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Where I would be in a crisis

January 20, 2011
Santiago, Chile

On November 4, 1979, a battalion-sized group of militants who became known as the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line descended upon the American embassy in Tehran, Iran.  They eventually suppressed the guards and seized control of the compound.

For 444 days, fifty-two diplomats, soldiers, and their family members were held captive by this Iranian group which demanded that the US government extradite their deposed Shah back to Iran for trial.  The Shah had been overthrown earlier that year during Iran’s Islamic revolution, and he was seeking medical treatment in the US at the time.

The Carter administration did not bend to these demands, instead opting for what eventually became known as “Operation Eagle Claw,” a secret military rescue mission that resulted in an embarrassing failure.

When the Shah passed away in September 1980, the Iranians became more agreeable to negotiating an end to the situation, and they set forth financial demands including the transfer of some 50 metric tons of gold. The situation was finally resolved the day Ronald Reagan took office on January 20, 1981, an obvious snub to Jimmy Carter.

In another case from September 2004, a small force of separatist Ingush and Chechen militants took over a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russia… a small town of 35,000 in Russia’s Caucasus region near Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The militants held over 1,100 civilians captive, including 777 children; they demanded an end to Russia’s counter-insurgency operations in Chechnya, though negotiations quickly broke down in the three-day crisis.

Russian security forces ended the conflict by assaulting the school grounds with tanks, rocket launchers, and other heavy weapons, resulting in over 1,000 casualties and at least 156 children dead.

Both of these events are unfortunate, infamous examples of hostage situations… and I bring this up because of the numerous email questions we’ve received lately asking for more information about the ‘hostage situation in Chile.’

Thank you, Mainstream Media, for once again distorting reality. Fact: There is no hostage situation in Chile. There never was.

Over a week ago, the government of Chile announced a 17% hike in natural gas prices.  Most of the country shrugged off the announcement, except for the folks in the deep south of Patagonia.

The region’s largest city of Punta Arenas is, after all, one of the closest port cities to Antarctica. It gets cold, and residents there depend heavily on cheap (read: subsidized) gas in the icy winter. Consequently, several locals took to the streets last week in a mass protest against the government’s decision to raise prices.

They blocked the city’s port facilities and most of the main highways. This hardly captivated the nation, even though a few folks unfortunately died in accidents.  Most Chileans were far more concerned about pending education legislation and the 2011 Dakar rally, not a handful of misfits protesting a bump in the price of natural gas.

For any tourists who were down in the region, the demonstrations were definitely inconveniencing. With port facilities and major roads blocked, many tourists were stuck in the region, often even unable to drive.

To their credit, local Chileans were very apologetic to tourists, handing out bowls of soup and fruit, effectively saying, “Hey I’m sorry you got caught up in this, but I have to make a statement to my government…”

Western newspapers grabbed on to the story and ran headlines about tourists being ‘held hostage’ in Patagonia because they were unable to find immediate transportation out of the region. This is simply a gross mischaracterization.

In the end, the government reached a compromise with the Patagonian protestors to offset some of the increase to the most needy families this year.  Even before the deal was finalized, protestors lifted their barricades as a gesture of good faith.

Look, no place is perfect… and Chile is far from it. But in a global crisis situation, there’s something I consider about countries called the ‘pitchfork factor.’ What’s the likelihood that angry locals will turn on foreigners and use them as gambling chips, live bait, or a herd of milk cows?  In many countries it’s quite high.

Chile has had a few very public rough patches over the last few years, including its major earthquake in 2010 and last week’s “hostage situation”. Given the civility and lack of chaos that have ensued in both scenarios, and others as well, I find the pitchfork factor to be extremely low here, and that gives me a great sense of security.

About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tomdevlindds

    Hi Simon, love your blog. Have you ever read “All the Shah’s Men”? It’s the history of CIA operations involved in putting the Shah into a position of power with US backing at the expense of a fledging democratic (but not pro US) govt in the 1950s. Dovetails nicely with a lot of what you write about in terms of government stupidity. Have a great day

    Tom Devlin

  • Uzelacmilan

    hi – you didn’t say where you would be?

  • David Wilcoxson

    There’s always two sides to the story. Thanks for the inside scoop on Chile.

  • Accessecuador

    We were in Guayaquil when el presidente Rafael Correa waded into a demonstration of policía nacional and wound up as a hostage in the Police Hospital in Quito.

    We were planning to catch a bus to Cuenca that day, but we couldn’t get out: The airport and bus terminal were closed and the roads were blocked.

    True, we had to spend another night in the hotel, but we never dreamed we were “hostages”! Ridiculous. The people couldn’t have been nicer; several actually apologized for our inconvenience. Also, all the hotel amenities were discounted by 50%.

    The situation was resolved by the next day and we were on our way. I’d rate Ecuador, too, as extremely low on the pitchfork scale.

  • amerikanka

    I have never traveled to South America, but have always wanted to. When I mention this to people, many tell me how “unsafe” it is. I ask them: the whole Continent? Also, is North America really any safer?

    one small factual detail: the Shah of Iran died in July 1980, not September.

