Tag Archives: Sebastián Piñera

The Chilean equality protests

There have been ongoing protests against the two tier education system in Chile for the last year or so but these have quickly turned into protests against economic inequality as much as anything else. The media in the UK has been largely silent about these large-scale demonstrations, for reasons that are best known to themselves. I have written about Chile’s economic and political systems several times on this blog and I have also alluded to the relationship between what the Tories are doing to state education here, and what happened to state education under Pinochet.

Here’s an interesting article from The Council for Hemispheric Affairs, from which I will quote a couple of excerpts. This one tells us,

By establishing market competition, the privatization policy was intended to “weed out” inefficient and disorganized schools as students, aided by readily-available voucher subsidies, gravitated toward institutions that would provide a better education.

Sounds familiar. No? There’s more…

Despite the government’s ostensible goal in equalizing the quality of education for students across economic lines, three discernible types of inequalities have emerged in its wake: stratification and inequality in access to private education, substantial differences in the quality of education received, and unequal opportunities for students pursuing higher education.

We already have a deeply-rooted class system in this country but the Tory-led government wants more. Let’s read on,

The introduction of education vouchers has produced an increasingly stratified school system in Chile on the basis of socioeconomic status. Unrestricted school choice in Chile has exacerbated stratification within the Chilean school system rather than provide more opportunities for low-income students to access better schools. Although such students now have the ability to apply to private institutions, two factors have prevented them from gaining equitable access to these schools. Low-income students suffer from a lack of information concerning school choice. They also rarely have the necessary means of transportation to attend private schools in urban areas.

Choice and equality are in conflict with one another.

As a result of these educational vouchers, the school system has become increasingly stratified due to “creaming,” in which private institutions have enacted selective admission policies designed to accept only the “cream of the crop.” These discriminatory policies have resulted in a sorting effect, in which higher income students have migrated in large numbers to subsidized fee-based private schools, while lower-income students remain entrapped in municipal public schools.

Presently, the Tories and their associates in the press have conducted a concerted campaign against the state education system. This has taken the form of op-ed pieces by journalists who are sympathetic to Gove’s ‘reforms’ as well as the usual drip feed of comments and articles that complain about “Marxist” teachers who have “corrupted the minds of our youths”, who all seem “unable to recognize” elements of a by-rote history syllabus: dates, names, places and so on. Such a history syllabus teaches pupils nothing other than the recall of information. The Tories see the teaching of critical thinking in subjects such as history as fundamentally dangerous, because those who can think for themselves represent a threat to the neoliberal project because they possess the ability to analyze and criticize. This isn’t something our leaders want. They want consumers. In the collective mind of the Right, free schools offer the perfect means to correct this tendency by inculcating the values of classical liberalism (sic), religious dogma and superstition in the young. Kill their cognitive abilities at an early age and they will be putty in their hands.

The two-tier education system that began under Pinochet has been left to operate intact since the dictator lost the plebiscite in 1988 and the country was returned to ‘democracy’. But this democracy is a fatally flawed one; the institutions and legal mechanisms that were put in place under El Caudillo, were never dismantled, repealed or modified. Instead, successive Chilean governments have turned a blind eye to the building tensions. Now matters have come to a head.

An article on the BBC website opens with this characteristic establishment view,

Chile is usually regarded as one of the most orderly and stable countries in South America, so the images that have come out of the capital, Santiago, in recent days have been especially shocking.

The presumption that Chile is “orderly and stable” is predicated on the myth of the Chilean ‘miracle’ and all the repression that came with it. The repression, like the wheat’s chaff, is simply discarded by apologists for the sake of getting to the narrative grain that supports the notion of the mythological ‘miracle’.

However this article tells us something else: that 45% of students go to state schools, 50% go to voucher schools, which are subsidized by the state and the rest go to elite private schools. The state system has been allowed to decay, while those schools that receive state subsidies through the voucher/tax credit scheme flourish. These voucher schools have done a great deal to create a system of educational haves and have-nots. We can see the potential danger of this in Gove’s  divisive free school system.

The rationale behind the voucher schools and free schools is predicated on the slippery Hayekian notion of consumer choice in an education ‘marketplace’, in which all social relations are magically transformed into relationships between consumers and vendors. We have witnessed, with our own eyes in this country, what the effect of forced marketization has had on, for example, the NHS. It’s a cancer that eats away at the very patient that the plan was intended to cure.

