Another news roundup

The Economist has a long piece on Chile, the protests by students and other groups and Sebastian Piñera’s presidency:

National Public Radio has a review of the Chilean film “Post Mortem,”, whose protagonist works at a Santiago morgue at the time of the 1973 military coup. has this piece on a visit to a Saskatchewan potash mine by Jose Henriquez, one of the 33 miners trapped in an underground copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2010.  It was his first time underground since the rescue and he told his hosts he was impressed with the safety measures and operational procedures at the mine.

A book, an invitation and ….oops!

invitación Krassnoff

Miguel Krassnoff is an Austrian-born former officer in the Chilean army and one of the more notorious members of the Pinochet regime’s security forces.  He is currently serving a 144-year sentence for 23 separate convictions for homicide and forced disappearances. But he has his supporters, who were planning a gathering on Monday to present a new edition of an admiring book, whose title in English is Miguel Krassnoff: Prisoner for Serving Chile.  The event was to be held at a venue in an eastern Santiago municipality whose mayor, Cristian Labbe is an unreconstructed Pinochetista.   During the former dictator’s detention in London from 1998-2000 Labbe ordered trash collection to be suspended at the British and Spanish Embassies located in Providencia, and made 14 visits to the United Kingdom to express his support for Pinochet.

Those invited include Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and when the invitation reached his office a presidential staffer sent a response which may have automatically generated, saying the president’s schedule for that time was already full, congratulating the event’s organizers and extending the president’s  “best wishes for success.”  News of this event and the presidential office’s reply have outraged  human rights groups and a day later the government issued a terse statement calling its response “a lamentable error” which had not been authorized by President Pinera and “did not represent his thinking.”  There has been a chorus of disapproval from Chilean political leaders  and even the mayor’s own rightist Union Democratica Independiente (UDI)  has sought to distance itself, saying Labbe was not representative of the UDI just because he was a party member.

Labbe maintained this is a freedom of speech issue, but now says he will not be attending the event, claiming a scheduling conflict. Meanwhile, Krassnoff and his admirers have a blog,

Whither the Concertacion?

It was 23 years ago today that General Augusto Pinochet lost a one-man presidential plebiscite that would have extended his rule for another eight years, and a remarkable campaign for a “no” vote against him managed to hang together in a center-left coalition that would win four elections. But times have changed, a crafty and energetic businessman/economist now occupies the presidency and the leaders of the Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia are meeting to discuss the future.

Socialist Party president Osvaldo Andrade told Radio Cooperative that his coalition’s governments marked the end of dictatorship, but were not able to muster enough energy to seriously address Chile’s social inequalities.  October 5, the anniversary of the dictator’s electoral defeat, should produce a renewed commitment to do so, he said.

While the Concertacion’s leaders are mulling these matters, representatives of Chile’s student federation were due to meet with education ministry officials.  Whatever the outcome, they and the teachers’ union were going ahead with plans for another mass demonstration this week. The Associated Press reports that University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo “handles a microphone as if she were born with it” and has a Twitter audience of nearly 300,000.

It is worth remembering that the first nationwide student protests began under the last of the  Concertacion governments, with little resolution. To make matters worse, the education minister was impeached when it was revealed that her department had such sloppy bookkeeping practices that it could not account for $600 million in public funds.

Meanwhile, President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings have registered a slight improvement—from 27 percent to 30 percent, according to the latest Adimark poll. His defense minister Andres Allamand, whose public profile was raised during last month’s rescue operations following the Juan Fernandez air crash, has become the most popular cabinet minister, with a 78 percent approval rating.  The same poll revealed that an increasing majority of Chileans back the students’ demands—79 percent, a three point increase since August—but are less supportive of their tactics, with only 49 percent approving of the mass demonstrations.

Respected abroad and unloved at home

A new book by Chilean sociologist Eugenio Tironi explores the reasons for Sebastian Pinera's poor approval ratings.

Chile’s student protests show no sign of dying out, as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Santiago and other cities this week. President Sebastian Pinera was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, while his finance minister Felipe Larrain travelled to Washington, where he told reporters that Chile had contingency plans for any slowdown in the world economy.  The Wall St. Journal published this account and the Financial Times has the following story: .  The FT blog also has a piece on Pinera’s dismal approval ratings of 26 percent, citing the work of sociologist Eugenio Tironi, who observes that Pinera governs as if Chile were a corporation and rather than a country. Tironi, who worked for former president Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) is the author of a new book whose title in English is Why Don’t They Love Me?


The slow pace of truth and justice

First there was the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation (, which in 1991 reported that 2,279 persons were killed for political reasons under the Pinochet regime, with another 641 cases which researchers could not conclusively determine were politically motivated murders.  And there were another 449 cases of individuals who had disappeared, but no information other than their names could be determined.

Then there was the Valech Commission report of 2004  which documented arrests and torture under the regime, with testimonies from 35,865 people, of which 27,255 were deemed to be credible ( The commission’s work was criticized for being too limited—witnesses’ statements were taken for only six months and could only be given during office hours—but it prompted Chilean army commander General Julio Cheyre to publicly acknowledge the military’s abuses during that period.

And now comes the second Valech report, presented this week to President Sebastian Pinera. Shortly before she left office outgoing president Michelle Bachelet reopened the commission, which identified another 9,800 people arrested and tortured.  This brings the total of officially recognized victims to just over 40,000, with the number of those killed raised to 3,065. Survivors will be eligible for a modest state pension of about $260 per month.

There are still dozens of former regime officials facing prosecution for human rights crimes, with about 70 currently serving prison sentences. But the Chilean judicial system is so overloaded that the country’s prosecutors went on strike August 17, complaining of massive backlogs and insufficient funding.

Pinera and his changing cabinet

The Economist has a piece on its Americas blog about Fernando Echeverria’s three-day stint as Chile’s energy minister and wonders why no one noticed the conflict of interest—that the state oil company owed money to his construction company—before he took office. The article is entitled “A stubbornly persistent old boys’ network.”

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: