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In case you didn’t know, Chile is mourning the loss of a famous television personality, along with 20 other people who went down in a plane crash on their way to the Juan Fernandez archipelago, a small collection of islands (among them Robinson Crusoe, which I grew up saying Caruso, believing that everyone other than me, was, in fact, Italian) that is part of the Chilean territory. The area was badly affected by the earthquake, and lost much of its infrastructure, and among the plane passengers was the head of a rebuilding effort, plus the news crew, and of course, the cabin crew.

One of the things it has done, is what I casually mentioned to a friend of mine about five weeks ago, which is to have the news media focus on something other than the student protests. We’re hoping (and many others are hoping, too) that it will give people some time to come up with a plan which will let everyone save face and give a solution that is acceptable, and in the end, good for Chile.

The thing about saving face goes on and on here in Chile. I have blogged about how people don’t really cry in public, how it’s important to toe the line, not make anyone uncomfortable, etc. But in the aftermath of the last protest I want to, I thought I’d landed in another country, if only briefly. Here you see a picture, a woman in red with the arm of a woman in black in her hand.

In going back through my pictures, I see the woman in black on several occasions, taking pictures and looking back to see who is behind her. I didn’t see the precise events that led to the woman in red grabbing her by the arm.

Soi sapa! the woman in red shouted (you’re an informant, this comes from the word sapo, which means toad, but is also used to mean informant, busybody, or a guy who used to tell the buses under the old bus system in Santiago how recently another bus of the same number had passed). The soi is a verb conjugation that’s used informally in Chile, the same one that yields cachai, but we’ll leave that for another time.

No soy sapa! (I’m not an informant)
Soi paca, es paca culiada! (You’re a cop, she’s a fxxxn cop!)
No soy paca! (I’m not a cop)
Paca culiada! (fxxxn cop!)

A group of people formed around her, screaming that she was an informant, a cop. Insisting that she’d been taking pictures of the masked protesters, one by one, that she was cataloguing them systematically.

If you’re media, show us your press pass! If you’re not media, you’re a cop! an informant! people insisted.

People were grabbing at her, at her camera, at her long black hair, at her bag.

Take the memory card! she’s an informant!

I clicked through a series of photos of her, which show her and her assailant’s faces more clearly, but won’t publish them. People kept on shouting at her, and a circle of people formed around, staring, pointing and finally screaming themselves red at her.

I don’t know how, but she got away, and walked briskly past. She had stopped taking pictures, and now seemed intent on getting away from the crowd.

A guy standing next to me shrugged, and asked if I thought she was an informant. I told him I had no idea. I told him I wouldn’t know how to find an informant in a crowd, much less an undercover police officer.

“You should be careful, people could think you’re a sapa, too,” he said, motioning at my camera.

It had honestly never occurred to me.

I wonder if it had ever occurred to the woman with the long black hair, or the one in the red shirt.

And honestly, I still wonder what was really happening there. Was she a sapa? a paca? Was the woman in the red shirt just a distraction from something else that was taking place? So much of what happens on the street in Santiago during protests seems so otherworldly, that I never really know what’s going on. I just float through the crowd, stupidly confident with my gasmask, goggles, giant camera and most importantly, my tarjeta gringa (gringa card, used to refer to the special privileges given to foreigners here in Chile).