Southern Tiger

Former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos has been promoting his new book, The Southern Tiger: Chile’s Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future (Palgrave Macmillan) on a U.S. tour. This past week he appeared on National Public Radio’s Kojo Nnamdi Show where he discussed, among other things, his country’s democratic transition, Chile’s opposition to the Iraq war and a phone conversation he had with then-president George Bush in March 2003. The conversation started with the two presidents addressing each other as “George” and “Ricardo,” but became cooler and more formal when Lagos argued against the invasion.


Update on the Frei investigation


Judge Alejandro Madrid says he hopes to complete his investigation into the death of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva this year, wrapping up a few lines of inquiry that are still pending. His comments came after Frei’s son made a public call for justice on the 30th anniversary of his death (see earlier post:

Frei, a Christian Democrat who was president from 1964 to 1970, had been a public critic of the Pinochet regime and the circumstances of his death at one of Santiago’s best hospitals in 1982 make terrifying reading.The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica CIPER has the most complete archive on Frei’s death and the investigation:

A bit of justice, and much too late

It was one of many legal cases  against General Augusto Pinochet, and one of the most embarrassing for Chile’s new civilian government, demonstrating how the country’s army was still a law unto itself.  A private plane carrying 36 crates of “humanitarian aid” had been intercepted in Budapest in 1991 and found to contain guns and ammunition bound for Croatia, in violation of a UN ban on weapons sales.  The government had in fact authorized an arms sale—to Sri Lanka—but the army’s munitions division, Fabrica y Maestranzas del Ejercito ( had arranged for the shipment to be delivered to Croatia. At the time, Pinochet had grudgingly left the Chilean presidency but would continue to command the army until 1998 and investigators would later uncover payments from arms manufacturers in Pinochet’s bank accounts.

A judicial inquiry into the Croatia deal began, but  witnesses began to vanish.  Colonel Gerardo Huber, the Chilean army’s logistics director, disappeared in early 1992, shortly before he was scheduled to testify and his body was found three weeks later on the banks of a river outside Santiago. A forensic examination showed that Huber had been shot in the head before he was thrown from a bridge. The colonel’s chauffeur was found dead in his car in what the army claimed was a suicide.

On Friday Chile’s Supreme Court convicted two retired generals of illegal weapons sales, sentencing them to three years in prison.  Another eight people were also convicted but given lesser sentences and allowed to serve them under house arrest.  Colonel Huber’s murder has never been solved, but his former superior who also testified in the case said the Croatia arms deal had been personally approved by Pinochet.

The Chilean summer, 2012

The good news:

According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom (, Chile holds seventh place, ahead of the United States (#10 on the list).  The index measures such things as rule of law, regulatory efficiency and the openness of its markets. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports ( that Chile is in relatively good shape in the face of the global financial downturn, having rebounded relatively well after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami and predicts a growth rate of five percent for next year.

The bad news:

The OECD also notes that Chile has the highest income inequality of any member country and that despite some modest improvements, “inter-generational social mobility is low.” And not all investors are enthusiastic.  Last year Israeli entrepreneur Arnon Kohavi moved from California’s Silicon Valley to Santiago to start a venture capital fund, confidently predicting that the next big thing like Skype or Facebook was surely going to come out of Chile. Six months later, disillusioned, he transferred to Singapore, saying that while Chile had great potential, it was “not there yet.”  He had some rather unflattering things to say:

“The Chilean society is less dynamic than Asia or the US; a handful of monopolistic families control the country, and won’t move. Worse, these families don’t care about anything (the young, the poor…) besides their money. They don’t have to: the country’s natural resources (copper, etc.) are a disadvantage here, because it means the rich don’t need to work hard.”

On the subject of social inequality, the Chilean media was rocked this past week by revelations that in certain affluent gated communities, gardeners, construction workers and domestic employees are not allowed to enter the neighborhoods on foot, but must arrive and depart in shuttle buses which deposit them at their employers’ homes.  One homeowner challenged the regulation in court, calling it “an outrage against people’s dignity.” He complained that his house was only three blocks from the community’s entrance but that his housekeeper was not allowed to walk there.  The court turned down the homeowner’s petition, saying the restriction was designed to prevent burglaries. At another gated community, a notice was circulated requiring all domestic staff to wear uniforms and were prohibited from entering the pool area.

Chilevision broadcast an interview with a 28-year old housewife living in one of the gates communities, who defended the quasi-apartheid policy, saying “just imagine what it would be like for all the maids and workmen to be walking around when your children are out riding their bicycles.”  Her statements caused an uproar, and a television employee who leaked the complete transcript of the interview was fired.

The Santiago Times published an English translation of a good column on this and related issues by Patricia Politzer, one of Chile’s leading journalists: