Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 3, 2010

Watching and Wondering

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on March 3, 2010

Like many of you, I have been watching developments in Chile. The available information suggests that despite the widespread devastation in the central Chile region of Bío Bío, the investments made there following the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake paid at least some dividends, particularly in reducing the loss of life. Indeed, a large proportion of the nearly 800 deaths now reported occurred not in damaged buildings in Chile’s second city of Concepción, but in coastal communities where evacuations had begun but could not be completed before tsnuami waves crashed ashore.

As most of you realize, Chile occupies a sliver of land nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the crest of the Andes where the Nazca and South American tectonic plates come together. The subduction zone created by this intersection has produced some of the strongest instrumentally measured earthquakes in recorded history. Great earthquakes with moment magnitudes greater than 8 occur here more frequently than any other place on the globe.

The intensity and frequency of these geological shifts are not unlike the intensity and frequency of political shifts that have defined Chile’s recent social and economic history and defined its character as a nation. The country has veered from socialist rule to a right-wing military dictatorship and back in the period since the Valdivia Earthquake. Notwithstanding this turbulence, the country emerged from this turmoil in a position to become one of the few South American success stories.  Since 1990, the country has led the continent with a strong and diversified economy in which per capita GDP has grown at a rate much faster than its neighbors. Sadly, not all Chileans have shared in this prosperity, but most have benefited from the stability that has marked the country’s recent political history as poverty rates have fallen significantly despite persistent income inequalities. Despite the faintest glimmers of hope in the months before the January 12 earthquake, Haiti seemed locked in an economic and political death spiral that the earthquake only accelerated.

Initial damage estimates suggest that the economic effect of the Chilean earthquake equals something between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s annual real gross domestic product. In comparison, the damage in Haiti is probably many times the annual real GDP, which leaves the country dependent on international aid for its recovery.

One of the great ironies of the Chilean earthquake is the fact that so many of its highly trained responders had only recently returned from Haiti, where their considerable skills were surely put to the test. Chile’s experience as a leader in earthquake response clearly prepared it well for what it experienced on Saturday morning, but it may also have made the country’s leaders reluctant to ask for help sooner.

This week, outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made a request for international aid. Chile’s needs include field hospitals with surgical facilities, dialysis machines, water purification equipment, satellite phones, generators, and mobile bridges. Although the country refused initial offers of assistance from international donors, Chilean political leaders chalked this reluctance up not to a misplaced sense of self-efficacy dealing with what they are now calling an unparalleled disaster, but rather concern that unfocused help could be worse than the situation itself. This diagnosis is not without precedent or just cause as evidenced by the slow transitions from response to recovery that have accompanied comparable disasters in other countries.

So, what can we expect in Chile? This country has displayed remarkable resilience in the past. It knows better than most countries what this disaster will require of its people and leaders. And its people have learned the importance of sticking together under difficult circumstances, having seen one another and their nation through all sorts of trials and tribulations.

Despite strong shaking in the nation’s capital, life there has returned to normal in many respects. The country’s copper mines have resumed operation. And the country’s military has supported police in restoring order in the cities and establishing air and sea support for the transportation of vital goods.

This military’s prominent role in the humanitarian relief effort stands in stark contrast to the human rights abuses attributed to it over the 17 years of rule under General Augusto Pinochet. Likewise, the willingness of Chile’s government to welcome Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday looks beyond the role her government and ours played in deposing the nation’s popularly elected socialist President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 (strange coincidence, eh?). Clearly, Chileans are a forgiving people.

But forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Indeed, Chileans, informed by their past experience recovering from catastrophic events, seem mindful of what lies ahead. I am betting they are uniquely capable of bouncing back better and stronger than before. We would do well to watch their progress closely.

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5 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 3, 2010 @ 4:11 am

Well Mark excellent analysis! A Presidential transition within a month of this giant earthquake is not helpful but clearly must be accomplished. Something to think about as the US Presidential transitions have had such slow takeoffs under the past few Presidents. Perhaps a shadow cabinent with the top 10 of each President’s picks for each department and agency as soon as elected to start the public discourse would help. Both Republicans and Dems in US are very very short talent and their benches are thin.