What is revealing about the current situation in Chile is that the former Education Minister, Joaquín Lavín, was a prominent supporter of Pinochet and wrote a book titled  Una revolución silenciosa (A Silent Revolution), which praised The Caudillo’s  economic policies. This also tells us something about the direction and tenor of the  Piñera government: it tried to reclaim the fragments of the glorious Pinochet years. Indeed, there were no less than three of the original Chicago Boys in  Piñera’s first cabinet. Although Lavín was replaced in a reshuffle last year by Felipe Bulnes (who left the role six months later to take up his post as Ambassador to the United States) nothing has been done on the part of the government to address the fundamental issues. Indeed, the reshuffles are cosmetic and amount to little more than window-dressing.

Desperate and with the president’s approval ratings in decline, there are signs that the Piñera government is resorting to even more extreme measures to crush dissent. This article from Al-Jazeera is particularly illuminating.

This article from Huffington Post says,

President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday a tax overhaul he is sending to congress will raise $700 million that will be enough to bring real changes to Chile’s education system. He spoke as thousands of students marched in the streets to denounce the plan as insufficient.

“This is a very profound change. It seeks quality and equal education. It establishes a system of credit that favors 90 percent of the students, and the state will provide the resources,” Pinera said in national television broadcast. “Businesses will have to pay more taxes.”

Here Piñera offered a sop to the protesters and nothing more. The state education system remains in tatters.

Watch as Milton Friedman, who argued for education vouchers, defends his ideas in this clip.

It’s interesting how no one challenges his ideas. The word of Friedman, the principal architect of neoliberal economics, is holy writ. Notionally axiomatic, the Right clings to his theories like a heavy person adrift at sea holding onto a tiny piece of driftwood for comfort.

As if to rub salt into the wounds of those who suffered at the hands of the DINA and the rest of Pinochet’s security apparatuses, Pinochetistas have recently released a documentary praising the dictator. This prompted another series of protests.

Here’s an edition of Faultlines that was shown on Al-Jazeera in January 2012.

Part of the blame for the current situation must lay with the centre-right La Concertacion electoral front, which did nothing to reverse Pinochet’s policies. They failed to dig deep into the soil and pull out the weeds, roots and all. But did they have the power to do so without repercussions?

Each demonstration in Chile tends to end with the gendarmerie using water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the protesters. This shouldn’t surprise us because the biggest threat to Chilean democracy is, of course, the military, who still enjoy a great deal of political influence. The armed forces have never left the political stage and wait in the wings for their moment.

Today has seen more protests with buses set on fire.

Piñera has another two years to run on his presidency and at this rate, he won’t be getting a third term unless…let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

POSTSCRIPT

Here’s Camila Vallejo’s blog. Vallejo is the Vice President of the Chilean Federation of University Students.

2 Comments

Filed under Chile, World

Chile, neoliberalism and discontent

Chile is the birthplace of neoliberalism. It is the country where this damaging economic system was first imposed. In the years since the departure of Augusto Pinochet from La Moneda Palace, the ‘reforms’ that he forced onto the Chilean people remain almost completely intact. None of the successive left-ish governments had the courage or the decency to truly change things beyond the piecemeal. Granted, while Pinochet was still alive, he remained a threat and a rallying point for his followers and could call on his old friends in the military to intervene should these governments swing too far to the left. He also made himself Senator-for-life, a role that he was forced to relinquish after he’d  returned to Santiago after his house arrest in Surrey pending charges of human rights abuses in Spain.

But the chickens have come home to roost in this Freidmanite free market paradise. Three months ago, classroom boycotts by students and pupils led to mass student protests that have morphed into general protests against the right wing (some would say pale Pinochetista) government of Sebastian Piñera. A general strike was called for this week.

Today, during the second day of strikes and demonstrations, a 16 year old boy was shot dead by the police and nearly 1400 people have been arrested. Scores of people have been injured.

The Guardian says,

President Sebastian Pinera’s ministers played down the significance of the protests. Police estimated Santiago’s crowds at just 50,000 and said only 14% of government employees stayed off work.

