A ghost town begins.
1924 , the Lautaro Nitrate Company Ltd., Chacabuco soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt halt at the end of the 1930s. Synthetic nitrate had been invented in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and by the 1930s and 40s had severely crippled northern Chile’s nitrate industry. What had accounted for virtually 50% of Chile’s Gross National Product fell to almost zero within a few decades. A total of 170 nitrate towns were shut down throughout Chile’s Atacama Desert. Chacabuco stands as a testament to those times.
“Concentration camp history”
In 1971, president Salvador Allende declared Chacabuco a Historic Monument of Chile, at which point restoration began. But in 1973, after the military coup, Pinochet turned it into a concentration camp until the end of 1974. As a concentration camp, it held up to 1,800 prisoners many of whom were doctors, lawyers, artists, writers, professors and workers from all over Chile.
By the 1990s, Chacabuco was in need of extensive restoration and several international organizations began the restoration of parts of Chacabuco. In 1991, a former political prisoner of Chacabuco, Roberto Saldívar, returned to Chacabuco in order to live in the abandoned town and guard it against vandalism and pillaging. He lived there almost completely alone until January 2006. Pedro Barreda replaced Roberto when he left as caretaker of Chacabuco. Currently living in Chacabuco alone, Pedro considers himself to be Roberto’s apprentice and remains dedicated to the cause Roberto started.
We spent most of the day at Chacabuco exploring the ruins and imagining what it must have been like back in the day. Didn’t hang around to long before it got dark and you can imagine why.