Saturday, 20 March 2010

Early days

Michelle Bachelet's learning curve lasted at least two years, and she had extensive experience in government before becoming president. That is why it is unfair to begin dumping on the current government for what has been a pretty awful first week in office.... which is not to say that the major newspapers have not been unprofessionally fawning in their reporting.

One example is yesterday's emergency, last minute meeting between Interior Minister Hinzpeter and José Miguel Stegmeier, who had been named by this government as governor of the province of BioBio. Turns out Stegmeier had some dogdgy dealings with the unsavoury characters at Colonia Dignidad, a german colony in southern Chile which has been linked to Nazis, the military dictatorship, and child abuse. Even after decades, the entire truth on Colonia Dignidad has yet to emerge, and I suspect we have not heard the last of Stegmeier. He is, in fact, named in some ongoing lawsuits against the Colony.

The episode is an interesting case study. For one thing, the front page of this morning's Mercurio had two huge headlines on Piñera's hectic work schedule and the first aid package anounced by the government, and only a small square on the right hand column making reference to the Stegmeier affair.

Second, one has to ask what kind of vetting has gone on in government appointments. Are they really this hard up for people? Why is the right still linked to these characters?

Third, however, is that credit is due to the government, and especially the Interior Minister, for acting quickly. They did not try to justify, defend, deflect or delay. Hinzpeter called in Stegmeier on a Friday night, and fired him. It augurs well for the Hinzpeter method.

1 comment:

Reed M. Kurtz said...

I found this pretty remarkable as well. From the way my girlfriend's family (all Chileans) described it, the whole Colonia Dignidad and Paul Scheffer affair was one of the darkest and most disturbing chapters in Chile's 20th Century, which really says something. It seems incredible that Piñera would make the mistake of appointing someone with any kind of ties to Scheffer, not merely on account of the horrors he committed, but also because of the intrinsic links to Pinochet and fascism.

There has to be some possibility that Piñera and his people knew previously about Stegmeier's (alleged) activities and they thought they could get him through without a problem, counting on the mainstream press to overlook this.
This seems incredibly risky and arrogant, and while I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if it were the case, surely the thought of The Clinic and other alternative outlets getting ahold of this story would be a deterrent.

More likely however is that this was a simple mistake resulting from a rushed and unorganized vetting process stemming from all the energy devoted to the earthquake and reconstruction process. If this is the case though, it certainly doesn't bode well for Piñera's effort to brand himself as the organized and disciplined leader Chile can count on to lead them through in the wake of this natural disaster.

Of course this also speaks to the serious problem faced by post-authoritarian democracies like Chile, whose political Right even 20 years after the restoration of democracy is still plagued by unsavory connections to its past. Needless to say, Piñera's got his hands full with reconstruction projects!