Friday, 30 December 2011

The Year in Review

El Dinamo asked me to list the political winners and losers for 2011. Here's the list.

I'm afraid that I was somewhat Punk'd by events, however, as yesterday the latest CEP poll came out. While I list the government as a winner, as it got through a difficult year without making major concessions - especially on the educational front - the poll shows that its popularity keeps dropping. This morning someone asked me how much lower popular support could drop. My view is that if the government attains 23% support in a booming economy, with dropping unemployment, with a disorganized opposition, and in sunny summer, there is still a ways for it to go next year, when by all accounts inflation will rise, the economic scenario is more uncertain, and the opposition will begin to coalesce for the municipal elections and, with a view to 2013, around the figure of Michelle Bachelet.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Automatic Voter Registration, cont'd....

Here is a little interview I gave the Diario Financiero on automatic voter registration.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

President Boric

The elections of a new student federation at the University of Chile has attracted international attention, not so much because the University of Chile is so important (but of course, it is) but because they resulted in the electoral defeat of the international Communist superstar and cover girl, Camila Vallejo.

While everyone wishes the president elect, Gabriel Boric, much success, there are three things which are noteworthy and do not augur all that well for the year to come.

First, the way in which the news of the election was reported in the Chilean media. Examples can be found here, here and here. Pay attention to the photographs.

There is clear euphoria on the part of the media at Vallejo's loss, which is seen as a triumph of the right. For much of 2011 Vallejo was the symbol of a left-wing resistance to authority the likes of which has not been seen in Chile since the return to democracy, and the MSM, and those who read the MSM, and those who own the MSM, didn't like it. Her downfall is their victory.

The second worry has to do with Boric's position, which is far more confrontational than Vallejo's. In this he may, indeed, be more representative of many University of Chile students who reject any kind of negotiation or compromise and who see all political institutions as inherently corrupt and illegitimate. The problem with this position is that in order to achieve results, eventually they have to negotiate with someone.

Which leads to the third problem. Vallejo was to some degree a victim of her own discourse. The illegitimacy with which the student movement views political institutions made any attempts by the current FECH to reach out to (even friendly) politicians as a sell out. They created a vicious circle in which the only way to get results is to take the fight to the political arena, but the only way to get elected is to reject the political arena and insist on the power of the street. The result is to make the lifespan of student leaders very short, and the possible lifespan of the student movement very long while reducing its chances for success.

Friday, 25 November 2011

HUGE political superstars unite in favor of automatic registration

Our campaign to have the Congress approve automatic voter registration continues with this video. As you can see, it is a conglomeration of up and coming superstars of academica and politics in Chile.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Silent Majority

Over the last several months government officials in Chile have not only tried to present students as 'useless subversives', but also have suggested that they are supported by the vast majority of ordinary, law abiding citizens. This is remarkably similar to Richard Nixon's famous Silent Majority, a line of reasoning I develop further in this column, published today in El Dinamo.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Inscripción Automática Ahora!

As I have noted here and here, a group of politically diverse colleagues has united in an effort to ensure that a constitutional amendment approved in 2008 which calls for automatic voter registration be implemented. Our time is running out, as the government feels that if the necessary enabling legislation is not in place by the end of November, it will be impossible to have automatic registration for next year's municipal elections, and therefore unlikely to have it for the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013.

Here is our new, multimedia approach. Please spread the word!

For those planning a trip to Chile....'s a new video just released by the national tourism service:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Student Politics

While Brunner seems to think that the student movement is winding down, or at least that the field of battle is being moved towards Congress, student politics continues with the elections of new student councils. The University of Chile students' union will hold elections in the coming weeks, and the Catholic University (PUC) already held theirs. There is an interesting profile of the new president of the FEUC in today's Mercurio. His name is Noam Titelman, and he represents the same political faction as the outgoing president, Giorgio Jackson. Titelman is an Israeli-born business student, who, although clearly from a middle class family, in many ways is very representative of today's Chilean youth.

He says he identifies with the left, but not with leftist politicians. He is in favour of 'free education', but by that he understands bringing costs down, so that Chilean higher education ceases to be one of the most expensive in the world. He speaks three languages but when asked what music he listens to, it's all latin american. He is, in other words, the kind of wild card of which today's politicians are terrified. Should they get their act together and actually implement automatic voter registration, they have no idea how someone like Titelman would vote.

But young people like Titelman are no revolutionaries. Their feet are very much planted on the ground. Their demands are not idealistic, but based on life experiences which are not shared by an older generation, still marked by dictatorship and democratic transition. Their complaint is not with capitalism, but with the excesses of a system which they see as exploitative. Their complaint is also not with democracy, but with the current democratic institutions which they see as closed and unresponsive.

The PUC could have done worse.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Who's in and who's out

My colleague Juan Pablo Luna and I wrote this as a column, although it was published as a letter in El Mercurio.

I will reprint it in its entireity. The gist is that today's real political cleavage in Chile is not between left and right, or government and opposition, but between elites and everyone else. The upside is that we are not witnessing the kind of total breakdown in civil discourse that we saw in the late 60s and early 70s -- and which one at times observes in the US. The downside is that the institutions created to ensure that discourse at the political level have left out too many people, and those are the ones who today are demanding to be heard, in Chile and elsewhere. The challenge is to take those demands from the street back to political institutions, but to do so, the institutions, and the people within them, have to want to change.

There is little to indicate so far that they do

Indignados e incluidos

Hace algunos días, bajo la consigna "¡Salvemos la democracia!", un grupo pequeño de académicos, en representación de un conjunto de más de cien colegas del mundo académico, político y de los medios, todos jóvenes e ideológicamente transversales (entre los cuales nos encontramos), se reunió con el ministro Secretario General de la Presidencia para entregarle una carta que exigía avance en la implementación de la inscripción automática, reforma que fue aprobada en el Parlamento en 2009. Luego, se hizo lo mismo con la presidenta de la Comisión de Constitución del Senado, Soledad Alvear, en las dependencias del Congreso en Santiago. Unas horas más tarde, ese mismo edificio fue tomado. El contraste entre las cordiales reuniones de la mañana y las escenas de la tarde no podría ser más fuerte ni más elocuente.

