Week5: The Criminal Defense Intern's Life in Southern Chile
Or, “Another Scoop of Nescafé, Por Favor”
By Al Macina
Temuco, Chile offers the criminal law intern much in the way of experience and lifestyle. A picturesque town it is not, but a moment in the shade of the trees at the plaza de armas with a healthy breeze on your face provides a calming break from criminal defense. Not that the defensoría office environment is unnerving by any means. As a small office with less than ten attorneys and a slightly greater number of secretarial, administrative and information technology staff, the place runs smoothly and efficiently.
As to experience, Chilean criminal procedure reform enacted two years ago in this region gives the U.S. student much opportunity to engage in criminal practice similar to that in the States. Spanish is a must of course, though Chileans break the “law” of Spanish pronunciation by often dropping the final “s” in most words, and sometimes in the middle of words. Thankfully, when my ears sometimes fail to pick up on the Chilean accent or slang, I do well through my ability to read code, case files, write case analyses, and discuss them with the majority of defensores with whom I work. They are always ready to clear up points I might miss in trial and at hearings. Also, the civil law system and lack of binding precedent does not seem so foreign once I saw it in action. Jurisprudencia can be viewed as persuasive authority, with a subtle power, by the common law attorney or student. Where a trial court refuses to accept it, on appeal a higher court may indeed follow such authority.
Chileans have been described as closed, but they are certainly not cold. I have found most people friendly and helpful, including my co-workers and whomever I might meet on the street. People seem to open up after you get to know them. I find Temuco’s small town feel (250,000 people) advantageous over that of metropolitan Santiago (5 million folks), as I think on the whole the smaller town provides a more relaxed and easy atmosphere. Temuco also possesses an indigenous element as sits in the center of the historical Mapuche homeland, but traditional practices seem to be relegated to surrounding villages. The temuquense lifestyle also includes the Mediterranean style two-hour lunch/siesta that I find to be a nice change of pace from that of the U.S.
Lunch itself could use some spicing up, however. Despite an abundance of quality local ingredients, I have found Chilean cuisine quite bland—literally a meat-and-potatoes style of cooking, owing to a historical German immigrant influence. Exceptions include empanadas, baked or fried pockets of beef, onions and spices. The savory parrillada and asado also make for an amazing experience. These two types of Chilean barbeque focus on meat, seafood, wine and conversation, and how. This brings me to Chilean wine, already considered of high quality in the U.S. Here, these delicious wines are abundant and affordable. As to other beverages, fresh juices squeezed from the amazing fruit of the region abound. Finally, the coffee, or lack thereof, deserves mention. Chile remains a Nescafé nation despite Starbuck’s southern offensive that has begun in Santiago. In Temuco, my quest for quality espresso continues as I sip a less than inviting cup of instant coffee.
Finally, Temuco makes up for any lack of culinary elegance with its environs, loaded with lakes, forests, volcanoes and the Andes that compose the slew of national parks in the area. Two trips have led me through amazing groves of araucarias, or “monkey-puzzle” trees overlooking deep blue lakes, as well as along a cliff coastline with beautiful black beaches. The promise of a weekend of outdoor activities in such surroundings eclipses any slow, hot afternoon at the office spent reading a file over a mug of coffee crystals floating in tepid water that embodies the Nescafé Tradición.
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