Back to the Chile and Haiti. Chile is going to have a much toughter time than anyone knows. In fact the economics of the whole of S. American life could take a big hit. Also Chile is largely stocked with white Europeans and not black Africans. So it will be interesting to see how the deep US racial animosity plays out as it let’s Haiti die deaths by a thousand failed efforts just offshore. Again anywhere in the Caribbean a disaster the scope of Haiti should have been treated and responded to as a domestic US disaster. We won’t be able to do a Pontius Pilot on Haiti as so far the US has left up to 2 million people to live in unsanitary muck throughout the rainy and hurricane season pretending their is a Haitian government fully operating. The interstitial borders between the nation-states and multilateral organizations has never been wider than it failure to close in large-scale natural disasters. The US may learn from Chile that you better ask for and be prepared to receive any international assistance you can since with numerous pockets of 10-25 million people threatened in the US by large-scale events many lessons can be learned from the experiences of others.
Now in the 7th week from the January Earthquake in Haiti and distintegration occurring now of any pretense to civil society fast. Let’s see how the Chileans do but this death toll is going to rise substantially and the hit on the Chilean economy will be enormous. Also not the pride that the Chileans had in their multilateral and domestic copper production being restored. Could not the assets of these companies also have been of more use and higher priority in rescuing people, life-saving generally, and protecting property? But hey who would want the internation copper market destabilized in a world where the proverbial straw is now multifold and the international economy could collapse. And the US and its President who has not mentioned Haiti more than seldom and does not realize he was elected based on racial politics pretends the US and its problems are isolated from the other 95% of humanity and its problems and looking to the oldest and richest democracy to do something more than build McMansions in the Hamptons.

Well who knows, the Administration was lucky in the first year, no huge natural disasters but perhaps the activity in the ring of fire should cause all to wonder at another Presidency that is content to ad hoc arranges in large scale domestic events.

The temporary suspension of one of the US governments largest scale mitigation and financial resilience programs guarding against the disaster of flooding, the National Flood Insurance Program, due to the ego and hubris of a former MLB pitcher should tell the American polity of the deep and worrisome lack of gravitas and ability to govern in its government officialdom and those both appointed and elected.
My guess is Chile might look better than US with their having stockpiled copper profits in the good times in the last decade so that they have at least some cushion no matter how meagre. Compare that to the US with NO cushion. And of course Haiti looks more and more like conscious US policy to let the black humanity in that former tiny nation-state die slowly and painfully under the watchful and fearful eyes of the US. Such an opportunity for leadership by the US again missed and it gets harder to find any success of the US in last several decades other than pretending that the Soviet Union collapse was because WE won.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

March 3, 2010 @ 5:34 am

There are a few articles in the Wall St. Journal today re the economic policies of Chile and their relationship to its resilience to major earthquakes.

One issue that deserves scrutiny is the use of the military, which has a history of abuse in Chile, as the emergency responders.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 4, 2010 @ 9:22 am

Chile sitrep if honest would show increasing likelihood of major failures by Chilean government and huge impact on rest of S. American economies.

Hey Chile is a long ways away and in the meantime a large domestic disaster called Haiti just gets worse and worse with many NGO’s and US starting to pull out.

Comment by christopher tingus

March 4, 2010 @ 10:22 am

William Cumming, unfortunately all that you state is factual. What a shame that such politics and corruption still continues here in the 21st century with so much promise, yet the same greed and indifference which has failed mankind in all generations past….Since Babylon, every government, no matter the form, has failed. Greed and corruption. When will we learn??

Never mind US presence which is in Haiti and Chile with kudos to at least US DoD efforts and soem relief agencies earmest in their commitment despite the rampant corruption by even the government in Haiti as well as people on the street….

