never fear; there are certain ways of getting around it:

* just pay up (haven’t been able to confirm it, but the fine appears to range from 0.5 to 3 UTM. As of this writing, a UTM is $36.679 CLP or approximately $75 USD)
* head off to a distant beach
. If you can prove that you were 200 km away from your designated polling place, you’re off the hook. Of course, it would just be cheaper to pay the fine (though certainly far less fun).
* prove you’re too sick—or unfit— to vote. We actually know someone who went through the trouble of getting a psychiatrist to declare him too nuts to vote (which, in retrospect, was a good thing. The shrink should probably be commended for this act of civic duty)
* Be a foreigner. Yep! Here’s a curious benefit for non-Chileans. Not only can we vote in a country of which we are not citizens, but we are even entitled to special privileges! We can vote if we feel like it… or not!

Election Day is always a Sunday

and is declared a legal holiday to make sure that people can get out and vote.

Enforced public teetotaling

We got together with friends for dinner last night. “Let’s meet early,” they said, “everything’s going to close up early because of the elections tomorrow.” Sure enough. The first thing our server said to us was “You might want to decide on your drinks first, I can only serve alcohol until 9PM.”

Wow. They take this stuff seriously. Midnight, I can see, but NINE? Of course we could have ordered 10 bottles and sat there all night, but pre-election last call was 9 PM!

Don’t know what that was all about, but the law says no alcohol can be sold from midnight before until 4 hours after voting has concluded.

Men & women vote separately

That’s right. From what people tell me, it’s so that men cannot influence their wives during the voting process. Seems kind of moot in a secret ballot process, doesn’t it?

You can imagine the inconveniences this can present… My elderly in-laws complain every time about the sheer logistics of it all.

Polling places are usually in schools or universities

And there are laws about how close the traffic can get to a polling site, which means that moving around the city on election day can be a complete adventure in and of itself.

Voting is by paper ballot

Voters sign in using their government-issued ID cards, sign their name in a book, and are given a paper ballot with the candidates’ names. They mark the ballot in secret with a pencil by drawing single vertical line through the line beside the candidate’s name. They fold the ballot as indicated, seal it with a special stamp, and deposit it in the box and dip their thumb in blue ink as proof that they’ve already voted. (BTW-  voters may not remain in the secret chamber more than 1 minute) (see Official Procedures).

Many people show their discontent with the options by turning in a blank ballot or by voting “nulo”–voiding their ballot–by marking it  in some unauthorized way. People have told me they draw pictures, write poetry, or vote for non-candidates; in fact, I heard something about Homer Simpson (yes, THAT Homer Simpson) receiving an unexpectedly high number of votes in one Santiago community today.

Better than half or do-over

In Chile it’s no simple matter of the candidate with the most votes win. Nope. This is a majority gets it kind of deal. When there is no clear majority (more than 50%), the top 2 candidates have a month to prepare and go at it again.

There have been 5 post-dictatorship elections. The last 3 have required run-offs. So today, Sebastián Piñera (Renovación Nacional, candidate from the right) duked it out with Eduardo Frei (Concertación / Democracia Cristiana, who, by the way, was president from 1994–2000, and whose father, Eduardo Frei Montalva, was president from 1964–1970, just before Salvador Allende).

I won’t bore you with the details of the first round, especially since I wasn’t even here at the time, but Eileen at Bearshaped sphere can certainly entertain you with a great photo-essay of her experience tagging along with a friend during the 1st round. Be sure to check that out. And her latest tweets lead me to believe we can expect something equally enlightening tomorrow!

Late breaking news: Eileen, as predicted, has posted another great photo essay on the reveling right. See her piece “This is what democracy looks like. Chile Elections, 2010, Sebastian Piñera” on Bearshapedsphere.

