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Monument to the Crisis

The other night I went to the movies with some friends and instead of the traffic jam two blocks away just to get into the usually full parking lot, and the endless line to buy tickets, the coast was clear. Strange, I thought. On a Friday night?

The crisis has hit the movie theaters, I announced.

One of my friends, a school director, told us that last Sunday, she placed an ad in the newspaper looking for an elementary science teacher. Two days later, she said, there were 400 resumes piled up on her desk. And her Montessori school is located out of town, not easy to get to. 

“I spent days reading over them. There were even applicants with PhD’s in chemistry! People completely overqualified for the job,” she said. One woman she interviewed was a 50-year-old agronomist with a masters degree in biology. She had simply gotten tired of looking for work in her field, and was resorting to teaching kids. 

Another friend, a graphics specialist in the printing business who is currently out of work, chipped in: “I was checking one of those job market internet sites where people send their resumes, and there four times more people registered than a year ago.” He is one of them.

But the real symbol of the economic crisis is businessman Horst Paulmann’s frustrated Costanera Center (below).

(This is what Costanera Center was supposed to look like. Photo: Cencosud)
The $500 million construction of the most ambitious and tallest (300 meter) shopping/office/hotel complex in South America was suspended earlier this year, leaving thousands unemployed.
Paulmann had so much confidence in the project and in his friends in government, that construction work began way before he even got the municipal construction permit to do so. Located in what uptowners call “Sanhattan”, Santiago’s modern district where some of the most properous businesses have their offices, and just across the United States embassy, the Costanera Center is now nothing more than gaping structures.
(This is how Costanera Center will look like indefinitely. Photo: Pascale Bonnefoy) 
What some liked to call a “monument to Paulmann’s ego” has now turned into the popularly-known “Monument to the Crisis”.
No one is quite sure what will happen. The materials will surely deteriorate, and the abandoned construction site will certainly become a public hazard. Paulmann says the time wasn’t right for such kind of investment and that the suspension is only “temporary”.
His company, Cencosud, is owner of the second largest supermarket chain in Chile (Jumbo), also present in several other Latin American countries. But now, Paulmann is bracing for fierce competition from the number-one supermarket company in the country, D&S (owner of Supermarket Lider), which was bought out by Wal-Mart this year.
Wal-Mart executives are already quietly settling into the country. And Paulmann is getting nervous.