As a long time international new business development consultant mentored within the defense contractor sphere and demands of the boardroom of a large corporation, today independently engaged with a collaborative effort of US and Canadian expertise in addressing pan-African wastewater and waste purification initiatives, the ever growing demands of such requirements needs financing and yes, the World Bank has made some funds available, yet Wall Street walks across the sidewalk when they hear I am visiting to ask for “humanitarian” investment monies towards the infrastructure of Africa and the good people of Africa who deserve dignity and a clean glass of water. All profitable projects, these numerous substantial US$50million-$250million wastewater projects promise quality in Life to these less than fortunate individuals and families.

The proven expertise of this US/Canadian collaborative is available, however well, I guess, Africa, other than the Chinese who presence is found everywhere on African soil offering substantial assistance in return for the opportunity to build railroads across the continent to secure valuable resources being stockpiled by Chinese officials back home to assure that China can take care of its population, apparently the German led EU cares little for bailing out Greece and their economic dilemma as well as the Vatican blantantly failing the people of Haiti and South America. The same will be true in Chile as well.

As a result of a proposed valued permanent housing solution to be established in Africa, the same US and Canadians asked me weeks ago to approach Haiti – and now Chile – in not only offering thousands and thousands of portable water purification units, but the same eco-friendly, earthquake resistant housing solutions which affords a smaller house with solar and rain water retention package.

What I am concerned with is the fact that yes, kudos and God Bless those as vendors and relief agencies making a difference, but the failings of the international community especially the EU and the Vatican who are always punching at the US and even the Canadians when in fact, their failure in Haiti and now in Chile say much about an EU who will turn their backs on the Greeks, the Italians, the Latvians and so on and so forth, downsizing its EU composition with its members all dependent on Germany, the next growing threat to the Persians, the Arab League members, and the stability of the Middle East as a German led EU seeks oil to start up its manufacturing machine….

We the Canadians and US collabortive will succeed in our ambitions in Haiti and in Chile and in Africa as well. Yes, these business ambitions are profit driven, however quite sincere in compassion towards those less fortunate where subject solutions with funding from those who truly care will bring dignity and quality of Life to children, to families.

I hear my local community talk of diversity and adopt programs to address such and a world referencing the same, yet hatred abounds and the stone walls depicting differences seem never to be torn down especially with the arrogance and self-serving agenda of government.

Isn’t it interesting that today in Iraq, seven people, children of God, were killed/murdered by roadside bomb at polling places in early voting. How can we not vote here in America on our polling dates when we see people losing their Life standing at the 469 polling places open today in preliminary voting in Iraq. It is time we all vote heer in America, give a real wake up call to the professional politicians and demand term limits.

It is also time for a national referendum asking US citizens whether they agree that the 200 WMDs Belgian and other EU officials have asked be removed from European soil, be removed and readied here making us an even stronger America. I disagree with you, Mr. President, that WMDs should be cut in half when every nation is seeking WMDs and so many seek our demise.

As a natural born and proud US citizen, I am tired of the US being the rug to step on and local, state and national government circumventing the US Constitution and State Constitutions, the Rights of the individual and imposing taxes and fees, taxes and fees to support the void in leadership, the partisan ways of a gridlocked beltway where every vote cast in upcoming elections will wipe the smug smile of multi-millionaire folks like Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry and others dominating Washington and placing our great nation – America – the beacon of hope to so many – a nation willing to send generations of youth yonder to challenge those preferring dastardly deeds versus a civilized course.

With billions of God’s creation living here on earth, let’s move past the ingrained hatred and prejudices and not necessarily embrace one another, but listen attentively, seek a level to discuss and with respect to our differences, we share so many similarities that we must all reach out as a global community to Haiti, to Chile and to the next unfortunate event that affects so many….children. They deserve our Love and commitment!

God Bless America!

God Bless the good people of Haiti and the good people of Chile.

Christopher Tingus
Main Street USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by Mark Chubb

March 14, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

A great article in today’s New York Times Week in Review section discusses the military response following the earthquake.

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