Want more info? Check out:

Servico Electoral de la República FAQs (PDF)

Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile: Elecciones Presidenciales 2009

Pitbull free to roam: the flip side of the Chile’s street dog issue

Quiltros, mutts, and street dogs… we’ve talked about them a lot here at Cachando Chile, and while many people have expressed their opinions, one topic that has not been an issue is that of street dogs being vicious.

A Cachando Chile reader who has asked to remain anonymous sent this story about an experience he had with canine bureaucracy and lack of efficacy in enforcing the few laws that do exist with respect to pet ownership and responsibility, not to mention common decency and the ethics of being a good neighbor.

To be clear, this is not an issue of quiltros, strays, or street dogs, which seldom seem to be aggressive. To be sure there presents the issue of certain breeds that are known to be easily provoked to violence and whether or not they should be allowed in a residential neighborhood, but in the end, this is absolutely a case of a dog with an irresponsible owner.

I have a lab and walk him everyday. No one else in the neighborhood seems to walk their dogs, so some dogs get a bit huffy when my dog cruises by each day. Lots of dogs are out or get out as cars drive in and some days there are some gafuffles. One day a pit bull got loose and, with the owner standing by, it attacked my dog, leaving three wounds needing stitching. I complain then and again the next day when the owner comes by and tries to make nice. I tell him to B off and I want the vet bill paid. I never heard back.

Second attack happens two months later and only two wounds needed stitching but there was a lot more blood. Owner apologizes, refuses to pay up (now 150,000 between two attacks), and insists he was just robbed and needs the dog for protection. It doesn’t seem to me the dog serves much to protect him, and it has endangered the neighborhood twice now.

The parking attendant tells me the next day that the dog gets out every second day, and I am lucky I have only had trouble twice in various months of walks. The dog killed a poodle and attacked an elderly lady the year before. These pit bull dogs are cruise missiles on pattern from when they see the other dog’s neck until they grab on til death do they part. I tried a kids’ baseball bat applied to the dog’s gonads amongst other things and all to no effect.

The police tell me they will speak to the neighbor and that I have no rights without being able to show the animal escaped. One cop tells me to trap the dog outside his domain if the owner is not about the next time this happens.

The third attack happens almost in front of my home. I carry newspaper to burn (even tigers don’t like fire a neighbor has told me). No dice, the dog is too quick. Somehow high on adrenalin watching my dog dying for the third time, I grab the pit bull by the collar and throw him inside my home’s side garden and slam the gate. Now I have only to call the police to come and get him. No dice. They chuckle and say to take the dog back because the killing machine living in my children’s neighborhood is not my ‘property’. I asked the policeman’s badge number and am not given it.

The next day, with the dog trapped in my garden, I call the mayor’s office and e-mail all of my local politicians. No dice, no one wants to be an animal hater. I go to see the owner without the dog. The owner, a neighbor tells me, has gone to the beach for the week—ie., with his pit bull in the street, he left for a week. Neighbor confirms that he was worried but couldn’t miss the beach.

After no answer from the mayor I call and call the municipality until someone comes to inspect. They tell me they can solve the problem, but I have to take the dog to their trash collecting facility. I say no. The press arrives. After I tell the press to go away, I ask the municipality once more to solve the problem and take the carcass with them. And they did. And I am grateful to them for assuming with me the responsibility of solving a problem that needed solving.

I am sad for the dog who was taken into the home of someone so irresponsible, but my children are not going to be the poster children for a decent law about dangerous guard dogs. Full Stop.

Again. This is not a quiltro (mixed breed dog). This is not a street dog. This is not an abandoned dog (although we could argue that is it  neglected). Take a look at the comments that developed after the announcement of the Bicentennial Chile Dog winner, especially the one Marmo left on January 13 with these important links:

Conciencia Animal on Laws

and Chilean Senate news on the the Responsibilities of Pet Owners

And of course, check out the other Cachando Chile pieces on the subject, then come back and give us YOUR two cents’ worth. Got ideas on how to fix this problem?

