Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Mr Obama comes to town, part II

Somewhat belatedly, here's a column I wrote last week on the speech that Barack Obama gave in Santiago. Billed as a new Alliance for Progress, the policy Obama outlined was little more than a rehashing of existing policy towards the region.

The most substantial change, in my view, was an insistence on partnership, rather than US leadership. The American president quite rightly recognizes that it is difficult to claim political, economic, and moral leadership when his country is in such political, economic and moral trouble. When many Latin American countries are in better fiscal shape than the US, when the US dollar is losing value against commodity-inflated economies, when the level of political discourse in the United States seems to fall to Latin American levels of animosity and populism, the US begins to look like just another country in the hemisphere.

Still, there is a place for US leadership and the region continues to look to the United States. Obama would be foolish to overplay his hand in this regard. As Libya shows, President Obama tends to shirk his global responsibilities until it becomes absolutely necessary, for fear of being labelled an imperialist. He should worry less about what his Harvard classmates and Michael Moore might say, and worry more about promoting democracy and helping those who fight for it.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Mr. Obama comes to town

I don't even want to think about what traffic will be like tomorrow. The visit of anAmerican president always implies a major security operation, which means that downtown Santiago will be a mess.

The visit of an American president also lways implies some national soul searching. Is his visit a slap on the back for the current Chilean administration, or a comment on Chile's place in the world? What kind of activities will there be for the president, and for his family? Are they appropriate? Are the guests invited to the official dinner the right ones? What is the exact nature of the nuclear agreement signed? Will Obama comment on sticky subjects like the Mapuches? Will he be fed over-antibioticized salmon?

It seems that one place to start contemplating the 22-hour blitz-visit is reading the interview Obama granted El Mercurio.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

It ain't the economy, stupid

An Adimark poll released last week showed that the Piñera government's support has not fallen, but seems to have stabilized in the low forties. This suggests two things -- first, that the high point a few months back was really a bit of a honeymoon based on the dramatic rescue of the 33 miners, and second, that for all its antics, its spending, its support in the media, the government has been unable to win new support. The right maintains 40-45% of the vote, which is pretty much the percentage Pinochet achieved in 1988. In this respect, the numbers are not so interesting.

Except that they come at a time of falling unemployment and high growth rates. Go to any restaurant, any mall, and people are busy buying flat screen TVs, iPads and new cars. It is estimated that 200,000 new cars were introduced to Santiago roads last year. And most of them are driving to work at the same time as me.

So what's going on? One possibility is that people are adjusting their expectations. That's what this latest poll shows. They were hoping for change, and got more of the same. Americans might be able to relate. Unlike the US, however, about 70% of those polled say that the previous administration -- Michelle Bachelet's -- was better. This will drive President Piñera bonkers.