Sunday, 31 May 2009


I hate to say I told you so, but I did. As well as the Economist, the WSJ has taken notice. What I didn't say last year, was that Velasco has also developed his political skills. He has not completely abandoned his professorial demeanour, but he is a much smoother schmoozer than he was at the start of this government, and a clear candidate for 2013 -- although some have even put him forward as a possible replacement for Frei should the latter's campaign not take off in the coming months. That would be a mistake, but if he has not already done so, Velasco should do some serious soul-searching. Will he return to Harvard next year, or lay the foundations for 2013? The José Miguel Insulza experience should teach him that he cannot do both.

The enlightened ones

Foot-in-mouth disease is not exclusively a Carlos Larraín problem. Chileans may take some comfort in the fact that our American friends have their own version(s).


Peña on Larraín

My former boss and Mercurio columnist Carlos Peña has written his regular Sunday column on the Carlos Larraín business. It pretty much follows the line I wrote a few days ago, but as could be expected, he does it far more elegantly than I ever could.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The First 100 Days

As I approach my first 100 days in my new job, much of which has been sent signing memos, I have come across this website, which charts a colleague's first 100 days.

Apparently he also signs a lot of stuff.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009


The president of Renovación Nacional has criticised President Bachelet for identifying with the suffering of Anne Frank. In a letter to El Mercurio, Carlos Larrain wrote that:

"Ana Frank era una niña y fue perseguida sólo por haber nacido judía, tremendo pecado. Michelle Bachelet era mayor de edad y ya manifestaba opciones políticas antes de 1974. Su prisión fue abusiva, pero sobrevivió y prosperó."

This is outragous. He is essentially saying that Michelle Bachelet (and, by extension, all those who were tortured and killed under the military dictatorship) deserved what she got becuase, unlike Anne Frank, she was able but unwilling to change the thing that brought on all that suffering. If only she would have recognized the error of her ways, she could have avoided all that nastiness. That's Inquisition talk. He's not stuck in 1973, he's stuck in 1473.

And then he goes on to argue that Bachelet did well by being exiled.

Larrain's letter to El Mercurio shows that he -- and probably a good part of the political right in Chile -- have not moved on one inch since 1973. They believe that human rights abuses are justified. They believe the military saved Chile, and everything else is secondary. Rule of law, democracy, human rights. If you follow this to its logical conclusion, the president of a major political party in Chile, the party with a presidential candidate who is currently leading in public opinion polls, does not believe in democracy.

How sad for him and for Chile.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

Enriquez-Ominami vs Frei

Marco Enriquez-Ominami has a point. I have said for several weeks now that the only way Enriquez Ominami can hurt the Concertación is if they react badly, attack him, and build him up as a viable threat. Eduardo Frei has been relatively calm, but the rest of the team is not. Today’s reports of infighting within the Frei camp plays into Ominami’s plan. Somebody has to put an end to it, and it has to be Frei. If he does not, or cannot, he’s in real trouble.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Brooks and Obama, sitting in a tree

David Brooks' evaluation of today's dueling speeches. The New York Times' right wing columnist comes down on Obama's side. Money quote:

"it is absurd to say this administration doesn’t take terrorism seriously"

Yet another sign that the Republicans are falling apart.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Going out on a high

A good speech. After this, the campaign starts. But is it the campaign for Frei 2009 or Bachelet 2013?

Rule to live by

Richard Russo is a novelist who writes about university politics. Some time ago he gave a commencement speech and offered four rules to live by. I like the first one.

Rule # 1: Search out the kind of work that you would gladly do for free and then get somebody to pay you for it. Don't expect this to happen overnight. It took me nearly twenty years to get people to pay me a living wage for my writing, which makes me, even at this juncture, one of the fortunate few. Your work should be something that satisfies, excites and rewards you, something that gives your life meaning and direction, that stays fresh and new and challenging, a task you'll never quite master, that will never be completed. It should be the kind of work that constantly humbles you, that never allows you to become smug—in short, work that sustains you instead of just paying your bills. While you search for this work, you'll need a job. For me that job was teaching, and it's a fine thing to be good at your job, as long as you don't confuse it with your work, which it's hard not to do.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

We have ourselves a horserace, sort of

On the face of it the 2009 presidential campaign looks very familiar. In one corner, former president Eduardo Frei; in the other, former presidential runner-up, Sebastian Piñera. Both men have been in the arena forever, representing political coalitions that have been in place since the return to democracy twenty years ago.

Yet scratch beneath the surface and some novelties appear. The opposition Alianza – redubbed the Coalition for Change – has welcomed to its campaign Senator Fernando Flores, previously of the Concertación (and way before that, a minister in the Allende government). Piñera made much of the recruitment, claiming that the senator’s presence was a sign of the broad tent he was building. Gone, says Piñera (who comes from a Christian Democratic family himself) are the old, post-authoritarian cleavages of left and right. Yet Flores, who was never given the status and recognition in the Concertación that he was convinced he deserved, quickly started giving one TV interview after another where his comments seemed almost designed to embarrass the Piñera campaign. More than a Chilean version of Arlen Specter, Flores seems like a Chilean Cheney.

Yet it is within the Concertación itself that things are reaching soap opera levels of entertainment, because Flores is not the only high profile dissident. Of the current roster of five presidential candidates, four are current or former members of the Concertación. Jorge Arrate, formerly of the Socialist Party, has been chosen to represent the so-called extra-parliamentary left. Adolfo Zaldívar, formerly of the Christian Democratic Party, has gone his own way. Eduardo Frei won the presidential primary against the Radical senator José Antonio Gomez. But the phenomenon of the last few days has been Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a blue-blooded Concertación golden boy: a deputy, married to a television personality, son of an iconic slain leader, stepson of a senator and former minister.

There are two ways to look at this. The first is that the Concertación – and especially the Socialist Party under its current president, Camilo Escalona – are in a state of chaos and terminal decline, hemorrhaging high profile leaders and concentrating more on internecine fights than on governing the country. The emergence of Enríquez-Ominami speaks of a generational divide which is very real. The old guard has not made way for new leadership, so that only six months ago the main presidential contenders were two ex-presidents and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Not precisely change we can believe in.

On the other hand, the 10-15% Enríquez-Ominami currently polls is enough to keep him in the headlines, but his natural constituency, the young, is the most apathetic voting block in Chile, and many are not registered to vote. Enríquez-Ominami’s support will do little more than ensure a second round in the presidential race, which in itself can only favour Frei, as the Piñera campaign knows that its best chance at victory is an outright win in the first round.

As negative, therefore, as all this press seems to be for the Concertación, there are three reasons why Piñera who should be worried. First, any news cycle devoted to Enríquez-Ominami is one not focused on Piñera. Second, the current president enjoys record levels of approval, more than any other president since 1990. Chileans approve of the government’s handling of the economy, which in a recession is pretty remarkable. And third, there are no signs that all of this is putting much of a dent in support for Frei, a candidate who last year, in the middle of all the political gossip and media hubbub surrounding the will-he-won’t-he candidacies of Lagos and Insulza, kept his head down, did the grunt work, and ended up winning his coalition’s presidential nomination. Given that experience, and the recent polls indicating that in a second round Frei and Piñera would each obtain about 44%, Frei seems to be in fairly good shape.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Public Opinion in Chile

My friend and former colleague Rodrigo Cordero has just published an edited volume on public opinion in Chile. Published by the Universidad Diego Portales press, it is available at fine bookstores in Chile, and here.