The day after

Friends reunited? Michelle Bachelet is congratulated by her electoral opponent and childhood friend Evelyn Matthei on her victory in Sunday's presidential runoff vote. Reuters photo.

Friends reunited? Michelle Bachelet is congratulated by her electoral opponent and childhood friend Evelyn Matthei on her victory in Sunday’s presidential runoff vote. 

It’s a shame the Chilean runoff election happened to take place on the same day as Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Michelle Bachelet won an easy victory over Evelyn Matthei, with an estimated 62 percent of the vote, and this will mark the first time since Chile’s return to democracy that a president will serve a second term.

Matthei conceded and personally congratulated Bachelet, telling her supporters that her “deepest and honest desire is that things go well for her.”

Now comes the hard part. The BBC’s Gideon Long reports that Chile’s Central Bank is warning that growth might drop to below 4 percent next year, as copper prices extend their recent decline http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-25398021.  Bachelet faces high expectations for education reform, but this will be costly and harder to bring off with lower export revenues.

On an entirely different subject, the Santiago Times has an interview with Chilean novelist and culture minister Roberto Ampuero, who recounts his extraordinary odyssey from young Communist Party member during the Allende years, to exile in East Germany and Cuba, to political independent and “liberal in terms of individuals, in terms of limited government, individual freedom and democracy.”http://santiagotimes.cl/qa-novelist-culture-minister-roberto-ampuero/

 

 

Chile’s Sunday vote

Preparations for a rally for Michelle Bachelet in Santiago. Photo by Odette Magnet

Preparations for a rally for Michelle Bachelet in Santiago. Photo by Odette Magnet

It is a first for Latin America: two women facing each other in a presidential runoff. On Sunday Chilean voters go to the polls to select either former president Michelle Bachelet or former senator and labor minister Evelyn Matthei. But despite the historical significance of these childhood friends competing against each other, the election is “a bit of a bore,” according to The Economist, as most Chileans are expecting Bachelet to win. http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2013/12/elections-chile

The Santiago Times has this good summary of both candidates’ positions on issues such as education, tax reform and health care: http://santiagotimes.cl/matthei-vs-bachelet-head-head-deciding-issues/

Bloomberg Business Week observes that with the price of copper, Chile’s chief export, at a three-year low, “Bachelet may be forced to choose between spending an additional $15.1 billion on her social program or balancing the budget by the end of her four-year term.” http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-12-12/bachelet-election-pledges-for-chile-face-hurdle-as-copper-falls

Here’s an interesting column by author and philosophy professor Arturo Fontaine on what Chilean voters really want: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/14/opinion/what-chiles-voters-want.html?hp&rref=opinion/international&_r=0

The election approaches

Michelle-Bachelet-met-pre-007

This blogger confesses to not paying quite enough attention to this month’s election in Chile, since Michelle Bachelet is so far ahead of other candidates in the polls. The most recent survey by the Centro de Estudios Públicos suggests that the former president may even win the first round of voting, in contrast to Chile’s previous three elections in which no candidate won a majority and a runoff vote was held. http://www.cepchile.cl/dms/lang_1/encuestasCEP.htm

The CEP poll said that 40 percent of those of those queried said they definitely plan to vote for Bachelet, while another 18 percent said they might vote for her. Not a clear majority, perhaps, but only 11 percent of respondents said they were voting for Evelyn Matthei and 12 percent said they might vote for her. There are seven other candidates running for president, but the figures for their support run in the single digits.

The only jarring note here is that increasing numbers of Chileans say they will not, or probably will not, bother to vote on November 17.  The CEP poll reported that only 50 percent of respondents said they were definitely planning to vote, a three percent decline from two months ago, 23 percent said they would probably vote, 10 percent said they would probably not vote and 15 percent said they were definitely not going to vote.

Forbes has an opinion piece on the election by Axel Kaiser, director of the conservative think tank Fundación para el Progreso, who seems to want to counteract Chilean voter apathy by warning of the dire consequences in store for the country if Bachelet wins. The title asks “Is This the End of the Chilean Economic Miracle?” and notes that Bachelet’s center-left coalition, the Nueva Mayoría, now includes the Chilean Communist Party. http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/10/28/is-this-the-end-of-the-chilean-economic-miracle/

The Santiago Times has weighed in on the Forbes piece http://santiagotimes.cl/forbes-article-warns-bachelet-end-chiles-economic-miracle/, noting that a recent JP Morgan Latin America Equity Research Report had favorably reviewed Bachelet’s economic platform. The Economist reports that Bachelet is already playing down expectations of any radical changes to come, quoting her as saying that Chile has done a lot of good things and that “you can be popular without being populist.”http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21589430-more-left-wing-michelle-bachelet-set-win-tide-social-discontent-cruising-back

