Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to Washington

Chileans are a curious bunch. They dump on each other, and especially the government, at a scientifically constant rate (except in election years, when the rate increases). But when the president travels, and if she is well received, and if the foreign dignitary heaps praise on Chile, it's as if they got a gold star from the teacher.

As a general rule, things are never as bad as Chileans think they are when they are in Chile, and never as good as they say they are when they travel abroad.

Nevertheless, on Michelle Bachelet's current trip to Washington, it is clear that Chile's stock is rising together with the value of the peso. After years of trying to get the message through, it seems Washington has signed on to the idea that it needs strategic friends in Latin America. Venezuela's reach has now extended beyond Ecuador and Bolivia, and is inching its way towards the US via Central America. Chile, which has particuarly good realtions with Ecuador, and whose relationship with Bolivia is better than it has been in years (thanks in part to an incredibly immature spat between García and Morales), is in a good position to serve not only as an economic gateway to Latin America, but a political one as well.

As a result, Chileans seem to be occupying key positions throughout the Latin American political cosmos -- Valenzuela, Insulza -- and in international fora, including such useless ones like the UN Human Rights Commission.

It is ironic that in the closing days of a government so focused on domestic social policy, Chile may be achieving the highest level of international influence it has had since, at least, Allende.

This is not a coincidence. It is due in large measure to Chile's economic track record and Bachelet's international persona. Not a bad way to head into an election.

But, let's keep things in perspective, shall we? It's a small country with a small economy, far away from everything. It's Iceland with better bank regulation.

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