Chile: The Process of Earthquake Reconstruction

Calling for “national unity” in Concepcion’s main square on March 27, exactly a month after the devastating earthquake that hit Chile, President Sebastián Piñera announced “Plan Manos a la Obra” (Plan “Let's Get to Work”) [es], an initiative of the Chilean government to reconstruct the country’s infrastructure and housing. Two days later, on March 29, Piñera also announced a plan to provide a subsidy of US$2,543 each to assist 195,950 families.

Video by YouTube user EVRDIPUTADO44, taken in Concepción's Main Square on March 27, 2010.

In Concepcion, he explained that the necessary measures to reconstruct bridges, roads, ports, and airports were already underway. He also announced that emergency health posts will correct the deficiencies of the health care system starting in April, and that emergency ferries and bridges in the Bio-Bio River will allow for the transport of heavy loads of materials and supplies to San Pedro de la Paz and Talcahuano. Finally, the President highlighted a special fund that will distribute $8 billion Chilean pesos (US $15,107,160) through vouchers given to more than 200.000 families to provide them with construction materials.

Julio Segovia, a reader of the La Nación newspaper [es] article that informed about this announcement, criticized the special fund for housing:

¿8 mil millones de pesos que serán distribuido entre más de 200 mil familias? O sea, $40 mil por familia, ¿con eso van a reconstruir sus casas?. Parece que Piñera no está dando “el ancho ni el largo” como Presidente.

8 billion [Chilean] pesos will be distributed between more than 200,000 families? That is, $40,000 pesos (approximately US$ 75.5)] per family [.] With that amount they are meant to reconstruct their houses? It seems that Piñera is “falling short” as President.

Twitter user Viviana Meneses (@vivipazz) reacted [es] to the President’s announcement and agreed with statements made by Senator Camilo Escalona of the Socialist Party, who had said earlier that the President did not actually have a structured plan:

Me carga Escalona, pero sus dichos son ciertos. Piñera no cuenta con un plan de reconstrucción efectivo. Ideas sueltas no sirven.

I dislike Escalona, but his statements are true. Piñera does not have an effective reconstruction plan. Loose ideas are not useful.

However, other Chileans support the government’s call for unity and prompted opposition leaders to support it as well. Manuel Blanco (@manuelblancoc), “tweeted” the following [es] to Guido Girardi, a prominent opposition leader of the Party for Democracy:

@guidogirardi Ojalá que todos, al igual que Guido, “estén” con el Pdte. Piñera en el proceso de Reconstrucción, sin polítiquería pequeña

@guidogirardi Hopefully everyone, just like Guido, “will be” with President Piñera in the process of reconstruction, without petty politics

Girls playing on a "mediagua" (emergency housing unit) in a displaced persons camp in Lipimávida, Vichuquén, Maule Region. Photo taken by Rodrigo Alvarez and used under a Creative Commons license.

Girls play on a "mediagua" (emergency housing) in a displaced persons camp in Lipimávida, Vichuquén, Maule Region. Photo taken by Rodrigo Alvarez and used under a Creative Commons license.

The plans for reconstruction have generated a lot of debate in Chile even prior to Piñera’s announcements. One of the issues discussed in social media outlets is the issue of who will reconstruct and how will these persons or companies be selected to do this job.

In a post for Revista La Página [es] titled “Reconstruction of Chile: Everyone did not lose in the Earthquake [es],” journalism student Martina Orrego expresses her concern for the contracts that will be awarded in public bids:

Una cosa sí debería estar clara para todos: mucha gente perdió todo lo que tenía, incluso a seres queridos, pero sólo unos pocos comenzarán a ganar con este desastre.El negocio para quienes serán los encargados de poner a Chile de pie es enorme. Los 30 mil millones en contratos de reconstrucción (o tal vez calza mejor “construcción” sencillamente) es plata que a alguien se le debe pagar […] Pero vivimos en Chile, donde sólo algunos “califican” y tienen los “méritos” necesarios para ganarse este tipo de concursos públicos.

One thing should be clear to everyone: a lot of people lost everything they had, even their loved ones, but only a few will begin to earn from this disaster.The business for those who will be in charge of putting Chile back on its feet is enormous. The 30 billion pesos [US $56,651,874] in reconstruction contracts (or perhaps “construction” is a better word) is money that must be paid to someone […] But we live in Chile, where only some “meet the requirements” and have the necessary “qualifications” to win this type of public contest.

She recalls several corruption scandals in Chile to warn Chileans of what could ensue.

Pero hagamos algo de historia para entender lo que podría venir. Cuántos casos de irregularidades en la adjudicación de licitaciones hemos escuchado este último tiempo. Transantiago y sus deficiencias […] y como dejar pasar el escandaloso caso Mirage donde se compraron aviones por más de 100 millones de dólares, los que resultaron ser defectuosos y sólo habrían sido adquiridos debido a que altos mandos de la Fuerza Aérea, e incluso dos ministros de Defensa, fueron receptores de “comisiones”. Esto es el ejemplo de lo que NO queremos que pase, pero que podría pasar, cuando se habla de adquisición de implementación para una nación.