Union leaders claimed 600,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide. Raul de la Puente, president of the government employees union, said 80% of his members joined the strike, at the cost of two days’ pay.

Pinera said the strike was unjustified, claiming Chile‘s economy was growing strong and providing more opportunities. He said he remained open to those seeking dialogue, although his administration has refused to discuss some student and union demands, arguing the real work of reform must be done in Congress.

Does any of this look familiar? It should. Lord Snooty said, when public sector workers went on strike over pensions in June, that the strikes were “unjustified”. Here’s what The Economist says,

The students want education, which in Chile relies heavily on private funding, to be turned into a non-profit, state-dominated, system. The unions want the mostly private pension system to be supplemented with more state provision. They also want changes in labour laws and an increase in business taxes to pay for more social spending. And they are demanding a new constitution. Like many of the things the protesters want changed, the constitution dates from the 1980s and the dictatorship of General Pinochet (although many of its clauses have since been amended).

Remember, this is Chile. Yet the Tory-led government want to pursue exactly the same course. People can read the riots in this country as purely criminal acts of looting and violence. In a society where conspicuous consumption is idealized and wages have stagnated and the cost of living has spiralled, those riots can be seen as economic rebellions. This is what is currently taking place in Chile.

Oddly enough, there is no mention of the protests in Chile on the Daily Telegraph website. I have checked its Chile section and there is nothing.

Piñera’s government is in denial. The Financial Times tells us that,

Rodrigo Ubilla, interior ministry undersecretary, said it had turned out to be “a big failure” with low turnout and most of the country working normally.

But Chile is not working normally. Three months of protests by university students demanding free education have exposed festering social sores.

Further down the article, Sebastian Aguilera of the Economist Intelligence Unit said,

the Pinochet-era foundations for healthcare, pensions and education “were experiments, back in the day. Some go right and some go wrong. I wouldn’t say the education system is a failure, far from it. But it certainly is not fair”.
The FT article also notes
Mr Piñera has two other problems. One is the renewed spectre of Pinochet. That was always going to be a problem – his is the first government of the right in more than half a century and although Mr Piñera himself is more to the centre-right, some in his entourage have been saying very dictatorship-era sounding things lately.

I reported in this blog how Piñera had appointed some former Chicago Boys to his cabinet.

The left-ish Concertación electoral bloc isn’t faring too well either. Like the Labour Party in opposition here, it has failed to take the lead. Indeed, it followed the post-Pinochet governance formula. Labour, under Blair, stuck to the neoliberal formula of the Thatcher and Major governments. It is in a similar moral and political bind under the leadership of Ed Miliband.

Here’s a Euronews report

1 Comment

Filed under Chile, Economics, neoliberalism, World

The ugly truth behind the Chilean Miner’s TV extravaganza

Piñera unmasked

Socialist Unity has  produced this interesting article,

Deeply moved, nearly a billion of us looked on. A whole nation—managers and workers, rich and poor—united in a common effort to save 33 Chilean miners, with their President leading from the front. Emotion, suspense, ratings, huge advertising revenues. But what did this TV extravaganza conceal ?

That the “saviours” were in fact the culprits. Three hours before the landslide, the San José miners had requested permission to leave after hearing suspect noises. Their bosses’ refusal imprisoned them under several tons of earth. Is this surprising ? No. On the 30th July, a Ministry of Labour report had already flagged up important safety problems at the San José mine, but no action was taken, and the Ministry kept silent.

Of course everyone was overjoyed at the happy ending. But the rescue show masked the extent of the problem : four hundred Chilean miners have died in the last decade. And more importantly, it masked the causes. “Poor investment and safety standards” said Marco-Enriquez-Ominami, Sebastián Piñera’s opponent in the last presidential elections. In fact, in 2009 alone, 191,000 work accidents were recorded in Chile, in which 443 workers died. And the Chilean government is directly responsible, as, it has refused for the last twelve years to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention C176 on health and safety in mines. Business enjoys unrestricted freedom, while the workers have no rights.

You can read more of the article here. Read my blog on the return of the Chicago Boys here.

The media spectacle may have died down but one of the former trapped miners, the Elvis impersonator, Edison Peña appeared on the Late Show. A new Chilean television personality in the making? Maybe the president can use his influence to make that happen. Yes?

