The Chilean presidential election which took place in January received superficial attention in the British media. But those of us who have been watching Chile know that the new President, Sebastian Piñera is a billionaire. What many people don’t know is that his elder brother, Jose, was in Pinochet’s cabinet as the Secretary for Labor and Social Security and Secretary of Mining (he oversaw the privatization of Chile’s mines which were nationalized under Salvador Allende). Sebastian Piñera on the other hand amassed a fortune during the Pinochet years. This fortune mainly came from the introduction of credit cards to Chile in the late 1970’s. Like his brother he is also connected to the infamous Chicago Boys. He was Professor of Economics at the University of Chile from 1977 to 1990. Presumably he was moonlighting for Pinochet while inculcating his students in the benefits of an unfettered market economy. Both Sebastian and Jose’s father (also called Jose) was once a CIA operative.
As I reported in yesterday’s blog, the Chicago Boys have returned to power; Piñera has rewarded three of them with cabinet portfolios – one of which is the Economy portfolio. In fact, Piñera’s election depended largely on support from Pinochet supporters. This blogger reports that a blog called Cuestionatelo Todo had this to say on Piñera’s victory,
His (Pinera’s) triumph represents a resurrection of “pinochetismo,” […] Pinochet never really died, and Piñera’s victory is only the natural consequence of a transition that never happened and the simple continuation of the same thing with faces that appear friendlier. The triumph of Piñera’s party is a step backward for Chilean democracy.
Quite, it is almost as if The Caudillo were controlling events in Chile from beyond the grave. There’s more from the Comment Factory
Piñera himself has ties to the Pinochet-era, something which he has been keen to downplay. While he was among those who in 1988 voted to end the dictatorship and restore democracy to Chile, in 1989 he also managed the unsuccessful election campaign of Hernàn Buchi who was a minister in the Pinochet regime for ten years, including the position of Minister of Finance from 1985-1989. Buchi has never been implicated in any of the abuse or corruption allegations that stain the regime, yet his participation in so oppressive a system makes him a figure of animosity to a large section of Chilean society, something that is true of all Pinochistas.
Last year US Expat Living in Chile said,
So, Sebastian Pinera, perennial candidate, is running again. I saw a poll showing he and Frei (concertacion candidate) were within a few points but another independent and former socialist party candidate has entered the race. He is somewhat left of Frei and appears to be taking votes-Pinera is now far ahead with the other two splitting the rest of the vote. Pinera has carefully distanced himself from the Pinochet legacy.
He may have tried to distance himself from Pinochet but he is tainted by both association and the fact that he amassed millions under the dictator. Piñera has also claimed that he voted “No” in the 1989 plebsicite to retain Pinochet (who expected the vote to go his way). This is from US Expat who found this interesting nugget,
The first document is a compilation of data and analysis on Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique, ordered by the Department of Communications at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, which increased the number WSA/Was/3215B, the input register 1975, 1984 and 1990, and is related to money laundering, setting up shell companies, bribery and conspiracy, all acts relating to the intervention and liquidation of the Banco de Talca, 1982.
Veteran Chile-watchers may recall that Pinochet was also accused of money laundering as well as drug-trafficking. Piñera also owned one of the biggest television channels in Chile, which he was reported to have sold to Time-Warner. Nikolas Kozloff’s blog on Buzzflash says,
Piñera, a kind of Chilean Berlusconi who owns a television channel amongst other business holdings, and who piloted his private helicopter around the country to make campaign stops in isolated regions, is one of the world’s 700 richest people. The politician opposes human rights prosecutions for military and police officers implicated in abuses during the Pinochet military dictatorship, and as such represents a political step backwards for Chile.
Kozloff also reminds us,
Unlike Venezuela for example, Chile has no television station that espouses the views of the left. There are two left-wing bi-monthlies, El Siglo of the Communist Party and Punto Final. Both have notoriously low circulation. The Communist Party owns a radio station, and there are a few other progressive leaning stations. On the Internet, there is more political diversity than in TV and print, but digital media is still incipient in Chile where most people lack Internet access.
I think we know where this is going: a media that is controlled by the right did the ‘right thing’ by Piñera and convinced the electorate to hand him their votes. According to Huffington Post, Piñera also owns a controlling interest in LAN, the Chilean flag-carrier and the country’s most popular football team.
Piñera has pledged to continue former President Michelle Bachelet’s policies. However,
Other promises include privatizing 20 percent of state-owned Codelco, the world’s biggest copper producer, and hiring 10,000 new police officers and pushing for renewable energy and improvements in public education.
Socially, he said he would expand legal rights for gay and lesbian couples, but draw the line against same-sex marriage or adoption. He’s also against euthanasia and abortion, which remains illegal in all cases in Chile.
While trade unions are not illegal in Chile, intimidation and union-bashing are near routine; a legacy of the Pinochet years. Interstingly enough, one company that has been identified for violating trade union rights is LAN,
Union bashing at LAN Airlines: In July, LAN Airlines Chile dismissed three union representatives, Juan Martínez, Carlos Sarmiento and Mario Ricci. This anti-union measure was one of a series of practices violating organising rights, aimed at weakening the union’s power to act. In addition, the company, which has branches in other countries, is developing a policy of precarious employment, making increased use of subcontracting and outsourcing arrangements.
Enough of Piñera, what about those Chicago Boys? I reported yesterday that Juan Andrés Fontaine had been given the Economy portfolio (which includes development and tourism). One interesting appointment has been in Education with Joaqín Lavín taking that portfolio. Lavín is a member of Opus Dei who wrote a book praising Pinochet’s economic policies . He is also a former presidential candidate having lost to Ricardo Largos in 1999. The last Chicago Boy to be included in the cabinet is Cristián Larroulet, who has the intriguing title of Minister Secretary General of the Presidency of the Government (or Segpres). It’s a pretty fair bet that he is extremely close to the president.
What do the next 4 years hold in store for ordinary Chileans? Given the inclusion of 3 Chicago Boys in the cabinet, it is clear that the Piñera presidency will continue with its Friedmanite economic practices. Bachelet’s presidency changed precious little in that regard. The rescue of the trapped miners at Copiapo reminds what happens when a nation’s economy is left to the free market: safety goes begging and trade union rights are violated. When the Thatcher government took on the miners, it did so for ideological reasons. The coalition government is pledged to ‘reform’ public services; the reason for this, too, is ideological: the public sector is heavily unionized, whereas few companies in the private sector are unionized. This is sold as a form of ‘freedom’. Pinochet promised the same thing but this freedom was only accessible through him. It was the same during the Thatcher years and this idea has been resurrected and re-articulated by the present government.
Finally Piñera is set to meet our esteemed PM, Lord Snooty for a cup of tea next week. I wonder what they will talk about?