La capacidad de reunir personajes de tan amplio espectro político en una causa común y la cordialidad de las reuniones sostenidas con representantes de la clase política nos recuerdan que, a pesar de los problemas reales que enfrenta el sistema político chileno hoy, estamos lejos de una crisis como la de 1973. En gran medida, lo ocurrido en el país hace 40 años se asemeja mucho más a la polarización actual de los partidos políticos en EE.UU. y su incapacidad de llegar a acuerdos en el Congreso, incluso cuando los riesgos de no acordar son más que evidentes. La clase política chilena todavía no ha perdido la capacidad de dialogar.

Pero si la aún existente capacidad de dialogar y de aprobar proyectos de ley indica la ausencia de una fuerte brecha entre las fuerzas políticas del tipo que varias veces en el pasado ha llevado a quiebres institucionales, la brecha emergente, como demostró la invasión del ex Congreso, es más preocupante. Porque no se trata de una brecha entre derecha e izquierda o entre estudiantes y el Ministerio de Educación, sino que entre indignados e incluidos. Esta división es la que los hechos recientes ponen en evidencia.

Si bien es usual culpar al mercado por las brechas que separan a indignados e incluidos en la sociedad chilena -y por cierto que el modelo económico contribuye-, es el modelo político, aún preso del legado autoritario, el que ha persistido en una fórmula que privilegia la estabilidad y el diálogo cupular, sobre la inclusión y la participación. El modelo político, por diseño, obtura la inclusión de grupos y actores emergentes.

Si algo tienen en común los indignados en todo el mundo, es la frustración de aquellos que no logran hacer oír sus demandas, ni hacer valer sus derechos. Mientras las vías de comunicación se multiplicaron exponencialmente en nuestra vida cotidiana, el diálogo entre indignados e incluidos no existe.

Una posible solución a los conflictos actuales consiste, precisamente, en que ambos grupos se reconozcan mutuamente y dialoguen. Para ello, los incluidos tendrán que darse cuenta de que "su Chile" no es el Chile de una proporción significativa de la población. Los indignados tendrán que aceptar que la política, en democracia, supone negociar en el ámbito institucional. Debatir sobre un nuevo texto constitucional, en un ámbito de apertura y participación, puede contribuir a generar puentes entre ambos grupos, y ojalá termine siendo el primer paso en la construcción de una democracia de mayor calidad, en la que sean muchos más los incluidos y muchos menos los indignados.

INAP, Universidad de Chile

Instituto de Ciencia Política, PUC

Friday, 28 October 2011

Continuing the push for automatic voter registration

As I posted here, a few of us circulated a letter which was signed by academics, journalists, and others with an interest in public affairs, demanding that the political system implement automatic voter registration. Currently in Chile one has to register to vote, and voting is mandatory. Many people, especially youth, do not like the idea of making that kind of life-time commitment.

From a letter, a kind of movement has emerged. In this week's Qué Pasa magazine there is a profile of the movement. They interviewed some of us, which was fun because when you get 10 academics and politicians in a room being interviewed, the result is similar to when a robin returns to her nest and tries to feed ten hungry chicks.

Notwithstanding, it is good that we are getting exposure, as the ultimate objective is to pressure the political class, and especially those in Congress, to move forward - quickly - on a constitutional amendment passed in 2009, and which would totally change the electoral game. We might not see a massive movement of young people into the voting booths, but it would certainly increase the legitimacy of the system

The Economist's dim view

Once again The Economist takes a critical view of the government's handling of the student movement.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Navia nails it

Here is Patricio Navia's comment on last week's shameful takeover of the ex Congress building in Santiago, which houses parliamentarians' offices and committee rooms.

Money quote:
... la falta de democracia se corrige con reformas democráticas, no con interrupciones del proceso legislativo.
What is particularly sad is that many in the Concertación were temped to support the demonstrators, confusing populism with popular will, and demonstration with democracy. Over the following days they backtracked, but one can't help but feel that the Concertación has unlearned the lessons learned so painfully after 1973: that democracy, and democratic institutions, matter.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Storming the Bastille

Last week a group of sixty or so protesters stormed the former Congress building in Santiago, interrupting a Committee meeting to which the Education Minister had been invited, and refusing to leave until parliamentarians signed a letter committing to a constitucional amendment on a series of points including the holding of binding referendums.

This in itself is cause for concern. More worrying was the reaction of the President of the Senate, Guido Girardi, who took the easy, populist route and declared that as the parliament is a public institution and belongs to the people, he would not have the protesters removed. Worse still, was the fact that most of the Concertación supported Girardi's decision.

Jorge Correa Sutil, however, a former minister and Constitutional Tribunal judge, reacted thusly in a letter to El Mercurio:

Señor Director:

Un grupo de personas se tomaron dependencias del Senado. Su presidente declaró que mientras él estuviera en el cargo, no desalojaría con Carabineros, pues el Senado era "el lugar de los ciudadanos". Los ocupantes lo abandonaron luego de obtener que un grupo de parlamentarios se comprometiera por escrito a una reforma constitucional de su agrado.

Como los ciudadanos de Chile son iguales ante la ley y el presidente del Senado, segunda autoridad de la República, no puede discriminar arbitrariamente entre ellos, Girardi notifica a los grupos de presión que pueden tomarse las dependencias del Senado y permanecer ocupándolas por la fuerza hasta tanto no obtengan un compromiso de legislar a favor de sus intereses. Entre ellos, quedan notificados los evangélicos que se oponen a la legislación que favorezca las uniones homosexuales, los familiares de presos que pidan leyes de amnistía y cualquier otro grupo con la audacia y organización suficiente. Si son desalojados antes de obtener sus proyectos de ley favoritos, podrán acusar a Girardi de hacer discriminaciones arbitrarias.

De no ser censurado el presidente del Senado, el Parlamento haría bien en derogar el artículo de la Constitución que declara que Chile es una república democrática, pues en las repúblicas los ciudadanos deben ser tratados como iguales, y en las democracias los legisladores no hacen ni discuten proyectos bajo medidas de fuerza.

Jorge Correa Sutil


And from the "Stupid Things People Say" Files, the Minister of Justice announced that promotion of judges would depend on a review of how they are sentencing those arrested during the student demonstrations. This has lead to the Judges Association to declare that the judiciary has never been put under this kind of political pressure, not even during the dictatorship.

I suspect that this has less to do with any sort of authoritarian crackdown, and more to do with wishful thinking, clumsily stated. Even so, justice ministers should not be making clumsy statements based on their wishful thinking.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Automatic Voter Registration Now!

A few colleagues and I circulated a letter which was published this week, signed by over a hundred academics, columnists, television personalities and other concerned citizens, demanding that Congress pass the legislation required to move forward on a constitutional amendment already passed in 2009 regarding the automatic voter registration. We later held meetings with the Secretary General of the Government, Cristian Larroulet, the president of the Senate's Constitution Committee, Soledad Alvear, and more meetings are planned for next week.

The group is called Salvemos la Democracia!, which is a slightly histrionic indication of where things stand in Chile right now. We hope to later be able to bring other issues to the fore which politicians seem unwilling to deal with, but whose resolution would help a great deal in addressing some of the political disenchantment currently being manifest in the streets.

I reproduce the letter below. The idea was to bring together young people, from across the political spectrum, and who were not active on the front lines (ie. elected) of politics.

Chile tiene en la actualidad uno de los sistemas de registro electoral más extraños del mundo: en la Constitución existe la inscripción automática desde abril de 2009, pero en la práctica seguimos teniendo la obligación de inscribirnos en un registro disponible en ciertos lugares, en ciertos días y cierto horario.

Si todos los sectores políticos manifestaron su voluntad de eliminar esta verdadera barrera a la entrada a la participación política, ¿qué pasa que la inscripción automática hoy no está vigente? Se requiere de una ley que la implemente. Los responsables han aludido la dificultad técnica de incorporar parte importante de los no inscritos al padrón automático. De esta manera se pone en riesgo su implementación para las elecciones municipales del 2012 y presidenciales – parlamentarias 2013.

El resultado del actual sistema: después de 21 años de democracia, más del 90% de los mayores de 45 años votan, pero sólo el 20% de los menores de 30 años lo hace.

Chile tiene la capacidad de acelerar el proceso y cumplir lo señalado en la reforma. Lamentablemente la inscripción automática significa para muchos representantes mayor incertidumbre respecto de su propio resultado electoral, escenario que prefieren evitar. El incentivo pareciera estar en dejar las cosas como están, mientras se sigue debilitando la representatividad de nuestra democracia.

Los firmantes de esta carta, formando parte de un movimiento ciudadano transversal, no buscan una ventaja electoral para un partido o sector político determinado. Del mismo modo tienen visiones distintas respecto del debate de fondo sobre la voluntariedad u obligatoriedad del voto. Entre ellos también existen diferencias respecto de las otras modificaciones que requiere nuestra democracia. Aun así, todos coinciden en que el estado actual sólo consolida un padrón estrecho y avejentado a la vez que augura menos competencia y participación electoral; la inscripción automática es paso esencial y prioritario para revertir la crisis de representatividad.

Por lo anterior, especialmente en un año en el cual la juventud se ha tomado la calle para expresar su deseo de incorporarse al debate público, se hace urgente que los actores políticos cumplan su compromiso. Sabemos que nuestras instituciones públicas son capaces en corto plazo de salvar las barreras técnicas que implica este desafío. Lo que demandamos es la voluntad política para que esta reforma se haga operativa antes de las próximas elecciones municipales. Estamos contra el tiempo y no podemos esperar un día más.

A través de esta carta y los abajo firmantes exigimos al Gobierno, Congreso y Partidos Políticos que discutan con urgencia inmediata la legislación que permite la pronta implementación de la inscripción automática.

Sebastián Iglesias, Cristóbal Bellolio, Sebastián Bowen, Claudio Fuentes S., Jaime Bellolio, Marcela Ríos, Robert Funk, José Francisco García, Tomás Chuaqui, Lucia Dammert, Francisco Javier Díaz, Patricio Navia, Jorge Navarrete, Juan Pablo Luna, Nicolás Grau, Mauricio Dorfman, Humberto Sichel, Felipe Heusser, Marcelo Brunet, Luis Felipe Merino, Rodrigo Castro, Danae Mlynarz, Eugenio Guzmán, Cristóbal Aninat, Lucas Sierra, Oscar Landerretche, Julio Pertuzé, Alejandro Micco, Stephanie Alenda, Andrés Valdivia, Claudia Heiss, Daniel Hojman, Aldo Schiappacasse, Juan Pedro Pinochet, Claudia Sanhueza, Eduardo Engel, Javier Couso, Andrea Betancor, Aldo González, Andrés Azocar, Camilo Ballesteros, Cecilia Castro, Sebastián Cantuarias, Gonzalo Müller, Consuelo Saavedra, Ángel Soto, Vlado Mirosevic, Jorge Contesse, Gonzalo de la Maza, Sergio España, María de los Ángeles Fernández, Pedro Glatz, Cristóbal Huneeus, Alex Godoy, Alejandra Jorquera, Soledad Teixidó, Marcelo Mena, Claudio Castro, Juan José Ossa, Rodrigo Jordán, Matias Asún, Daniel Manoucheri, Rodrigo Guendelman, Fernando Paulsen, Claudio Agurto, Luis Argandoña, Davor Mimica, Javier Sajuria, Alfredo Joignant, José Miguel Benavente, Rolando Jiménez, Monserrat Nicolás, Carlos Correa, María Gracia Subercaseaux, Roberto Méndez, Kenneth Bunker, Andrea Repetto, Harald Beyer, Camilo Feres, Cristina Bitar, Felipe Melo, Elisa Zuleta, Axel Káiser, Andrés Kalawski, Diego Schalper, Gloria De La Fuente, Pamela Díaz-Romero, Manuel Antonio Garretón, Matías del Río, Juan Carlos Eichholz, José Viacava, Pablo Ruiz-Tagle, Patricia Politzer, Sergio Micco, Kenzo Asahi, Leo Prieto, Patricio Fernández, Max Colodro, Cristóbal Tello, Cristóbal Yurazseck, Javier Fano, Esperanza Cueto, Javier Sanfeliú, Pablo Lira, Juan Manuel Astorga, Andrea Sanhueza, Rossana Castiglioni, Francisco Javier Urbina, María Olivia Recart, David Altman.


A soccer game was held today. Not unusual for a Sunday afternoon in Santiago.

But this time, citing security concerns, one of the teams, Universidad Católica, announced that they would limit the amount of Colo Colo supporters in their stadium (which is located in one of the city's finer neighbourhoods). Policy duly took up the task of ensuring not only that Colo Colo supporters did not enter the stadium, but that they did not get anywhere near the stadium. People wearing Colo Colo t-shirts were taken off buses headed in a suspiciously sports-fanatical direction. Those who refused to halt their travels or show identity cards were arrested -- about 100 people in total.

Some are accusing the police of being classist, as Colo Colo fans tend to come from a lower middle class background. This may be, or maybe not. Far worse, it seems to me, is to be detained by policy, and in some cases arrested, on the basis of the T-shirt one is wearing. At at time when the country is tense, student leaders travel to Europe to wallow in admiration from aging revolutionaries, when the crisis of capitalism is leading to occupy movements around the world, Chile is dedicating its precious resources to making sure we wear the right T-shrit. Nice.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Chilean spring in the Canadian fall

For some time the foreign media have been observing Chile's student movement, usually with a sympathetic eye. A few days ago the Guardian published this.

It is inevitable, I suppose, for the press to take kindly to the David and Goliath narrative which the students inspire. So the experience of sharing thoughts on current Chilean politics with 'Chileanists' from around Canada and the United States at a seminar at the University of Toronto's (my alma mater) Latin American Studies programme.

Along with some admiration for the students, there seems to be real concern for where Chilean politics is heading. McGill academic Philip Oxhorn said it best, I think, when he pointed out that social movements are very good at demanding rights but very bad a governing. The current impasse between the students and the government is pretty much about this point. How much will the students be allowed to influence political decisions over things like the budget? Should the be allowed to do so? Who do they represent? Is it good for democracy for a social movement to shove the political parties aside? But on the other hand, why have the political parties been unable to take on their cause?

The general consensus among the eggheads was that Chile is in for interesting times, that this may not be a good thing, that the political and economic model was ripe for change, but the political and economic elite has been unwilling to bring about this change. And yet, as Patricio Navia pointed out, polls do not show a groundswell of support for an outsider, populist candidate. Chileans seem to prefer insider soft-populists like Golbourne and Bachelet.

Interesting times.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Maybe it's pink in more ways than one

The Financial Times, the famous pink newspaper which is supposed to be impressed by high growth rates other things which can be graphed, has published this on the Piñera government.

In trying to understand why Piñera is unpopular despite a robust economy, they hit the nail on the head:
Businesses have shareholders; states have citizens. Companies have employees – who willingly surrender some degree of their personal sovereignty in return for a wage. In countries, or at least democratic ones, everyone feels entitled to play a role. Corporate boards have executives – who perform delegated roles that the CEO, by and large, orders them to do. Governments have ministers – who are political collaborators and interlocutors, not just subordinates.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Argentine Model

Here's a little something Francisco Javier Díaz and I have written on the Argentine model. We are not the first to notice the similarities with what is happening in the US, Greece, and elsewhere. Our point is not that others should do exactly what Argentina did, but rather, that what the Argentine case shows is that business as usual doesn't work, and usually just deepens the crisis. The only actor who can get a grip on what is going on is the state. The idea that this crisis was caused but too much spending is just wrong. It was triggered by a mortgage crisis which resulted in a banking crisis which turned into a crisis of confidence. The rest, as Hillel said, is commentary.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


In Chile 9/11 is a particularly heavy date. Yet judging by the front pages of the main newspapers this morning, both the Chilean and US significance seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

Here is my take on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, written for El Dinamo.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Buenos Días a Todos

Been travelling, so haven't had much time to post.

But the past week in Chile has been marked by death. Last Friday, an Air Force airplane crashed into the Pacific as it was trying to land on Juan Fernandez island, carrying aboard a team of journalists from the national television network (TVN) as well as Air Force personnel and the head of an NGO which was set up to help islanders in their post-tsunami reconstruction. The accident has shocked Chile:

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Contradictory victory

Today is day two of a two day national strike. Day one was eerily calm, except for some barricades early in the morning which made the commute from some outlying areas a bit slow. Downtown was quiet, and many people just took the day off, or went to work, and left, early.

As a result, the government declared a kind of contradictory victory. On the one hand they concluded that the unions were paralyzing chilean society, and on the other announced that the strike had been a failure as things pretty much progressed as normal.

Day two, however, has been more active, with a massive march organized by the labour unions. By early afternoon, the largely peaceful demonstrations had, for a change, turned more violent. The government will use the violence, for a change, to argue that the social movement is composed of radicals and thugs. The unions will claim that, against all prediction, still have a capacity to bring thousands out into the streets.

Meanwhile, no one is talking about education.

The Economist this week reports on the state of affairs in Chile. It's a good report, bringing out the irony of the situation -- Chileans better off than ever, and more irritable than ever. The last line -- "it's not clear what might happen next" -- may be a little overly dramatic. After all, at this point, it's not clear what will happen next in Egypt, in Libya, in Greece, in Spain, in the UK, or the US. As a result, I know exactly what will happen next: the price of gold will keep going up.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Breaking the illusion

Regular readers of this blog will know that, in general, I have been supportive of the creative ways in which the student movement in Chile has brought the world's attention to a system which suffers from serious problems, including inequality, high cost, and in many cases, low standards of quality.

Which is not to say I don't think they have made mistakes. Specifically, there have been errors in political calculation, and there is an increasing tendency towards populism and away from trying to resolve the problem of higher education in Chile. In this column, written with my colleague Juan Pablo Luna, we analyze some of these mistakes.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Our time has come

This video says a lot about what is going on in Chile. While the government has tried to portray the students as ideological, or manipulated by ideologies, or just as molotov-throwing criminals, here we see something else. It is, of course, somewhat romanticised, but it is not too far off, and portrays something far closer to what most Chileans see than to what the government is suggesting.

So on the one side you have two kids simply saying 'our time has come', and on the other, a group defending its economic interests. Unless something changes, it will be very difficult to reach agreement.

The other thing that is noteworthy: the video is featured on El Mercurio's website.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Looking in the rear view mirror

As I discuss here, it feels as if much of the current discussion on education currently going on in Chile is being carried out as if we were in a car going at 120 km/h, but looking only in the rear view mirror. Many of my colleagues in public education seem to think that the solutions to many of the problems lie in returning to some ideal past. Except that past never existed.

Today there are far more students -- probably close to ten times more -- in university than there were forty or fifty years ago, and they come from a much wider socioeconomic background. There are far more PhDs teaching in those universities. The demands on those teachers, in terms of research and publishing, are far greater. There is far more contact with the outside world, far more publishing in indexed journals, and far more original research being carried out.

What has been lost, by design, is the conviction that education is a right and that this right should be guaranteed by the state -- in other words, that there should be a public education system. The student movement is about that, but it often gets mixed up with this misplaced nostalgia, especially when the teachers' union gets involved. It would be useful if they did not mix the two sentiments.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Something happened on August 4th

Cacerolazo 4 agosto 2011 from Jonathan Bravo on Vimeo.

The Chilean Way


N° 87/11


Washington, D.C., August 6, 2011 - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Rapporteurs on the Rights of Children and Freedom of Expression express their concern regarding the serious acts of violence that took place during the student protests that occurred in Chile on Thursday, August 4th, which allegedly included the detention and disproportionate use of force against hundreds of protesters, among them high school and university students.

According to the information available, in order to break up a series of unauthorized protests, organized in response to educational policies, law enforcement used personnel on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles, who allegedly beat the protesters and used teargas and fire hoses. State spokespersons confirmed that during the dissolution of the protests hundreds of people were detained and almost a hundred police officers were injured. According to available information, a high number of high school students, including minors, and university studentes, were among those apprehended.

The Commission notes that the rights to association, assembly, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights broadly guaranteed by the American Convention on Human Rights. Given the importance of these rights for the consolidation of democratic societies, the Commission has maintained that any restriction of these rights should be justified by an imperative social interest. In this sense, the Commission observes that the States may impose reasonable limitations on protests with the objective of ensuring that they are peacefully carried out, as well as to disperse those protests that turn violent, so long as such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. As the actions of state agents must not discourage the rights to assembly, association and free expression, dispersion of a protest may only be justified under the duty to protect people. The security operations that are implemented in these contexts should contemplate those measures which are the safest and the least restrictive of the fundamental rights involved. The use of force in public demonstrations should be exceptional and strictly necessary in accordance with internationally recognized principles.

In all cases, the authorities should take the superior interests of children into special consideration when carrying out security operations and adopt all necessary measures to assure that children are protected against violence of any kind.

The Commission reiterates its concern regarding the grave events that occurred on August 4th, and urges the Chilean State to adopt the necessary measures to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, imposing only those restrictions as may be strictly necessary and proportional, and taking into account the State’s special obligation to guarantee the rights of children.

The IACHR has requested information from the State on these events, based on Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Black Thursday

A couple of days ago I said I would save my comments for the release of the CEP poll. Here they are. And here is the poll. In sum, the Piñera government continues its freefall and is now the least popular government since the CEP began polling. Its support is below what is thought to be the right's base of about 35%, and is almost half of what Pinochet got in 1988. The Concertación doesn't do much better, and the basic message is, 'throw the bums out!'

But the poll was released on the same day as university and high school students organized another protest. These protests have become a weekly occurrence in Santiago and across the country, as I have highlighted in previous posts. But This one was different, as the government did not 'authorize' the march, converting the entire discussion into a battle of wills between the student movement and the authorities. Rather than a demonstration over education, it became about the right to demonstrate. The Constitution, by the way, guarantees the right to peaceful, unarmed, demonstrations without prior permission (Chapter III, Art. 19).

Having unconstitutionally not granted permission, the government called out the troops -- not the army, but the policy, which in Chile is a branch of the Armed Forces -- and stations men in riot gear throughout the downtown area. By lunch on Thursday, the air already smelled of tear gas, and as I left a restaurant with colleagues, we saw a group of kids -- high school aged, not university students -- running away from five or six armed vehicles and water cannon.

Things only went downhill from there. By Thursday night, there were barricades across the city, and some 800 people arrested. The government managed to reignite what was a faltering student movement into a broader discussion on the state of politics in Chile, what kind of government this really is, and whether the country is becoming ungovernable. Nice.

Driving to work on Friday, things were calm, but the feeling downtown was a bit like the Monday after the 2010 earthquake. Workers were clearing the streets, removing large stones which the demonstrators had left, broken glass, barricades. The banks had been particularly targeted for abuse, and a La Polar department store had been burned.

Meanwhile, and quite predictably, the students refused the government's offer, and continue with the strike. I will have more to say on that in a column to be published this week.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bad press and worse numbers

I thought I would not write about the latest Adimark poll, partly because it really is getting a bit boring to post every month about the government's awful poll numbers, and in part because the CEP poll is due tomorrow and I thought I would cover both.

But then Patricio Navia alerted us to this report in The Economist about the Piñera government's old boys' network, and it seems the two are not entirely unrelated. The government -- the entire political class, in fact -- is seen as unresponsive, elitist and out of touch. It is not difficult to see why.

When the CEP numbers come out, I will write a bit more about how damaging this all is, becuase there is no obvious receptacle for the massive discontent. Is Chile turning into a breeding ground for some populist candidate? Some seem to think so. I am not so sure.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Velasco's feelers

Former Finance Minister Andrés Velasco is putting out presidential feelers. In this week's Que Pasa magazine, Velasco indicates he is considering a presidential run. This is interesting in several respects. First, he is close to Michelle Bachelet, so his position raises questions on whether Bachelet is serious about returning to national politics. What is more likely is that she is lukewarm, and if there is another serious Bacheletista candidate, she'll pass.

Second, Velasco is apolitical -- at least he is not affiliated with any political party. Clearly Concertacionista, Velasco can claim, even more so than Bachelet did, to be independent. As public opinion polls consistently show the low levels of public support for political parties, this could be a plus.

Third, Velasco has a good track record. While it's true that many on the left of the Concertación blame him for having been too stingy, most rational observers recognize that his frugality during the good times allowed Chile to implement an important sitmulus when the 2008 crisis hit, providing a cushion for the economy and a boost for President Bachelet. This has contributed to...

Fourth, Velasco has an international reputation. Not only was he hailed by finance minister colleages for his handling of the crisis, since leaving office Velasco has been selective in his public appearances in Chile and abroad. Most recently, the 15-point paper he delivered with Francisco Javier Diaz at the Progressive Governance Summit in Norway was very well received (my own paper with Francisco Diaz can be found here).

Fifth, while he is no spring chicken, Velasco represents a new generation in Chilean politics. At 50, he is a generation younger than most of the well known leadership that still clings to the Concertación (Lagos, Insulza, etc.), and a decade younger than his former boss, Bachelet. He may still be too old to really attact the kids on the street, who like the hippies, don't trust anyone over 25, but for a country where politicians tend to be grey haired, Velasco represents a change.

Velasco is accused by many of being too academic, but I have seen him deliver speeches where he can turn on the political charisma. The real question is whether he has a plan for programmatic and ideological renewal of the Concertación. He won't win on his CV alone.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Kaa and the Chilean Jungle

Less than a year ago the foreign press was filled with glowing reports on the heroic Chilean miners and the heroic efforts by the heroic minister of mining and his determined taskmaster, Sebastian Piñera, to rescue them. After the rescue, the magic combination of determination, top-notch engineering, political will, and luck was dubbed by the government 'the Chilean Way'.

The contrast with this report which appeared a few days ago in the New York Times could not be greater. The foreign press has caught on to the La Polar case, and, more importantly, to the general unscrupulous practice retailers use to sell credit, through which they make much more money than by selling doodads and trinkets imported from China.

Several things are worrying about the report:

1. That the rest of the world is noticing that the Far West kind of capitalism that was sold to Chileans and other Latin Americans has exhausted the stage which brings benefits. The true costs are starting to show.

2. While the US and Europe went to through a similar period, they also had civil and political societies prepared to correct the mistakes through regulation. There is little hope that can be done (at least in Chile).

3. That foreign investors could begin to make the connection between the kind of business practices being employed towards consumers and those which they may encounter in the broader business community.

Without wishing to employ Latin American stereotypes, it's a jungle out there. Beware of Kaa.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Moneda Shuffle

The much anticipated cabinet shuffle finally took place today, and it was major surgery for a government suffering from chronic illness. I commented on the shuffle on the radio this evening. Basically I mentioned the following points:

1. It was clear the Education Minister Lavin had to go. Rather than eliminate him completely, he was moved to the Ministry of Planning, in charge of social programs. Because of its high profile, high budget, and social implications, the UDI has insisted on holding on to this ministry. Unfortunately, making room for Lavin meant removing a very good guy, Felipe Kast, who was doing a good job. Kast deserved better.

2. Into Education went former Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes, who was also doing a good job. Education is a prize of sorts, as his good performance led the president to ask him to resolve the government's most important headache. However, Education is a ministry that tends to eat up its ministers. If Bulnes does well here, he becomes presidential material.

3. Two old-school UDI politicians are brought in: Pablo Longueira into Economy and Andres Chadwick becomes the government spokesman. These are seen as signs that the government recognizes its need to strengthen the way it does politics... the politics of politics, as it were. However, most observers are puzzled as to why Longueira was put in Economy -- not his strong suit. And the most obvious comment on Chadwick is that he is the president's cousin. The optics, at the very least, are not good.

4. Laurence Golborne, the hero of the miners' rescue, is moved from Mining and Energy to Public Works. This is a bit of a reward for Golborne, in that he no longer has to deal with the environmentalist opposition to Hydroaysen and takes over a ministry which offers the opportunity to inaugurate roads and bridges. It is the ministry that Ricardo Lagos used to leverage his popularity straight to the presidency.

5. Many were surprised that Interior Minister Hinzpeter survived, as he has been a target of the UDI since day one, and has had a few major missteps. He comes out strengthened by the vote of confidence the president has in him. Piñera has made it clear that Hinzpeter is in for the long haul, and has paid a price in other ministries to keep him. The UDI, in general, emerges as the dominant party in this government. No more talk of new right.

6. Just as Hinzpeter is strenghthened by getting to keep his job, the Secretary General of the Presidency, Cristian Larroulet, is weakened by getting to keep his. Most evaluations of the job he has done in the ministry, which is a kind of prime ministership, responsible for various aspects of public policy design and dealing with Congress, have been lukewarm at best. In fact, it is likely that Chadwick will handle much of the political dealings with Congress. Larroulet probably got to keep his job in exchange for the other concessions the president gave the UDI.

The bottom line is that a cabinet shuffle is always about two things; fixing those areas which are not doing too well, and responding to a public evaluation of how things are going. They allow the government to press the reset button. In this sense, the cabinet shuffle was was past due, and by making such deep and broad changes, the president has given the signal that he recognizes that major surgery was required. Good for President Piñera.

But if one considers what the underlying challenge for the government is -- a popular demand for more political representation and accountability -- this shuffle does quite the opposite. It removes the two youngest members of the cabinet, Kast and von Baer. It brings in two senators, allowing the UDI to select who will replace them in the Senate, thereby undermining the popular will of the voters who elected them. It brings in more hard line UDI politicians with direct links to the architect of the military regime's constitution, Jaime Guzman, weakening the Hinzpeterian argument for a new, more liberal, right.

In other words, one step forward, two steps back.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Locating Humala

A lot of people are talking about a post-neoliberal period, while others (especially in Europe) seem to think we have entered a post-social-democratic age. In Latin America, the big discussion of the last decade -- Latin America's left turn -- has also been overtaken by events.

In Peru the election of Ollanta Humala presents further challenges, as his ideolgical past and his more centrist presidential campaign makes it difficult to place him. This is not particularly new for Peru, which has had several candidates campaign from the left and then move to the right, but many thought Humala would fall snugly into the Bolivarian camp. Francisco Javier Díaz and I have written a piece for the UK's Policy Network on some of the challenges Humala, and Peru, may face in this regard.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Piñera's Penguins

Here's a little something that was published today on the America's Quarterly website. I have already commented on the Adimark poll, but as I say in the piece, maybe the most interesting part is the low marks Chileans give the government on the economy. It's similar to what was happening in Chile in 2008, right before the crisis hit. However, at that time Lehman and his Brothers helped bring inflation under control. Also, the Bachelet government's social policy helped mitigate some of the effects of the crisis (or at least, helped project the image of a government concerned about mitigating the effects of the crisis). It's not very clear what internal or external factors will help change things around this time.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Summer Loving for Education

The creativeness of Chilean students demanding better quality education keeps getting better (maybe their education is pretty good after all):

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Another day, another poll

The June Adimark poll was released today, and it conforms what CERC said a few days ago. The government is in freefall. President Piñera's disapproval ratings are at 60%, and his approval ratings have dropped 10% in two monts, reaching 31%. In the same two months, approval of the government's handling of education dropped from 60% to 26%. This, as well as Education Minister Lavin's approval (46%), is obviously due to the ongoing student demonstrations. The poll was taken before the government's announcemnts on the subject two days ago.

Amazingly, the Concetación is still unable to harness this discontent, as its disapproval ratings continue to rise as well, and are now at 68%.

In other words, a plague on both your houses. Except that, in times of such political discontent, the plague is really on everybody's houses.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

No Mojo, the numbers

A new CERC poll came out today, and it confirms in raw data what it means it means to have lost mojo. President Piñera's approval ratings, at 35%, have dropped by 12%.

Of course it is not hard to see why. So with thousands participating in street demonstrations in favour of better public education, the president responded tonight with a televised announcement: The plan includes a new education fund, improving access and accreditation of universities (he didn't say how), creating a new bureaucracy for universities (he didn't say what) which would, amongst other things, seek greater transparency in order to determine which universities are for-profit, something which is currently illegal in Chile.

This last point is particularly interesting because at least two ministers in the Piñera government have been partners in private universities. In fact, the Chilean version of the General Accounting Office announced today it would look into Education Minister Lavin's ties to on private university.

The other oddity is that the president announced a Great Accord for Education. But clearly his statement today was more of a proposal than an accord. With whom has he reached this accord?

Still, there is not much one could disagree with in the speech. There were also few details, and no indication of how he will proceed legislatively, where the whole thing will get bogged down.

And so it goes....

Monday, 4 July 2011

The lost mojo

For the last twenty years Chile's calling card has been political governability and economic stability. That is why one of the things I have been arguing for a while is that sooner or later the social unrest in Chile would begin to be a cause for concern for foreign investors. While the government looks upon the demonstrations with seeming disdain, I always thought that the attitude would change once Chile's image abroad started to take a beating.

Well, here we go, folks.... A few weeks after the Economist published a note, it seems Time Magazine has taken notice. Apparently, the president has lost his mojo. I bet he didn't even know he had mojo, but he doesn't any more.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Mass demonstrations and the government

Over the last weeks and months the tendency to hold mass demonstrations has become stronger. Hundreds of thousands have marched in favour of the environment, education, and diversity. This is unusual for Chile and is worthy of further examination. It undoubtedly goes beyond the issues themselves, and presents a real challenge to every political sector and the political system as a whole.

The government's reaction has also been interesting. For the most part, the approach has been to try to isolate the demonstrators from the broader public, presenting them as violent and ideological extremists. As I say in this column published today en El Dinamo, this language seems out of date, from another -- shall we say -- more military time. Worse still, it seems to imply that these problems don't exist. That there are external forces -- either foreign interests or foreign ideologies -- financing and pushing for causes which are not really in the interest of, as an American president once put it, the great, silent, majority. If this is so, Chile seems to be heading down a great, not-so-silent, road.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Normality, according to the Economist

The Economist thinks Chile is becoming a normal country.

They miss the point entirely.


Something is happening. The Arab Spring, the Spanish 'indignados', and now Chile.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest against various proposed power generation projects and in favour of a better public education system. As Chile since 1990 has had a fairly weak civil society, the sight of so many people on the street is quite amazing. The demonstrations are mostly peaceful, although often they end in some isolated incidents, arrests and tear gas.... which is what tends to get more media coverage.