Leave a comment

Filed under Chile, Media

Fairness? I don’t see that in the Spending Review

I remember reading something on a pro-free market website a few years ago where a neoliberal apologist  claimed that “capitalism is a moral system” and that it was “the greatest system ever invented”. I am not quite sure what he meant by the word “moral” nor am I certain if capitalism is the “greatest system ever invented”. In terms of its apparent ‘morals’, this is something of a chimera: morality is subjective: the legendary libertinous activities of the Marquis de Sade, for example, would be described as immoral, possibly amoral by many. That would be a majoritarian position. Others would describe de Sade as an extreme libertarian; a libertine in every sense of the word. They may argue that de Sade had his own morality but it was not a morality that any of us would understand but it was a morality nonetheless.

Today the Hon Gid announced the long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review. There were no surprises: we knew that the Tory-led coalition was going to punish the poor. We also knew that they had laid, at least partial blame for the recession (and by extension the banking crisis that led to the recession), at the door of those on benefits, who have all been tacitly accused of ‘dragging the country down’. The Guardian said this,

To gasps from the Labour benches, the chancellor announced “tough but fair” reforms that will lead to extra changes for housing benefit and on the rules for the mobility and care arrangements for disability living allowance.

There’s that word “fair” again; this time tied to the word “tough”. Changes to Housing Benefit will result in more homelessness. Many families will not be able to afford to live in places like London and will be forced to leave their communities behind.  Yesterday the the media announced that the government was going to end “council house tenancies for life”. What I’ve read so far doesn’t suggest that this is going to happen…yet…they’re just going to make more difficult to afford. However, because of the 60% cut in the social housing budget,

…new tenants will be offered intermediate rents at around 80% of the market rent. The age at which people are allowed to claim housing benefit for a flat, rather than only a room in a shared house, will rise from 25 to 35, “so that housing benefit rules reflect the housing expectations of people of a similar age not on benefits”, said Osborne

So that’s more people out on the street then? Who is going to be able to afford 80% of a market rent in a place like the Tories’ model Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham? This article from Inside Housing tells us that social landlords will be able to increase their rents in line with local market rents,

The CSR document is less explicit, stating: ‘Social landlords will be able to offer a growing proportion of new social tenants new intermediate rental contracts that are more flexible, at rent levels between current market and social rents.’

It adds: ‘The government wants to make social housing more responsive, flexible and fair so that more people can access social housing in ways that better reflect their needs.’

This means that a social landlord like Peabody (they dropped the word “Trust” from their name some time ago to reflect their new neoliberal direction) will now be able to force out tenants in the more well-heeled boroughs -like Hammersmith & Fulham –  by increasing their rents. This is ironic given that the Peabody Trust was originally created to house London’s poor.

Also announced was the predicted loss of 500,000 public sector jobs. Hon Gid and the Hole-in-the Wall Gang tell us that jobs will be created in the private sector but where will these jobs actually come from?

The Marquis de Sade lent his name to the practice of sadism and is with a sadistic pleasure that this government has announced these swingeing cuts. We have been told on an almost daily basis that ‘”we are all in this together” but it is clear from what has been announced that rich are not standing shoulder to shoulder in a Spirit-of-the-Blitz fashion. The neoliberalism that began in Pinochet’s Chile was imported to Britain in the 1980’s by Margaret Thatcher. Privatizations, cuts and a reduction in the size of the state (its repressive apparatuses were left intact, of course) were all part of the drive for ‘greater efficiency’. Under this new regime, working class Chileans suffered terribly and the anti-working class policies of the Pinochet regime continue to this day. The Latin American Herald Tribune says that today, 80,000 public sector employees went on a one day strike,

President Sebastian Piñera’s right-wing government has dismissed more than 2,500 public sector workers since taking office in March, Raul de la Puente said.

The ANEF protest enjoys support from Chile’s biggest labor organization, the CUT, as well as from teachers and associations representing high school and college students.

Contrary to what the government says, the layoffs have affected not just positions traditionally filled by political appointees, but people at all levels, including “clerks, messengers, drivers, technicians and professionals,” De la Puente said.

