Chile has declared three days of mourning and President Sebastián Piñera will fly to Caracas this Friday for the funeral of Hugo Chávez. Piñera said that while he had his disagreements with Chávez, he admired the Venezuelan leader’s “courage and valor.” One can only speculate what the conservative entrepreneur and flamboyant leftist really thought of each other, but somehow the two managed to keep bilateral relations on an even keel.
It didn’t start out that way. After winning the presidential run-off vote early in 2010 Piñera told foreign correspondents in Santiago that he had deep differences with the way public issues were handled in Venezuela.
“These differences are profound and have to do with the way democracy is conceived and implemented, the way the model of economic development is carried out, and many more,” he said. Chávez reacted by saying, in essence, that Piñera’s comments were what one might expect from a wealthy businessman. “I think he is one of the richest in Chile and among the richest in the hemisphere,” he said. “We do not get involved in Chilean matters, so they should mind their own business.”
Chile’s rightwing Union Democratica Independiente (UDI), which forms part of the Piñera government’s political coalition, staged a walk-out when the Chamber of Deputies held a minute’s silence for Chávez Tuesday evening. UDI leader Gustavo Hasbún said that while party members voted to hold the homage they refused to take part.
“We have always maintained that [Chavez’s government] was a disguised dictatorship which permanently violated human rights and freedom of expression,” he said.