January 20, 2011
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.