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December 8 & 11, 2011: from Santiago - Benghazi, Libya - Zimbabwe - Somalia - Boston - Independencia, Peru

From our correspondents around the world....


A student shouts slogans against the riot police during a protest in November 2011 against the government, to demand changes in the public state education system in Valparaiso city (Photo: Reuters: Elisio Fernandez)

Will the Chilean Winter become Chilean Spring? How students hijacked the country's political agenda.

Syrians find an unlikely refuge: thousands decamp to Libya.

Expect piracy off Somalia to get a lot more violent, says a Canadian journalist who knows the hijackers well.  

Meet the Concrete Nerds of MIT, trying to grow greener concrete

In Peru, it's easy to get a divorce. So why's the government encouraging people to get married?

Plus: your letters about last week's story on Black Pete. Lots and lots of letters.

Listen to individual items from the program

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Camila Vallejo (C), one of Chile's student leaders, reacts after being hit by a jet of water during a rally in Santiago in October 2011. Chilean students are demanding for free and better state education, as well as for an end to profit-making in the public state education system. (Photo:REUTERS/Cristobal Saavedra)

Commander Camila kickstarts the Chilean Winter

She's just 23.  A student at the University of Chile. But Camila Vallejo is rocking the country to its foundations. 

She's the delicate face of what's been called the Chilean Winter, a season of discontent with the education system. 

Last June, thousands of students walked out of class refusing to return.

And Commander Camila, as she's been called, led their protest right up to the gates of Presidential palace, staging kiss-ins and "saucepan protests." 

Chile's winter's now giving way to spring, its seasons being the reverse of North America. And the political climate is shifting says Jonathan Franklin.

He's a freelance journalist for The Guardian, among others, and resident in Chile these past fifteen years. He spoke to Rick from Santiago.

Listen to Rick's conversation with Jonathan

Your thoughts on Sinterklaas' little helpers 

We received a lot of mail in response to last week's story about the Sinterklaas tradition in December in The Netherlands. 

That's when old St. Nicholas sails into Amsterdam accompanied by hundreds of impish helpers known as  Zwarte Pieten -- Black Pete.  Because each one has big red lips, kinky hair and blackface makeup simulating soot from going down all those chimneys to deliver presents. 

Some in our story, especially those of African descent, were uneasy with that racial stereotype so we asked you what you think?

John Vos writes:

Don't be ridiculous. I'm 83. Sinterklaas came with his black pieters when I was young without any questions raised. Why must every tradition be analyzed in light of everybody's sensitivities nowadays?

Roisin van der Put writes from Cape Breton:

I was at first quite taken aback when I saw the Zwarte Pieten...But having lived (in The Netherlands) for 11 years and seeing how innocently children of all races accept and love them...I realize that there is no malice or offense intended. To take the Zwarte Pieten away would be the equivalent of taking Santa Claus away from Canadian children.

Travis Sanderson of Winnipeg disagrees:

Black face? Really? This hasn't been acceptable in decades nor should it be. I'm sure the children DO love it. Children love all forms of pageantry and costume, but we also need to teach them why this sort of thinking is outdated and condescending to ALL people.

From Elsje de Boer from Fauquier, B.C.:

By no means do they symbolize slavery or subservience of blacks. Far from it.  They symbolize the victory of Bishop Nicholas over...prejudice and fear...instead of eliminating them, let's celebrate that victory and honour those black helpers who give us so much: the Zwarte Pieten of Sinterklaas.

Anthony Morgan of Toronto counters with this:

From the purely objective realities of the Netherlands' deep involvement with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the colonization of Africa and support and defense of now-dead apartheid in South Africa, Black Peter emerges as a symbolic glorification of the enslavement of black people by Europeans. Within this history, the tradition of Black Peter also stands as a celebration of historical notions of black inferiority and subservience to Europeans.

Jan Triska of Ottawa writes:

 It's all a charming folk tale, that's all. But these days, it seems that all the societies whose past used to involve a colonial empire and some amount of slavery, anything resembling a black guy from the 'colonies' is drawing some of the politically correct critique that's so common these days. That's just a symptom of the strange times we live in. 

Andrew Lohuis agrees:

What kind of kid is going to draw the conclusion that since Black Peter is the mischievous black one, that they should look down upon all black people? Historically, racism probably played a part in making Sinterklaas the nice white one, and Black Peter the mean one that kidnaps you if you are bad. But I don't think anyone uses as a tool to spread racist hate.

From Anna Bookelaar in Summerland, B.C. :

 As kids we were scared of (Black Peter) not because of his colour but because he was said to gather up bad kids and turn them into cookies, hows that for creeping out kids? ... Please do not make an issue of Peter's skin colour, it's who he is.

