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Stefano Tijerna discusses themes of political turmoil in “Machuca”

Stefano Tijerina held a discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 21 surrounding themes of political turmoil, foreign policy and societal issues from the 2004 coming-of-age film “Machuca” directed by Andres Wood. The film was screened at the Fogler Library’s Lynch Room as part of the University of Maine’s Latin American Film Festival.

Tijerina is a professor at UMaine’s Business School, who teaches in the areas of international business, comparative business and ethics. He has a bachelor’s degree in comparative politics at Clark University and earned his Ph.D. in history at UMaine. Tijerina was invited to the screening as a way to discuss “Machuca” and the historical and political context present in the film’s story, as well as his own personal interpretations of the film.

Set in 1973 Santiago, Chile, the film follows 11-year-old Gonzalo Infante who hails from an upper class, right leaning European family. While attending a private Catholic school, Gonzalo is befriended by Pedro Machuca, a new classmate from an indigenous background. Machuca was given the opportunity to attend the school as part of a social integration project that sparks controversy among student parents. The two boys become close friends, but the relationship eventually becomes strained due to the political conflicts affecting Chile. 

The past political events of Chile in the film surround the 1970 election of President Salvador Allende and the eventual lead-up to the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat. Because Allende was a socialist politician, thousands of Chileans protested in favor or against his position. The film depicts this by having Gonzalo and Machuca hand out flags for both the nationalist and socialist rallies. 

In September of 1973, a military coup led to the fall of the Popular Unity government and the death of President Salvador Allende. The event changed Chile forever and led to thousands of Chilean leftists being killed, compromised or exiled by the military over the following months. The military dictatorship of Chile, headed by General Augusto Pinochet, lasted for 17 years up until 1990.

Tijerina’s discussion gave context for specific details in the movie that highlight key aspects of Chile’s internal struggles during this time. In the film, various shops are shown that are unable to supply basic food necessities such as eggs or milk. The scarcity of items was due to embargoes placed on Chile by the U.S. government, as the Nixon administration had feared that Chile would lean more towards a socialist economy because of their leadership.

“The embargoes were created to create pressure on internal powers, so that civil society topples down as a result of not being able to access the needs and resources that a capitalist society demands. And the outcome, of course, was to create tension among Chileans,” Tijerina said.

Since the end of the military regime, modern Chile has been under a completely different government. Delays in integrations are less common, as Chile has transitioned into a more progressive democratic country with a free-market economy. However, social issues such as the discrimination of ethnicity, class and the treatment towards indigenous groups still affect Chile to this day. 

As shown in one of the film’s most important scenes, Gonzalo attempts to reconcile with Machuca, only to be intervened by a military raid happening in Machuca’s neighborhood. Gonzalo shows the soldier that he is white and wears nice clothing in order to avoid being dragged into the incident, much to the dismay of Machuca whom he is forced to leave behind. Tijerina highlights that the issue of racism is still present not only in Chile, but also other Latin American countries.

“Personally, it is one of the reasons why I left Colombia, because in Colombia I could have never been able to do the things I have done because I was more of the Machuca type in my country and not the Gonzalo type,” says Tijerina.

The film shows the transformation period of Chile through the innocence of its main protagonists. Tijerina hopes for viewers of “Machuca” to learn from watching the film to reflect on the effects of foreign policy as well as social issues such as racism and growing political divides that deeply affect countries all over the world.


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