| Introduction | 11/22 | 11/23 | 11/24 | 11/25 | 11/26 | 11/27 | 11/28 | 11/29 | Alfred C. Snider | Debate Central |


The day began with an on time wake up call. Well, at least that problem had been solved. It was breakfast as usual at the hotel, and the fresh farmer’s cheese was exceptional this day. After breakfast I began to pack, as I was to depart tonight and I wanted to check out of the hotel this morning to save Diego Portales an extra day of expense. I would leave my bags downstairs and reclaim them before going to the airport that evening. I was finished packing and moved things downstairs just as a message came from Paola that they would be at the hotel very soon to begin our day’s activities.

Paola, Claudio, Miguel, Benito, and Claudia arrived in a van with a driver. Today we were bound for a town some distance from Santiago called Melapilla [translates as “four devils” in the indigenous language] to witness a pair of semifinal debates in that region’s debate competition for school children ages 10-12. I was very excited to see such an event.


We arrived in Melapilla after a quick drive down an excellent modern highway. Melapilla is a town of about 80,000 people and is mostly lower class. The town had that look I had seen so many times in Sonora, Mexico of a poor population caught amidst the angst of modernity. Blockbuster video was located right next to a shop selling Catholic statues. People seemed busy and friendly.

We arrived at the host school, Escuela Republica de Brasil. The head teacher greeted us and she would serve to direct the day’s event. Luis Marchan, a lawyer who had graduated from Sociedad de Debate in the 1990's and was now the regional director of the program, also met us. We were escorted into a large schoolroom characteristic of rural schools I have seen in many parts of the world. There was an excited crowd of students and a few school officials. Since there were four teams of six students each in attendance, they made up a lot of the crowd.


The head teacher introduced the first debate on the topic of whether pregnant students should be allowed to stay in their regular schools. The teams were introduced individually not only with their names but with words of praise about them (hard working, creative, verbal, intelligent, etc.) also spoken. As they each came forward to take their places they would shake hands with the male judges and if they were male and peck the cheek of the judges if they were female, in the classic Chilean friendship cheek brush accompanied by a slight pucker and smack, lips never touching the skin of the other. Both teams were from this school and had won their previous competitions.

There would be a series of six speeches, three by each side, with each speech lasting two minutes. After these constructive speeches there would be a brief conference for the teams to plan strategy, and then three two minute speeches by each side. Thus, each debate took about 50 minutes. The proposition team argued that pregnant students were not criminals and should not be discriminated against. The opposition team argued that the students would be embarrassed and teased by others, that the desks and chairs were not suitable, and that there might be accidents threatening the safety of the children. The conference came and the students spoke to each other enthusiastically. Then we heard the remaining speeches where they attacked and defended the various issues in the debate. After each speaker there was a round of applause, and a big applause at the end.


There was a brief break and the mayor, a handsome man named Fernando Perez, of the town arrived and took a seat next to me. He told me of his support for the debates, how he had attended most of them, and how he had made arrangements for the final to be held at the city hall. He talked about the students from the two schools and commented on how one school was from a very poor part of town, and the school itself was located with a field where drugs were often sold and a bordello on either side. Many of the students could not afford uniforms and especially shoes, and that the city helped the poorest students get uniforms and shoes to wear to school.

The second debate was about lowering the age of maturity for criminal offenses to 14 years of age. Previously there had been a psychological determination in students 14 to 17 as to whether they could be held responsible, but the topic said that this test should be abolished and adult responsibility assigned at age 14.

This debate featured a wide ethnic variety of Chilean children, with the indigenous Mapuche people represented by the opposition team. They each were introduced and came forward to brush cheeks with the judges and some with the mayor and myself.

One of the opposition rebuttalists even read a quotation. One girl had a tremendous start to her speech but then stumbled in the middle and lost her confidence. I was worried she would panic as all eyes were on her, but she seemed to reach down deep into herself and find new reserves of confidence, because she bounced back and completed her speech strongly. These are the kind of events that I live for --- an individual just overcame anxieties and feelings of doubt to finish her performance strongly. I hope this was an important moment for her.