Sebastian Piñera visited Britain this week to take tea with Lord Snooty. He brought with him a few lumps of rock from the San Jose mine as gifts. He was also here to give a speech to the London School of Economics on “The Chilean Way of Development”.

There is no question that this government is using the budget deficit as an excuse to further socially engineer Britain. The sadism of its anti-working class policies are designed to destroy communities and associations under the guise of fiscal prudence.

UPDATE:

I remember who said “capitalism is a moral system”. It was Ayn Rand. In fact, she said it was “the only moral system”.  She also took a lot of amphetamines.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Government & politics, Neoliberalism

Chile: neo-liberalism, weak unions and populism

In the aftermath of the rescue of the 33 trapped miners in Copiapo, I listened with incredulity as Sebastian Piñera said “when people hear the word Chile they will not remember the coup d’etat or the dictatorship, they will remember what we’ve done; all the Chileans together”.  Unfortunately the ghosts of the dictatorship won’t disappear as  quickly as he would like them to. As  I reported in this blog, the Chilean President has given 3 Chicago Boys jobs in his cabinet. Commentfactory tells us that his brother, Jose Piñera,

is today revered in many economic circles for his application of Chicago School-inspired principles, yet whose connections to Pinochet run even deeper. Jose Piñera was a minister in the Pinochet cabinet from 1978 to 1981, first as the Secretary of Labour and Social Security and then as Secretary of Mining (much of Chile’s economy is dependent on the vast copper and nitrate mines in the north of the country). During his period in office, Jose Piñera introduced legislation that saw large-scale privatisation of the pensions system and healthcare, and the repeal of laws introduced after the coup that had effectively banned trade unions, following the threat of a boycott of Chile from North American trade unions, something that would have had severe implications for the Chilean economy.

Piñera also said that the mine would close…that was until they allegedly discovered deposits of precious metals nearby. The Herald Scotland said,

Frankly, given Chile’s modern history, it did seem strange to have a right-wing government present itself as a guardian of the people. Where I found myself drawing the line with Pinera’s otherwise admirable handling of the rescue though, was his observation that in future when people think of Chile they will remember the rescue of the miners, not the 1973 coup that brought the infamous General Pinochet to power in a military dictatorship that lasted until 1990 and was marked by severe human rights violations.

If this mine collapse had happened during the dictatorship, I doubt the General would have been present to witness the rescue. Though he would have milked any successful rescue effort for all it was worth – just like Piñera has done. Away from the festive scenes and the ballyhoo, the Chile that Pinochet and his Chicago Boys created still exists: trade unions are effectively outlawed (there are two rather weak unions). This Guardian blog says,

While labour standards and workers’ rights are often sidelined by the aggressive “pro-growth” talk of development economists, they are fundamental components of social or human development.

The freedom of association and the right to join a trade union is a human right. Yet such rights are often forbidden because they form an obstruction on the road to economic growth – or so the pro-business economists tell us. The mines of Chile have been allowed to continue in business without any regard for safety. The Chilean government has consistently failed to ratify the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on health and safety in mines

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine & General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) yesterday called on the Government of Chile to radically change the procedural methodology it uses on mine safety once the imminent rescue of 33 miners at the San José mine near Copiapó in northern Chile is complete.

In a letter to Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne Riveros, the 20-million-member global union federation called on the government to streamline workplace safety and health enforcement, now contained in several different ministries, into a single, autonomous agency “that has full powers and full technical capabilities to inspect and correct workplace deficiencies before accidents happen.”

The San Jose mine has witnessed dozens of deaths in the last few years. However Piñera has promised a mine safety review while the mining minster, Laurence Golborne said,

Avoiding such incidents, he suggested, was not just a matter for legislation: “The real origin to avoid this in the future lies in the consciousness of people: of workers, entrepreneurs… all society to face situations of safety at work.”

The neo-liberal personal responsibility mantra is invoked here which suggests that any legislation is likely to be piecemeal.

Because of his hands on approach to the rescue, Piñera’s popularity has risen which ensures his victory in the next presidential election in 4 years. Of course if it all goes badly for the president, Golborne could always put himself forward as a candidate in the hope that people will find his good looks more appealing than his politics.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chile, World

The ghost of Pinochet rears its ugly head

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?

4 Comments

Filed under Chile, World