On another subject, here’s a link to a recent piece by the New York Times’ Frugal Traveller on the sublime charms of Chiloe island: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/travel/churches-and-cheap-seafood-off-the-coast-of-chile.html

A Chile news summary

The BBC Spanish language network, noting the 15-year anniversary of General Augusto Pinochet’s detention in London, asks what real effects his arrest had.  According to Amnesty International, the case gave a boost to the principle of universal jurisdiction in human rights cases: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/10/131015_chile_pinochet_arresto_vs.shtml

Bloomberg reports that a Pinochet-era business and investment system is being abused by very wealthy Chileans to avoid paying taxes, with only 0.3 percent of taxpayers paying the top rate: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-16/pinochet-era-investment-lure-at-risk-in-chile-election-taxes.html

The Financial Times reports on Chile’s presidential race, where former president Michelle Bachelet leads a field of nine candidates with 44 percent and her opponent Evelyn Matthei with only 12 percent. But the election is likely to go into a second round, as Bachelet seems unlikely to win a clear majority in next month’s voting. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/17c47e14-3266-11e3-91d2-00144feab7de.html#axzz2hvN2YX9M

The Heritage Foundation has an admiring article on Chile’s economic development over the past 25 years: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/10/chiles-path-to-development-key-reforms-to-become-the-first-developed-country-in-latin-america

The Christian Science Monitor reports on President Sebastian Pinera’s visit to the San Jose mine on the third anniversary of the miners’ rescue, an event which marked the high point of his administration. He attended the opening of a museum at the site, attended by 13 of the 33 miners and said the rescue changed the meaning of the “Chilean way.”

“Before, the Chilean way meant something half-baked and improvised. It transformed into doing something with faith, unity, and hope,” he said.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2013/1015/Chile-mine-rescue-3-years-later-Pinera-tries-to-recapture-the-political-magic.

And still more Chile coup anniversary links

 

An Australian politician, Peter Phelps, has told the New South Wales parliament that many people “believe that General Pinochet was a reluctant hero, a morally courageous man” and that “yes, Pinochet killed people and if you know of any way to overthrow a government other than military force then let me hear about it.” http://www.sbs.com.au/theother911/ Phelps’ remarks drew immediate calls for him to be censured, and a small group of Chileans held a protest outside the state parliament building. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-16/chileans-protest-nsw-mp27s-pinochet-remarks/4960420

Australia’s SBS network has a special feature on Chile, with a report on Australian intelligence agents working to destabilize Salvador Allende’s government and an interview with Adriana Rivas, former secretary to the Pinochet regime’s secret police director,  Manuel Contreras, who now lives in Australia and justifies the use of torture as necessary “in order to break people.” She says she has happy memories of working for the security forces and that “it was exciting, travelling in limousines and staying at the best hotels in the country.” http://www.sbs.com.au/theother911/

La Nación has an interview with Manuel Contreras himself, who states that a thousand desaparecidos, people missing and never accounted for following their arrest by the regime’s security forces, are buried in Santiago’s Cementerio General.  He also claims that former president Michelle Bachelet and her mother were not held at the DINA’s notorious Villa Grimaldi detention center but at an air force barracks.http://www.lanacion.cl/manuel-contreras-los-detenidos-desaparecidos-estan-en-el-cementerio-general/noticias/2013-09-10/180518.html

The Economist on wounds still unhealed in Chile, forty years after the military coup: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21586339-successful-country-past-still-haunts-divided-coup

In the Washington Post, an opinion piece by Heraldo Muñoz on whether Pinochet can be credited for any of Chile’s economic improvements. The answer is no, and he quotes Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa who observes that dictatorships invariably produce “atrocities that leave civic and ethical sequels infinitely costlier than the status quo.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/heraldo-mun-oz-is-augusto-pinochet-responsible-for-chiles-success/2013/09/12/5d53ded8-1737-11e3-be6e-dc6ae8a5b3a8_story.html

And finally, a guest post by this blogger on the University of California Press web site: http://www.ucpress.edu/blog/15950/a-brutal-anniversary/

The election, polls and an anniversary

Caras Revista

This month will mark 40 years since the military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, and the Chilean magazine Caras has a special edition—which is quickly selling out—to mark this anniversary http://www.caras.cl/. Center-right presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei is on the cover, and inside she tells an interviewer that the tax reforms proposed by her opponent, former president Michele Bachelet “will bury growth and employment.”