See other dog-related posts on Cachando Chile:

Santiago de Chile Part II: Of Dogs and Men... (February 7, 2011)

Bicentennial Chile Dog: And we have a Winner! (January 8, 2010)

Lost Dogs: Quiltros  & Hero Dogs (November 25, 2009)

In Search of the Bicentennial Chile Dog (October 30, 2009)

Chile: It’s a Dog’s World (April 14, 2009)

Christmas Card Reruns

Sloppy municipal formalities backfire; tax-payer crankiness ensues

I got a Christmas card from my local concejal (town council member) the other day—on Tuesday, January 5 to be exact. What’s with the hold up you might rightly ask? Certainly not distance traveled—I live about 5 blocks away from his office. The Christmas rush perhaps? Not that either. I checked the postmark. It was mailed Monday, January 4. Go figure.

Now, the only reason the municipality sends me cards in the first place is because I’m a squeaky hinge—and they seem to have 2-week late Christmas cards confused with WD-40. Sorry, but that “cariñoso saludo” and “wishes for the spirit of Peace and Love to remain with me always” are not going to stop me from complaining about whatever it is that’s bugging me enough to google up their contact page (you thought I was actually phoning a municipal office? How much free time do you really think I have?) to give them a coherent and exquisitely composed piece of my mind about things like people blocking our driveway by parking on top of a clearly marked no parking symbol (because the municipality has removed all the parking on my block), dogs running loose and barking under my window at 3 AM (because no one enforces leash laws), kids throwing rocks at the kiosko downstairs (rock against metal and shattering glass are not among my favorite ways to wake up), drunken teens vandalizing cars in the wee hours—normal neighborhood stuff like that.

So my concejal wants to cozy up to my good side and show me that the municipality is thinking of me. Heck, he even signed the card “Afectuosamente” (affectionately), but, ahem, they’ve just hammered home once again that I, a long-time tax-paying member of the community, am an afterthought… Did someone have a forehead-smacking brainstorm moment about getting some late-breaking eternal peace and love into me? Or maybe there were just some cards left over and they decided to send them out to the neighborhood’s second and third-tier complainers? Or maybe they got them at an after-Christmas sale and figured I’d be impressed by how much money they saved by sending the cards out after the rush? Or maybe it was simply a case of realizing post festivities that the cards had been overlooked (a bit too much Cola de Mono at the office holiday party?) and, applying some kind of better late than never logic, decided to toss them into the mail bin after—way after—the fact!

They should have saved the postage.

Hmm… Maybe I should make another complaint…

The Art of Artful Dodging: Avoiding Traffic Tickets in Chile

Carabinero-motoThe Chilean police—carabineros—are famous for being resistant to bribery. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about dealing with Latin American officials when you come to Chile. Don’t even THINK about offering them money; that’s a sure recipe for doom and a much closer look at the inner workings of a police station than you were bargaining for. But that doesn’t mean that carabineros always play it by the book. There are ways of getting out of that ticket looming large. I’ve heard plenty of stories about being let go…

Here are a few of my favorites:

Female Approach #1: Beautiful & Helpless
A very pretty young Chilean friend, a stunning model with no drivers’ license and little knowledge of driving, was, nonetheless, behind the wheel. She made an illegal left turn, entered the wrong way down a 1-way street, and was trying unsuccessfully to park in a no-parking zone when the local man-in-green asked her to step out of her car.

She’s a goner, right? No pu (which is Chilean for “nope”). Pretty and quick-witted, she flashes a big smile and puts on her very best gringa accent and says, “um… No…um… No sah-bair… estash-o-nahr…” (something that roughly resembles “no… to know…to park”), and throws in another big “I’m helpless” smile for good measure. He melted. Big bad meanie attitude out the window; Knight in Shining Armor to the rescue. Not only did she NOT get a ticket, but he actually stopped traffic and helped her back out and be on her way!

Now, would this work with a real gringa? Somehow I doubt it!