  • MikeSmarr

    Thanks Simon, I appreciate your boots-on-the-ground reports.

    They restore my faith in moving on with our life outside the US.

  • Carlos

    Hmm…points well made Simon though I would say that if one is contemplating a move to Chile one should probably get used to the idea of more vocal and public demonstrations there than we might be used to in the States. If the public school system there raises fees some Chileans will demonstrate in the streets. If the bus system gets too expensive some
    Chileans will demonstrate in the streets. What then happens is that the Socialists and others who are anti-government latch on to the otherwise peaceful demonstrations and cause a problem.

    When I was last in Santiago there was such a demonstration and I was advised by even my Chilean relatives to stay away from visiting the Presidential Palace and that area.

    So yes…there are demonstrations that one probably does not want to be near but they are not super common or all over the place.

    And I think you are right in saying the media blows things out of proportion and such but they do happen and it might be quite a shock for Americans to see such demonstrations as occur. At least at first.

    Chile is doing real well at this time but I am ever aware that underneath it all there is a potential powder keg again if things get real bad economically wise. As long as Chile continues to do well things should be well overall.

    Just my thoughts. I could be all washed up mind you as I have not spent a great deal of time actually in Chile but I do have relatives there who know the country and have lived there a long time and I hear things from them.

    Oh…one other thing I neglected to comment about in one of your other posts Simon…Santiago is a beautiful city as you say but it is usually covered in smog. So bad that you can’t hardly see the mountains in the distance. The smog is so bad that it’s downright unhealthy to live in Santiago I think compared to living in clean air elsewhere.


    • maxreason

      I wish americans would raise their voices, and fists, at the fascist authoritarian criminals who run the USSA. To protest injustice is a positive. Here, here for Chile.

  • Art


    David Rockefeller would agree with you that Chile would be the place to be in a crisis. Why else would he be there right now. I have a youtube link you might like:

  • Pingback: This surprising country could be a great escape from the “End of America” |

  • Mevolland

    To change the subject. What about Panama? The banking system is supose to be good but there money is tied to the dollar. would it be wise to invest in a home down there?

  • Twk

    Why should I avoid transporting gold bullion (coins) to Thailand, specifically ?

  • Lucy

    What is the new pending education legislation you mentioned?

  • Luis

    This is somewhat of an offtopic but having lunch with my friend Ronald Modra last week we were talking about meeting Simon Black and maybe exchange some thoughts on his experience as an expat. Unfortunately Ronald died yesterday January 21st.

    He was an Australian expat who came to Chile 14 years ago looking for a place to relocate his family after what he told me was an odd feeling about Australia´s future. After a four year search he came to Chile, settled with his family in Santiago and created a newspaper ( He is survived by wife and children.

    • Debbie

      I am shocked to read your post, is this the Ron Modra, who did weightlifting, live in SA then moved to Dorrigo, before going on to Chile? I am not able to read the newspaper link that you gave but would love you to contact me would love to know how the family are all doing, and what happened to my special friend Ron? Kind Regards Debbie Gravenall

      • Eduardo

        Same guy. It’s a shame that his work will be continued by his family, though, because his “newspaper” is a publication promoting very harmful beliefs. The last one, to mention an example, was emphatic in advising not to vaccinate children under any circumstances…

  • Gus

    The media, the media. Don’t they have nothing better to do than to blow up a story about a hostage situation? or should I say a simple protest because people were getting aggravated for no one picking them up, but very interesting to that Chile is a good spot to be secure.

  • Rapman1959

    There are always two sides to every story, what is ones definition of hostage? Etc. Thom Hogan wrote an article about the whole situation and he was one of the people unable to leave the area. It makes quite a contrast to the above story. I personally know Thom and have traveled with him on photography workshops so I hold a lot of credence to what he has written. That being said I think a lot of the truth is in the eye of the person reporting what they see. It’s always important to read about things from various points of view.

  • Tracy

    Hi Simon, I am trying to start up a business that supports the life long profession of motherhood. I want to have built one or more RV Parks, for my members, on every continent. This way my members can travel around the world with their children and give them a better education. I have so many questions. I am learning some answers through M. Dillard’s new group, but I am not certain I will get everything. I will check back to see what you post, hopefully for more answers. Thanks for your cause, of being prepared. Tracy

  • Dojore

    My husband and I, senior citizens of the U.S, were among the 4,000 tourists held hostage in Punta Arenas from Jan. 12 to 15 unable to leave the city. There were loud demonstations outside our hotel every night and cars continuously driving around the city and blowing their horns day and night. Shops and restaurants were closed. We heard reports of people who tried to walk to the airport to escape were being stoned. On Jan.12 after we arrived at the airport we had to walk to town carrying and towing our own luggage a distance of approx. 2 miles. We saved many years for this trip to glorious Torres del Paines and Perito Moreno Glacier; wasn’t permitted to see either one. Trip cost $8,000. We feel used and extremely angry. Will tell everyone who will listen not to go to Chile.

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