But let us recall history to understand what could come our way. We have heard of many cases of fraud in the awarding of public bids. Transantiago and its deficiencies […] and how to ignore the scandalous Mirage Case, where planes which turned out to be defective, were bought for 100 million dollars and that were supposedly acquired only because high-ranking personnel of the Air Force, and even two ministers of defense, were the recipients of “kickbacks.” This is an example of what we DO NOT want to happen, but that could happen when we are talking about purchases for a nation.

Another issue that has been raised by the reconstruction plans is the decentralization of Chile. Blogger Pablo Monje in a post titled “Reconstruction in Chile: An Opportunity for Decentralization? [es]” suggests that the reconstruction of Chile will be very difficult under the current centralized system, and that this is partly responsible for what he considers as a slow response to the emergencies unfolding in the regions:

Aprender de este fracaso exige avanzar a un Estado que se conforme por comunidades, regionales y locales, autónomas en sus formas de gobierno con respecto al gobierno central. Solo así se podrá enfrentar una nueva emergencia y el actual proceso de reconstrucción, ya que las comunidades contarán recursos y competencias institucionales propias, pudiendo responder con mayor velocidad a este tipo de crisis.

Learning from this failure requires the progress of a State that accepts autonomous communities – regional and local – in their forms of government with respect to the central government. Only in that way, could we confront a new emergency and the unfolding reconstruction process, because communities will have their own resources and institutional expertise, [which would] allow them to respond with more speed to this type of crisis.


  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alonso Buenrostro, Niels Groeneveld and Social Media News, Sergiy. Sergiy said: Chile: The Process of Earthquake Reconstruction: Calling for “national unity” in Concepcion’s main squ… #world #news […]

  • I hope that Pinera and his reconstruction team will embrace the precepts of Universal Design and accessibility for all individuals in its rebuilding and reconstruction efforts across the country. Chile must improve accessibility and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities in accordance with the Convention of Human Rights for People with Disabilities as well as the recently enacted Law 20422 which establishes rules for equal opportunities and social inclusion for persons with disabilities. In accordance to these laws responses must include alterations of physical, social, and attitudinal environments to allow persons with disabilities to participate as fully as possible in their homes and communities.

  • Hello Donna,
    This is definitely an issue that I, probably like most Chileans, had overlooked and not considered for the reconstruction. And I think you are right: this an important issue and the Piñera administration should require that new buildings – especially public buildings- embrace Universal Design in accordance to national laws and international agreements.

    Because you have expertise in this area and because you are a blogger who lives in Chile, I’m wondering if you would be willing to post in your blog about the state of disabled persons in Chile. What are the problems? Are Chileans fair to disabled persons at work, or in public places?

    I really appreciate your comment because the issue you raise is very important. Thank you also for linking to Global Voices from your blog!

  • […] Beitrag erschien zuerst auf Global Voices. Die Übersetzung erfolgte durch Tina Seidenberger, Teil des “Project Lingua“. Die […]

  • Gie

    In the Philippines, GAWAD KALINGA, similar to Habitat for Humanity, is famous for its reconstruction projects. GK is a project initiated by the Couples For Christ leaders, helping out those in need of housing facilities, though not too expensive, but the structure is fit for human living. A small amount is needed, not too expensive because the government will help in providing for the area. The GK will help in the design and few materials. The government will also help in the subsidy of materials and labor. Labor is less because the people who will be living in the house will help like painting, etc. It’s a self-help program. Many families have already been given the free housing faciltities, not only Catholics but also other denominations.

    • Thanks Gie for telling me about GK. In Chile there’s also an organization like GAWAD KALINGA. It’s called “Un Techo Para Chile” or “A Roof For Chile” in English ( Actually, the houses you see in the picture in this article shows the type of housing built like them. It’s simple, cheap to build, and it’s a great improvement from the way people lived. It seems it is very similar to GK. It was founded by a young Catholic priest capable to influence the youth especially. Labor is provided by thousands of youth, the future home’s owners, and land often is donated by the government. The organization’s goal is to eliminate slums and it has a lot of support from all denominations and other non-religious sectors too.

  • Noting that the Republic of Chile is a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities United Nations and its Optional Protocol(CRPD), of added interest and information is their statement released this week: CRPD Statement on Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile and Persons with Disabilities
    (available in English & Spanish

  • There is a significant difference between Techos and Habitat for Humanity (as we know it in America /EEUU).
    Techos are intended only as intermediary housing- emergency housing. As I understand, Techos are generally erected by volunteers and companies do FOR individuals for the short term until such time as appropriate long-term construction for homes can be arranged. This program contrasts with the Habitat for Humanity approach (as seen in the USA) where there is a coordinated effort with the intended owner, sweat equity if you will, in the building of a home. In this case the homes are built WITH the intended family, keeping in mind their specific needs (i.e. accessibility, universal design). A rough parallel could possibly be drawn between what was done in the USA with FEMA when they established temporary trailers for home sites while other means of reconstruction of homes were undertaken (see: To learn more about Habitat for Chile’s efforts after the earthquake see:

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