Some background on consumer debt

An advertisement from La Polar, one of Chile's largest retailers and the subject of a fraud investigation

The New York Times has an article on credit card debt in Chile and Brazil, with a good summary of the scandal surrounding retail giant La Polar, under investigation by the Chilean Securities and Insurance Supervisor. The agency has charged eighteen La Polar executives with fraud after the company repackaged the debts of thousands of low-income customers who had used the store’s credit card.

Chilean consumer debt rose by 254 percent, to roughly $34 million, between 2001 and 2008,  according to the Central Bank. with debt-to-income level more than 70 percent at the end of 2010.

Missing Gun, Missing Pilots

Salvador Allende holding a gun given him by Fidel Castro in 1971

It’s official:  Salvador Allende, the socialist who was Chile’s president from 1970 to 1973, was not shot to death by soldiers but committed suicide during the coup. Two months ago his body was exhumed and examined by an international team of specialists, whose findings were reported this week in a 500-page report.  Allende was killed by two bullets shot from an automatic weapon, an AK-47 rifle, held between his legs.  There was only one wound, in his skull.

But the investigation still has some loose ends to tie up.  Mario Carozza, the Chilean judge heading the inquiry, would like to interview the five pilots who strafed the presidential palace on September 11, 1973, the day of the coup.  He called in former air force commander General Fernando Matthei, who professed ignorance of the pilots’ identities.  At the time of the coup Matthei was a military attaché at the Chilean Embassy in London. The man who commanded Chile’s air force at the time, and ordered the Hawker Hunter planes to bombard the presidential palace, General Gustavo Leigh, died in 1999.

The Chilean press has already identified the pilots and published their names.  One of the pilots was Leigh’s own son, also named Gustavo, who was sent to bomb Allende’s home in eastern Santiago. As a military operation, it was not exactly a success—at least one of the younger Leigh’s bombs fell on the Chilean Air Force hospital and another was so wide of the mark it left a crater on the ground a few blocks away.

Another pilot is said to be retired General Fernando Rojas, who became air force commander in 1995.

So whatever became of the weapon Allende used to kill himself?  In the immediate aftermath of his death Allende’s widow told a Mexican journalist that he had used an AK-47 given him by Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader’s visit to Chile in 1971.   Judge Carozza has confiscated two such guns from the Museo Naval, which were donated years ago by the family of Admiral Jose Toribio Merino, one of the original four junta members.  The AK-47s are now at a police lab undergoing tests.

The president, polls and possible successors

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, during one of the high points of his administration.

Sebastian Pinera is less than 17 months into his four-year term as president and is suffering from one of the lowest approval ratings of any head of state since Chile returned to democratic rule. A survey by the Adimark polling company last month revealed that only 31 percent approve of his performance and 60 percent disapprove.  The poll was divided into sections, with 62 percent of respondents agreeing that Pinera was “active and energetic” and 59 percent agreeing that he was “capable of facing crisis situations” but only 39 percent thought he was credible or loved by the public.  As to how his government was handling different issues, there was only one area—that of international relations—in which a majority of those polled approved (66 percent). Less than a third approved of the Pinera government’s action on health care, the environment, crime, public transportation and education. The next presidential election is scheduled for late 2013 and here are some potential candidates:

On the political right is Lawrence Golborne, Pinera’s photogenic minister for energy and mining, who rose to fame during last year’s rescue of 33 miners in the Atacama desert. The Adimark poll gave him a 75 percent approval rating. This past week he told El Mostrador TV that he considered himself capable of being president but for the time being he was “interested in seeing the government work well.”  He also made a brief mention of having taken part in anti-Pinochet demonstrations during the 1980s.

On the left is Pinera’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, currently undersecretary-general of United Nations Women.  It isn’t that clear whether she is interested in running for president again, and she remarked in an interview with the Financial Times that she was enjoying the relative privacy of her life in New York. “I miss my family, but I also like to be Miss Nobody here,” she said. But a comment she made this past week to the Spanish newspaper El Pais suggested her time at the United Nations would be limited. She missed her family so much that “I don’t see myself spending many years outside of Chile. That is where I have my family, my friends, my roots.”

The Financial Times article:

The El Pais article: