Saturday, 24 April 2010


Somewhat belatedly, here is something I wrote in El Mostrador this week.

And speaking of El Mostrador, I am beginning to understand what Karl Marx meant when he wrote that history repeats itself as farce. In the last 24 or 36 hours, the government of Chile has
made headlines twice for the same, badly handled story. First they named Mirko Macari, who is editor of El Mostrador, to head up the editorial team at La Nación, the government-owned newspaper. This was a big deal as Mirko's political sympathies are well known and not, precisely, pro-government.

But then yesterday afternoon La Segunda carried a headline that presaged what was to come. It said that the UDI was up in arms over the appointment. By the time I drove home last night, I heard Mirko being interviewed on the radio, confirming that his appointment had been withdrawn.

I have lost track now of how many appointments have been reversed or withdrawn since this government took office. The reasons are diverse, but the cause is the same: they don't do the necessary legwork beforehand. Either they don't check criminal records, or they don't check conflicts of interest, or they don't check with their coalition partners. At this point, though, having undergone a series of these mini-crises, one can only conclude that they just don't care.

It is baffling. Perhaps they figure nobody is paying attention. Perhaps their internal polling shows that the damage is transitory. But week after week, it builds an image. And it's not a good one.

It couldn't happen here, could it?

This story is going to get nasty. And it will be an interesting test case of how the elite handles these things.

If the church in question, and the victims, were in some marginal part of Santiago, it would be easier to circle the wagons. In this case, it may be easier to cut the Father loose and hope that the story then quickly goes away.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

It's a small world after all

The task of reconstruction is so great that Chile cannot afford incompetence, laziness or corruption. That is why I hope for the best with this government. Yet day after day, the signs are not encouraging.

In the last few days the government has announced that it will purchase reconstruction materials from three large corporations, sidestepping any process of public tender. This is permitted, because of the extraordinary circumstances in the areas most affected by the February 27 earthquake.

But as this report shows, the personal links between government officials and the companies in question make the whole thing seem rather sordid. What's worse, it's a structural problem. Since Piñera named so many non-political, private sector types to high ranking posts, these conflicts of interest will appear again and again. In the long run, it will only serve to delegitimize the government and its parties, and that doesn't do us much good.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Piñera thinks that his first three weeks in office have been a tremendous success. In fact, he thinks he has already equalled, or in fact surpassed, the Concertación's record of achievement. That's great! Good for him. It just shows how efficient he is.

However, as I suggest here, sometimes in the interest of efficiency one can commit all sorts of mistakes that then come back and bite you on the head (or elsewhere). That is why most of last week was dominated by the errors committed in political appointments, some of which had to be rescinded, and the extraordinary sight of a Supreme Court judge saying that some formal legal steps had been missed in the implementation of a new law. Who cares? It's efficient!

To be fair, this week was a far better week for Piñera than last... he managed to sort of regain control of the message. But there is a fundamental problem that underlies everything that has gone wrong. In the private sector, one tries gain the maximum advantage in order to sell things, make things, earn money, etc. The law is often an impediment to efficiency, and certainly to profitability. But in government, the maximum advantage, the raison d'etre, is the law. One cannot bypass the law in order to do something else, because if it goes beyond the law, that something else is not only illegal, it is probably not something that government should be doing in the first place.

That is today's fight. They're still learning, and as I have repeatedly said here, it is unfair to criticise too much at this stage, given the lack of experience in government. Tomorrow's fight, however, will be when the Piñera government figures out how to work within the law and still maximise its advantage. When that happens, fasten your seatbelts.