The rebuttal speeches in this debate were surprisingly strong, given that they were not as prepared as the first speeches. They seemed very animated about this age and crime issue, and I learned that Claudio had written all the topics and that the rights of children was the theme of all the topics.

Cokes and Fanta oranges were handed out as the judges made their decisions. They did their talliesd and then it was time for the announcement. The first debate had been won by the team from Escuela La Republica de Brasil #1, and they were overjoyed. Claudio congratulated them. Luis Marchan made the next announcement, and the team from Escuela Jaime Larrain Bunster was the winner, the opposition team with Mapuche student members. They were also overjoyed.


Everyone adjourned outside to continue the celebrations and discussions, and a reporter from a local newspaper interviewed me. I also had a chance to chat additionally with the mayor, who repeated his strong support for debating activities. I got the teams to pose for pictures because they were too cute not to be in photos. I also got a photo with Benito and the Mayor. We had to leave because we had an appointment in Santiago, so it was back into the van and back to the highway.

On the road I asked Paola to make some calls to discover where I could get an iBook power cord that day, not an easy task in PC dominated Chile. She made some calls and got some leads we could follow up on later.

We carried on quite a discussion about the debates we had just seen. It was the most exciting thing I had seen in Chile, and I gushed about it. It was a good time to share stories about their experiences and the various schools. This is a tremendous work, and it is carried on without hardly any funding. That is one of the beautiful things about debate in its basics, no huge investment, just people, a space, and an issue.

Benito and I were bound for a meeting with major Diego Portales administrators. One is the Vice rector academico, Jose Julio Leon, and the other the Dean of Students (sorry if the translation is inadequate) Roberto Vega. Both have been long time debate supporters. I met Roberto on my last visit to Chile and last spring in Puerto Rico. I had also met Jose at these times, but he had also come to WDI in Vermont for two weeks and was a tremendous and talented individual. I had no idea at that time he would rise so high in the university.


We had a stylish lunch in the Central House with these two gentlemen, Benito and myself. We discussed what I had seen on my trip and plans for the future. At our meeting we decided on several new initiatives, including:

After the meeting we confirmed not only our professional cooperation but also our mutual friendships. Benito and I went back to the debate offices and I knew that the official part of my visit was over.

Miguel had found out where I could go for my iBook power cord. I said goodbye to Paco, Benito and all the others in the office. I repeated my new farewell mantra, “The future is too large and the world is too small for us not to meet again.”

With that I left the building and went back to the hotel. I rummaged in my luggage and pulled out my iBook so that I could make sure I got the correct power cord.

I took a taxi to a business district on the other side of Santiago and did find precisely the cord I needed and purchased it. My next plan was to buy some gifts for friends, and all of them would involve the incredibly beautiful stone lapis lazuli that is found only in Chile and Afghanistan. I had several good leads on where to buy, and my taxi driver helped me. The store he found was perfect, with an excellent selection and very reasonable prices. I even purchased a silver ring with a lapis lazuli stone for myself. The other gifts will resurface for Christmas.

I went back to my hotel neighborhood for a meal before leaving for the airport. I selected my usual, Café Don Julian, for a drink and dinner. I ordered the most Chilean thing on the menu, lomito ala pobre (the beef of the poor), which is a small, grilled cutlet along with onions, fried eggs, and fried potatoes Chilean style. It was inexpensive, tasty, and filling.  I finished just in time to talk to the hotel and find my airport car had arrived. I left some small tips with the staff at the hotel and I was on my way to the airport.

I had thought my flight was at 11:00 PM, but it turned out to be at 10:00 PM. Luckily I was there in plenty of time and I made the flight anyway. My bags were thoroughly searched when I checked in.

I boarded the plane and found out I was in a row of seats by myself. I ignored the meal that was served and soon decided to try and sleep across three seats. There were some bumps and protuberances, but as I winged my way out of South America I fell into a happy but fitful sleep.