One of the most creative protests in favour of a dying educational system was last night's Thriller flash mob.

Today, a mass protest, originally aimed a pushing for gay marriage, will likely end up being a wholesale inclusion-fest, pushing for rights and accountability on the environment, education and who knows what else.

The bottom line, of course, is that all this is happening because neither the government nor the opposition have shown much interest in responding, nor do they seem to know how to respond. If this doesn't change, in the medium term we'll continue to see street protests, hopefully all as peaceful, creative and high sprited as the one in this video. In the long term, however, we could be sowing the seeds for some sort of extra-systemic political force or candidate. That could be thrilling, or just scary.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Latest polls.... the Toledization of Chile

Last week's publication of May's Adimark poll shows that the Piñera government is in the doldrums. This led to frenzied speculation that a cabinet shuffle was in the works, even though the president himself was travelling in Europe. The UDI was (is) particularly eager to remove Interior Minister Hinzpeter, whom many blame for the lack of political dexterity the government has exhibited in recent months. RN, for their part, are anxious to remove Ena von Baer. But Piñera returned to Chile on Sunday and announced there would be no reshuffle.

Two observations can be made. On the one hand, Piñera clearly sees cabinet changes as signs of weakness, rather than political responsiveness or accountability. Since coming to power, he has only removed people (Ossandon, van Rysselberghe, etc) when their position becomes absolutely untenable or when they show clear insubordination. That is not the case with von Baer or Hinzpeter (in fact, quite the opposite).

Second, as I observed in this column in El Dínamo, we are entering a period where high growth rates and a generally good economic situation is not being reflected in poll numbers. This is troubling, and in the column I make the connection with Toledo's Peru. The disconnect between economic performance and political popularity tends to create space for extra-systemic actors; populists, caudillos, Ollana Humalas, etc.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

State of the (Dis)Union

As readers of this blog will know, Chilean presidents traditionally deliver a sort of state of the union speech on 21 May. Here is the speech President Sebastian Piñera delivered this year.

Rather than comment on the speech itself, I think the most notable thing is what is happening around the speech, and around the country. Last night 40,000 chileans took to the street in Santiago to demonstrate against the construction of a hydroelectric project in Patagonia. This has been going on, although in fewer numbers, over the last few weeks and around the country. At the same time, students are demonstrating and striking against the government's education policies, and to some degree, becuase of a lack of policies in higher education.

The government is presiding over high growth rates, but its popularity doesn't break the 45% mark. In fact, if you subtract unfavorable from favorable, the government's approval ratings are something like minus 8%. It seems this government is sort of peruvian -- economic success is not translating into approval. This is not good for democracy or governability.

And the result was seen today, both inside and outside the legislature. The tension at times broke out into name calling, poster waving, and police 'escorting' hecklers from the audience. Neither opposition nor government are distinguishing themselves in this behaviour. The Concertación is increasingly frustrated. Chile's institutional structure is such that the opposition really has little else to do than oppose. But outside the legislature, the Concertación could be much more constructive.

And the government, which has the legislative ball in its court most of the time, does not seem to have come to grips with the fact that it needs the Concertación in order to get its agenda passed, as was made clear with last week's discussion on extending maternity leave to 6 months.

And it doesn't help to have the president paint the picture he did today... of a country that wasted 20 years in the wilderness, only to be saved by the current administration. It doesn't help to claim credit for policies designed and announced by the previous government, or to exaggerate productivity, export and employment figures, as this University of Chile report details.

The opposition is not reacting well to this provocation, but it is a provocation. A healthy debate is part of the return to 'normal' politics, and represents progress from the stunted dialogue of the transition years. But it appears that Chile is on the verge of losing a civic culture that it had built up over twenty years, and that spells trouble.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chilean Republicanism

I was struck by the reaction of many Chileans to coverage of last week's royal wedding. Here's a commentary on it, published in El Mostrador.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Public, not Political, Servants

Harald Beyer nails it. All the commentary on Housing Minister Matte's resignation last week missed the essential point. But as Beyer points out, in a modern and professional public service, political and professional responsibilities are fairly clearly laid out. The Concertación went further than anyone else in trying to install some sort of professional public service, but it did not go far enough, and the current government has backtracked even on the small steps taken.

However, political responsibility is political responsibility, and ministers resign even in systems with professional civil services, even for errors that are not of their own making. Matte was roundly praised for doing something that any minister in her position ought to do. Sometimes they are pushed, sometimes they take the hit on their own. That it should elicit such praise from all quarters doesn't speak well of Chile's current political system.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday and chocolate

There is a column in today's Mercurio which brilliantly ties in some Good Friday themes and the current debate on the so-called Ley del Super 8, aimed at limiting how much access children have to junk food while at school.

The column makes a good point about different kinds of food prohibitions in history -- from why Jews do not eat bacon to why supermarkets in the West do not sell filet of Snoopy.

But Gallagher is wrong on the Super 8 Law. For him, as with most economists in Chile, it's all about freedom to choose (for junk food, if not for abortions or day after pills). He talks about being in favor of consumers having access to all the information necessary in order to make an informed decision. This is the old perfect market sham. Not only does it not exist, it makes no sense when it comes to children. Just as parents have the right to decide what to feed their children, society should have the right to decide collectively what to feed its children.

I understand (judging from glimpses of late night cable that make me fall asleep) that Jaime Oliver is going through similar battles in the US, where school boards, committed to keeping costs down, are fighting his attempts to introduce healthier foods in school cafeterias. At the same time, critics on the right are lambasting Michelle Obama for suggesting that Americans -- subject to the biggest obesity epidemic in history -- try to cut down on the Whoppers.

For those Republicans, as for Gallagher, it seems to be another small step towards Communism. They should see it as a giant leap towards the gym.