Female Approach #2: Turn on the Tears
In a word, cry. This seems to be the most common approach. Most of the women I know under 30 swear that this works every time. Most seem to discover this by accident the first time they get stopped and when they are really very scared and upset, “and I don’t have any money and my father’s going to kill me and I’ll never do it again, oh whatamIgonnadoooo boohoohoohoo…? Sob, sob, sob, look for tissues…sob, sob, sniff… Apparently it gets them every time, at least with the under-30s.

I can’t imagine cops anywhere falling for this kind of tactic from a man, who according to the universal rules of machismo, cannot cry or whine. And if they are even slightly intelligent, they should certainly know better than to show any sign of excess testosterone either. It’s man-to-man and one’s got the upper hand… and that hand’s holding a book of tickets. But still, there are ways…

Male Approach #1: The Absent-Minded Professor
Despite being stopped (and deservedly so) many more times than anyone could count, my husband has only received one ticket in his life… and that event is a story in itself, but I’ll save that for another day. He has an amazing ability to talk his way out of just about anything, usually without even realizing that that’s what he’s doing. He’s even had carabineros apologize for offending him, but that’s a tale that only he can tell…You see, he’s charming, intelligent, very polite… and extremely absent minded. Just the other day he was on the highway with his elderly mother in the car. It was about 4 pm when he got pulled over. The interaction went something like this:

“Your license and registration please.”

He pulls out all the papers he’s ever had related to the car and shuffles through them until the cop (or paco, in Chile), in desperation, points to what he wants. His papers are indeed in order and he knew he wasn’t speeding.

“Why don’t you have your lights on?”

He leans his head out of the window and looks up into the clear blue sky with a puzzled look on his face—completely oblivious to the law that has been in place for about 2 years that says that headlights must be on at all times while driving on the highway.

“But I’m just taking my mother on an errand…” (like that has anything to do with anything). She smiles (no tears, but now that I think of it, that would probably have worked very well too).

“You need to use your headlights on the highway.”

“Really? But I was just taking my mother…”

Realizing that my husband is a pretty harmless kinda guy, and perhaps confounded by what logic could possibly lie behind this clearly futile and seemingly endless loop of circular conversation, the paco shed mercy…

“Ok, don’t worry. You can go.”

“Thank you sir…” and puts the car in gear and starts to go. The carabinero stops him again…

“Turn your lights on… NOW!”

Oops! Red faced, lights on, and on his way…

Male Approach #1: Have a Charming Kid
Another friend, let’s call him Pedro, got stopped and knew he was doomed…went through that stop sign just a little too fast before he saw those ominous red lights atop the green and white car. His 3-year-old daughter sat in the back seat singing quietly to herself as he and the carabinero go through the required steps: the document checking, the accusation, the “Really? I didn’t see it” routine that they both know is expected but going nowhere, when suddenly the carabinero hears what the little one is singing… the Carabinero National Hymn!

The carabinero couldn’t believe his ears, and Pedro couldn’t believe his luck! It’s hard to tell who was most pleased.

You’ve got a nice little girl there mister. You have a nice day and be more careful next time.”

It turns out that the carabineros had recently visited her daycare center and taught them the song. She saw the uniform, made the association, and very innocently started on what well may be a long career of convincing carabineros to look kindly on wayward drivers.

I was a Peruvian Dishtowel Smuggler

Ok, so I’m not Peruvian. And I never intentionally smuggled anything… Aw shoot. Wait—there were those Chinese chili peppers tucked into my coat pockets that one time, but I swear it was before I worked in the wine industry and really-really, truly-truly became convinced of the whole SAG take on Chile being an agricultural island thing. But I really do get it now and it will NEVER happen again! Really, truly, honest, cross my heart, stick a needle, swear on a stack, and all that! Ya lo cacho… I completely get it now, AND, as much as I really love Chinese red peppers and Indian black mustard seeds, they will never-ever enter the country by my hand (or coat pocket) again! (Phew, Wow- Confession IS good for the soul!)

