Like life in Santiago Chile

The two sides of life in Santiago

I've been living in Santiago de Chile for almost three months now. In the news of the First Program this week, Chile was called “The Switzerland of Latin America”. The landscape in Chile is beautiful, especially if you like mountains. Chile is also the most expensive country in Latin America.

About half of the Chilean population lives in the greater Santiago area. Many come here to work or study. I experience life in Santiago as pleasant. The subway network works well, the people are very friendly and helpful and the cultural and leisure activities are very diverse. The metropolis is surrounded by beautiful mountains. But if you climb one of them, you can see one of the city's environmental problems with your own eyes. A brown smog cloud usually hangs over Santiago. According to the World Health Organization, the air in Santiago is one of the worst in the world. This is due, among other things, to the city's basin location, but also to the high traffic load, the numerous factories and power stations. Other problems in Santiago are the excessive pollution of the rivers and an inadequate waste disposal structure. The latter in particular can be clearly seen in poorer and more deprived neighborhoods of the city.

Another problem that shapes life in Santiago is social inequality. The family I live with as an au pair lives in Las Condes, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city. The children go to one of the best schools in Santiago and apart from an au pair, the family has a “nana” who takes care of the household. As soon as I tell you that I live in Las Condes, I get the answer: “Oh, then the family you live with is rich.” Anyone who lives on the other side of the city, for example in La Pintana, is also standing on the other side of the gap between rich and poor. Chile is one of the countries where this gap is deepest. One percent of the population (around 180,000 people) generate around 33 percent of the total income. 0.1 percent of the super-rich account for 19.5 percent of total income. This corresponds to an average income of almost 150,000 euros per month.

The gap is also evident in the education system. In the largely underfunded city schools, 70 percent of the poorest students in the country are concentrated. Anyone who can afford it somehow registers the next generation in private educational institutions. Families with money send their children to the better private schools. These children will later have good opportunities in the professional world, while the children of the poorer families will probably follow in the footsteps of their parents. So, to a certain extent, poverty is inheritable.

Many of the people who live in the poorer areas work in the more affluent areas, for example as "Nana". So you cross the whole city every day to get to work. Since the well-functioning subway network does not extend into these districts, they have to use buses and so the way to work in rush hour can take 3 hours or more.

At the beginning of my time here in Santiago, I felt that people's fear of theft was exaggerated. Because the city made a very safe impression on me and all my encounters were characterized by friendliness and helpfulness. But a lot is actually stolen in Santiago. With the social inequality that prevails here, no surprise. How much or how little you have to fear theft depends on where you are, how much police presence and other security measures there are.

Another privilege reserved for the affluent population is the health system. Those who work are insured, those who have money can afford good medical care. But many people in the poorer society in Chile cannot afford a doctor, medication or the necessary treatment in the event of illness. So many of them are forced to accept high health risks or go into debt.

So Santiago has at least two sides. The second page is easily overlooked as a traveler. The election of the conservative President Piñera, elected last Sunday, marks a shift to the right in a country that has been ruled by a left-wing party for the past few years. Piñera is a multiple billionaire. In his election promise, he announced that he would take care of all Chileans and set himself the goal of narrowing the gap between rich and poor. That is why for many Chileans he is seen as a beacon of hope for a fairer and safer future.