Read more of your letters in the Your Dispatches section of our website. 

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad march through the streets in Homs, Syria on December 6, 2011. The protests are being watched avidly by Syrian refugees in Libya, who still worry about theirrelatives back in Homs (photo/Reuters)

From revolution to refuge

Some Syrians are fleeing the uprising-in-progress for sanctuary in a country that just finished one. 

Armed groups still roam the streets of Tripoli.  The new government has yet to establish control.  

But the proximity to family -- and distance from Damascus -- mean Libya is the first choice of several thousand Syrians.  

And more keep coming.

That story now from journalist Marine Olivesi at the dawn arrival of the latest group of tired travellers.

Marine's documentary

Zimbabwe: a carrier regime 

In Zimbabwe recently, a chicken chain found itself at the centre of controversy after airing a TV ad showing an actor playing President Robert Mugabe.

Hear Rick's thoughts on that, and other recent developments in that country:    

Rick's essay

The chicken ad that was eventually banned by the Mugabe regime:

Somali pirates: laid-back guys with a business model 

Britain's had enough of Somalia's pirates.

From now on, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a recent interview, the gloves are off. 

David Cameron's remarks

Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur expects soaring ransoms will make these confrontations at sea much more violent in months ahead. It's an opinion based on three months spent interviewing the hijackers and recounted in his new book, The Pirates of Somalia.  

Rick's conversation with Jay

the extended interview with Jay

Next week Jay Bahadur takes up a new job as Editor of the online news site called Somalia Report, based in Nairobi, Kenya.


Concrete pipes are arranged along a road building site in Hanoi. Scientists at MIT are working on making greener concrete, to try to cut down on the Co2 emissions caused by cement manufacturing (Photo: Nguyen Huy Kham/Reuters)


Green concrete: a keystone for climate change

We talk alot about the greening of industry on this program. Funny we never got around to considering concrete before. 

CBC Correspondent David Common finally has, and introduces us to the folks with Big Bang Theory for better roads and buildings. 

David's dispatch


Newlyweds raise a toast after getting married during a mass wedding ceremony on Valentine's Day, 2010 in Lima, Peru. Mass weddings like this one - sponsored by the government are an enticement for common-law couples to tie the knot. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

 Love, marriage, and divorce: Peruvian-style

Speaking of December, tis the season for a gift that keeps on giving.  We're talking about mass marriage in Peru.

Lori's View from Here

 More Sinterklaas sentiments from our listeners

Here are more of your letters on Black Peters, the blackface helpers who surround St. Nicholas every December in the Sinterklaas pageantry of Amsterdam.  There's some debate over the racial implications of whites walking through the streets dressed like old-time vaudeville minstrels.  

And writing from British Columbia, Bill Davies reminds us this story has an echo in Canada:

We've just had this exact 'controversy' arise in New Westminster, where the Holland Shopping Centre sponsors the arrival of St. Nicholas. This year, he writes, "Black Peter was "deleted" from the festivities because of complaints by "Afro-Canadians." This was a terrible decision: the equivalent of  taking away Santa's Elves because people with dwarfism complained.

And since he sent us that note, the Sinterklaas Event Organisers posted a note on their website saying:

We regret to inform you that the Sinterklaas celebrations...have been CANCELLED. We encourage the community to keep up their Sinterklaas tradition. For those of you who feel this is a great loss, we agree.

Roger Jones of Burnaby, B.C. writes to say he is the guy who complained about having black Pete on New Westminster's streets:

 It was never my intention to cancel Sinterklaas. I believe it is a wonderful tradition that deserves to continue indefinitely. The organizers in New Westminster decided that they wanted Black Peter or nothing. I still cannot grasp how they came to that decision. Canada is supposed to be a welcoming society. Zwarte Piet/Black Peter does not belong here. African-Canadians have fought too long to be treated with dignity and respect in this country. 

The Sinterklaas story has changed many times throughout history. Why not make another change for the best? If you can convince your children that a Black man from a far-off land, comes on a boat as a helper for an old white man, passes out cookies, possibly puts little children in a sack and spirits them away; then you can easily spin another tale! 

And last word to Marinus Mellaart who writes that he came to Canada from The Netherlands:

....being of mixed heritage...racism was the last thing I thought of during Sinterklaas. ...I am sure if one analyses any tradition, one can find fault, or maybe even racism.  But if the nature and spirit of the tradition is all about uniting, giving, and being with family - should that not be more important?

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall, Alison Masemann and Steve McNally. With technical producers Tim Lorimer and Victor Johnston, senior producer Alan Guettel and Rick MacInnes-Rae. 

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