I hadn’t thought about this for a long time, but Eileen at bearshapedsphere started a group blog on border-confiscated items. I posted my original story on the sad loss of delicious spices intended for the curries of my dreams, but the memories started flooding in. Here’s another, although technically it wasn’t me that suffered the loss this time…

Ok. So the story goes like this. Without delving into dramatic personal details, my daughter and I lived in Chile for a few years as tourists (despite my earnest yet futile attempts to “legalize” my status… but that story’s for another day). Anyway, before I became legal-by-marriage, we were forced to leave the country periodically and re-enter in order to renew our tourist visas. And, as just about every ex-pat in limbo with residency-in-waiting knows, that means 3 or 4 weekends in Mendoza, Argentina per year.

We were only a month shy of the big day, but bureaucracy trumps love and wedding plans, so, off we went, yet once again, my daughter and I and husband-to-be (HTB) aboard a bus and Argentina-bound. Even before we pulled out of the station we couldn’t help but notice a group of 8 or 10 Peruvians who made a fuss about changing their seat assignments. It seemed odd, considering that the bus was only half full and they could sit wherever they wanted, but they insisted that the official roster be changed to show 2 here, 2 there, another 2 over there, etc., dispersed throughout the bus. Curious, but it would all become clear in due time.

My preteen daughter was sitting in the seat behind HTB and me, and suddenly I was very aware that one of the Peruvian men was talking with her… the protective Mom instinct kicks in and I demand and explanation, of course. He was asking her to put a dozen pairs of (new) tube socks in her bag. No way! (How many times have you been warned not to transport goods for someone else?) Besides, our status in Chile was iffy enough as it was (C’mon, 3 years on a 3-month tourist visa is no cake walk!) I didn’t want anything in the world to jinx it just before the wedding, and I certainly didn’t want my KID to get mixed up in any kinky socks affair! Case closed.

Fast forward several hours and countless curvy switchbacks up the mountain to the Argentine border, where the whole seat-changing scheme unfolded. We were lined up by seat number to go through customs, and at that time Argentina required Peruvians to have a certain amount of money ($300US I think?) to enter the country. Clearly the group did not have enough money, so they went through the line, showed the dough, passed through customs, and handed the $300 wad on to the next person down the line. Hmmm. We noticed. Mouths shut. None of our business.

Next step: we had to place our bags on a long row of tables and police inspectors took everything out and rifled through it. Much to my disbelief, out of the bag I was sharing with HTB came a dozen brand new dishtowels that I had never seen before! WHAT?? I assume the officer did not see the extremely nasty look I gave HTB because I’m still here to tell the story, but man, was I MAD!

Once back on the bus and starting to roll, I laid into him, “How COULD you? You KNOW that our status is iffy, You KNOW that I told the guy we wouldn’t take his socks, WHY would you accept towels? And WHO travels with dishtowels anyway?” “Look,” he says, all righteous and innocent, “he’s just a poor guy trying to make ends meet. Back when I was a student, Argentina treated us the same way. I just wanted to help him out. What’s it hurt?” Grrrr…

Before I could continue, the bus came to a stop and 3 uniformed officers boarded. They were looking for Peruvians. Seat 1: “show me your money.” Out comes the $300. Seat 2: “show me your money.” Out comes the money… and so on, until they reached the young woman who could only produce $120. “Come with us,” they said.

They took her off the bus for questioning. We waited for over an hour, and finally we moved on… without her. The Peruvians aboard were clearly upset. One of their own was left behind to an unknown destiny. Would she be arrested? (Surely so.) Returned to Chile? Deported to Peru? It was all in the air. The Peruvians who had boarded with such high hopes of selling their wares in Mendoza and returning with something in pocket for family and wellbeing were clearly distraught. They huddled and spent the remaining hours of the journey locked in group prayer… until, of course, the time came to ask us for the dishtowels back.