A survey released last month by the Centro de Estudios Públicos http://www.cepchile.cl/1_5349/doc/estudio_nacional_de_opinion_publica_julio-agosto_2013.html#.UiYmntIqiSq asked respondents their opinions, favorable or unfavourable, of a list of Chilean politicians and public figures, and Bachelet received the most favorable ratings—64 percent—to Matthei’s 32 percent.  The survey’s authors emphasized that these ratings were not the same thing as political support or voting preferences. There was a separate question asking respondents who they thought would become Chile’s next president, regardless of their own sympathies, and 75 percent predicted it would be Bachelet. Another question asked those polled who they would like to see become president, and Bachelet received 45 percent, Matthei 11 percent.

It should be pointed out that voting is no longer obligatory in Chile, and most respondents (72 percent) said that they would either definitely vote or would likely do so.  But 52 percent indicated they were either not very interested, or definitely uninterested in the election, which is scheduled November 17.  Stay tuned.

The Air Force Generals’ Daughters

Michelle Bachelet, left and Evelyn Matthei are the candidates in this year's presidential election in Chile

Michelle Bachelet, left and Evelyn Matthei are the candidates in this year’s presidential election in Chile

Michelle Bachelet, whose presidency ended in 2010, left office with an extraordinary approval rating of 84 percent, and although Chile’s constitution prohibits a consecutive second term, former presidents are allowed to run again for later terms in office. Last month her center-left political coalition held a primary to pick its candidate, and she won 73 percent of the vote. No surprise there.

Chile’s rightwing coaltion, the Alianza por el Cambio, also held a primary, won by Pablo Longueira. Then, bizarrely, he withdrew from the campaign on health grounds. A spokesman said he was suffering from clinical depression. Longueira is an ultra-conservative leader of the Union Democratica Independiente (UDI) who in his younger days helped organize rock-throwing demonstrations against Senator Edward Kennedy during his visit to Santiago in 1986. CNN-Chile has this report on the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUkfsbPavMY

After some frantic conferring, the Alianza is now backing another UDI politician, former labor minister Evelyn Matthei. The Buenos Aires Herald has this good column on Chile’s political right by Patricio Navia: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/136716/crisis-mode-in-the-chilean-right-wing

Matthei, an economist, is the daughter of a former air force commander and junta member under the Pinochet regime, and the relationship with Bachelet’s family is a fascinating story in itself. General Fernando Matthei and General Alberto Bachelet were air force officers with a friendship that went back decades. At the time of the 1973 military coup Matthei was air force attaché at the Chilean Embassy in London, while Bachelet had been appointed by President Salvador Allende, a socialist, to direct a food distribution program. Bachelet refused to go along with the coup, was arrested, tortured and died in prison in March 1974 (see earlier post http://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/justice-for-an-air-force-general-2/). Michelle Bachelet and her mother were later arrested and taken to the regime’s infamous Villa Grimaldi detention center, then released after a few harrowing weeks and went into exile in East Germany.

Matthei returned to Chile a few months after the coup and in 1978  joined the junta as air force commander when his predecessor was forced out of office after repeatedly clashing with Pinochet over economic policy and a timetable for a return to elected civilian government. Bachelet’s mother contacted this old family friend to inquire whether they could safely return to Chile, and they arrived back in early 1979.

During his years as a junta member Matthei discretely removed Chilean air force personnel from the regime’s murderous security forces, and according to the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report on abuses during this period, no air force officials were involved in human rights violations while he was air force commander: http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/collections/truth_commissions/Chile90-Report/Chile90-Report.pdf

General Matthei’s most notable action came during the 1988 plebiscite, in which voters were asked to cast yes or no ballots to extend Pinochet’s presidency for another eight years. The regime delayed releasing the vote count, announcing partial results suggesting Pinochet was ahead. When Matthei and other military commanders were called to a meeting at the presidential palace that night, he approached a group of journalists to say the “no” vote had won, earning him the gratitude of Chile’s democrats and the eternal opprobrium of Pinochet and his supporters. When Michelle Bachelet became president in 2006, he told reporters of his friendship with her father and remembered her as a “little girl, playing in the sand.” She has been heard to address him as “Uncle Fernando.”

So what is Evelyn Matthei like?  In the early 90s she won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, becoming the first legislator in Chilean history to have a baby while in office. She later became a senator, then labor minister under President Sebastián Piñera, and aggressively pursued Chilean employers who exploited undocumented migrant workers from other countries.  When a group of Paraguayan laborers were discovered working in slave-like conditions on an agricultural estate in southern Chile, she brought charges against the landowner and met with the Paraguayan ambassador to apologize for the way citizens of his country had been treated. Her manner is sometimes blunt, and a diplomat in Santiago described Matthei to me as “a tough one.” Despite Bachelet’s huge lead in the polls, Matthei has said the election is winnable, and the two air force generals’ daughters should have an interesting debate indeed.

