Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Old Andean tactics, and envy

Peru's Alan Garcia is fanning the flames of.... well, not war exactly. But the old populist is back to his old tricks. No longer an economic populist, he has resorted to the old andean trick of diverting attention from internal problems by blaming the neighbour. Bolivia has done it quite a bit, Argentina used to do it, and Peru has a long history of it.

As the for the accusations of spying, I remain agnostic. There is simply no way of knowing what the true story is. The adolescent defense -- 'everybody does it' -- while not entirely appropriate in school, is entirely appropriate when it comes to spying. Of course everyone does it. We just don't talk about it. And when caught, we come to some sort of civilized and negotiated agreement on what to do about it.

Causing a public ruckus is not about solving the spying problem. It is about solving Garcia's problems at home, or in this case, pressuring the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The peruvian president's unceremonious departure from APEC was about trying to make a tempest in a teapot, and trying to do it in as large a teapot as possible. All this, of course, in advance of the case currently before the ICJ. In other words, this is about pressuring international public opinion.

As a sign of how seriously Chile takes the case before the ICJ, it has just reassigned the very talented Alberto van Klaveren full time to the matter, and appointed the brilliant Angel Flisfisch to replace him.

Yet it is hard to take Garcia seriously when he says things like this. Chileans are only jealous of peruvians for their food and -- although they would never admit it -- for their pisco sour. Not for their politics nor for their economic model. And certainly not for their president.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The last presidential debate

Last night all major Chilean networks broadcast the last televised debate before the election next month. I must confess I did not watch all of it. I had just eaten and didn't have the stomach for it. But what I did see was not pretty.

In sum, Enriquez-Ominami was more inarticulate than usual. Frei was more flustered than usual. Arrate was a bit more conciliatory towards Frei than usual. And Piñera looked calmer than usual. It was, undoubtedly, Piñera's night. The press is certainly presenting it that way, but that ought to be no surprise at this point.

What was surprising, however, was the agressiveness of the questions, and the reporters behind the questions. I suppose the format lent itself to aggresiveness, but the candidates were consistenly being cut off in mid-answer -- not when they were being long-winded, but just as they were trying to devote more than 15 seconds to a question. It looked as if the entire format was designed to make the journalists look smart and the candidates look bad. It worked.

I dont' think it was a good night for Chilean journalism, for Chilean politics, or the Chilean presidential elections of 2009.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Peña on Lagos and Piñera

Carlos Peña, my former boss and one of the most talented, of not the most talented, columnists in Chile, reacts in today's Mercurio to some comments former president Lagos made in El Pais. Lagos suggested something which should not come as a surprise: that those who surround Piñera are 'Pinochet's heirs'.

Peña reacts with extraordinary restraint, attributing to these politicians a sense of contrition for past acts that, at least in many cases, I honestly doubt exists. But Peña does make a point: that they react with such anger when they are reminded of their poor carreer choices, indicates that on some level they would rather forget them. An indirect recognition of error.

But very indirect.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Piñera's promises

Before I comment on yesterday's CEP poll, here's a little nugget on some comments that Sebastián Piñera made to an organization of retired officers, called Chile, My Fatherland.

The Alianza's presidential candidate promised to pressure the judicial system to stop prosecuting military personnel in relation to human rights abuses, essentially arguing that this cannot go on forever.

What is interesting is that, as far as I know, the story has only appeared in La Nación, but not in the MSM. As I have noted here before, the behaviour of the MSM during this electoral season has been incredibly biased, even for Chilean standards. Surely a promise of this sort, made behind closed doors, deserves scrutiny. Then everyone can draw their own conclusions.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Circus dogs

I have written about Carlos Larrain before. He is the president of Renovación Nacional, and as such one of the most prominent leaders of the coalition that supports Sebastián Piñera. He is one of the last remaining politicians that treats everyone as if they were labourers on his hacienda. He is a dinosaur. But he also has a big, ironic, mouth. This makes him a refreshingly frank politician.

Yet the combination of frankness and elitism can be tricky. So when he says that Concertación voters are like circus dogs, he is
  1. Saying that they vote without thinking.
  2. Saying that the Concertación is manipulating them.
  3. Saying that he has all but given up on attracting disaffected DC voters and concentrating on the undecideds.

As far as an electoral strategy, it's not much.