Over on Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, a great piece by the Caracas Chronicles’ Juan Nagel on how both Piñera and Bachelet snubbed Venezuelan opposition leader Hernan Capriles during his recent visit to Santiago:

http://transitions.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/24/chile_throws_venezuelas_capriles_under_the_bus

Chile round up

A view of the Andes mountains in Santiago. Photo by Samuel Silva

A view of the Andes mountains in Santiago. Photo by Samuel Silva

“In Brazil, Turkey and Chile, Protests Follow Economic Success,” is the title of an op ed piece by Moises Naim in Bloomberg Businessweek. Asking why thousands of citizens in three countries which have enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years are taking to the streets in mass protests, Naim suggests the answer may be found in a 1968 book by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies.

He writes that “in societies experiencing rapid change, the public’s demand for public services grows at a faster clip than the government’s ability to satisfy it. His more general point is that institutions cannot develop at the pace required by the fast-growing expectations of a population recently empowered by prosperity, literacy, more information, and a newfound expectation—indeed hunger—to shape its own better future. In Huntington’s words, “The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social economic change.” http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-06-27/in-brazil-turkey-and-chile-protests-follow-economic-success

The New York Times travel section has a piece on Valparaiso, a port city once the main trading harbour for the Pacific but which declined after the opening of the Panama Canal and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site undergoing a renaissance of sorts: http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/travel/a-comeback-on-chiles-coast.html?ref=travel

The Washington Post has a blog piece on Chile’s primary elections, in which former president Michelle Bachelet had  an easy win in the Nueva Mayoria coalition, a group that now includes Chile’s Communist Party: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2013/06/28/in-chiles-sunday-elections-the-question-is-who-will-finish-second/

More Chile news coverage

Newsweek has an admiring article on former president Michelle Bachelet in her role as head of UN Women: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/11/michelle-bachelet-has-a-mission-to-help-the-world-s-women.html

Mother Jones has a not-admiring article on Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s advocacy of Chile’s private pension system: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/09/herman-cain-chilean-model-explained

The Telegraph reports that rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena has entered a treatment program for alcoholism: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/chile/8758765/Rescued-Chilean-miner-heads-to-rehab.html

The Chicago Sun-Times has an article on pastel de choclo, a must-eat dish for anyone visiting Chile: http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/food/7290864-423/food-detective-the-power-of-pastel-de-choclo.html

 

Justice for an air force general

General Bachelet's letters were published in 2006.

They broke me from within. I found myself with comrades from the Chilean air force, whom I had known for 20 years, students of mine, who treated me like a criminal or a dog.” –General Alberto Bachelet, in a letter to his son, October 16, 1973

He refused to go along with the coup and was arrested at his office in the Chilean defense ministry on September 11, 1973. He was released that night, but a few days later his home was raided and he was brought to the Chilean air force academy where he was interrogated and tortured over a 30-hour period by some of his former colleagues.  He was moved to the air force hospital and held incommunicado.  A few weeks later he was sent home and placed under house arrest, then on December 18 authorities arrested him again and brought him to Santiago’s public jail.

Four months later a war tribunal began against “Bachelet and others.” But General Alberto Bachelet was already dead, having suffered a fatal heart attack while in prison.  This blogger received an eyewitness account of Bachelet’s death from Nelson Morales Leal, a former army reserve officer so disturbed by the abuses committed in wake of the coup that while on a day pass he deliberately got himself arrested for disorderly conduct in order go get out of the army. Morales ended up in the same jail with Bachelet and other political detainees.  He described how on March 12, 1974 he and his fellow prisoners were being herded out of their cells for lunch when Bachelet collapsed. Morales and other prisoners brought the general back to his cell, where he died. A sympathetic prison guard notified Radio Balmaceda, one of the slightly more independent radio stations still operating after the coup, and the subsequent broadcast prompted authorities to shut down the station.

Bachelet might never have imagined that his daughter Michelle would one day become Latin America’s first female defense minister, and later Chile’s first woman president.And now an investigation has opened into the circumstances of his death, led by the same judge who led the recent inquiry into the death of former president Salvador Allende (which was deemed to have been a suicide). Judge Mario Carroza told Radio Cooperativa that he would review the case, which was presented by a group of relatives of political prisoners who died during the 1973-1990 military regime.