Friday, 27 January 2012

Southern Tiger

Former President Ricardo Lagos has a new book out in the US. It's a kind of memoir. I think.

Here's my review in Americas Quarterly.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bad press

Maybe it's the island mentality, or maybe it's the over-reliance on technocracy, but Chileans love, love, love rankings. Quite often, Chile ranks far above its Latin American neighbours on almost any measure. So it comes as a shock when Chile does badly, especially when the country drops precipitously. For this reason, the publication of Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index has dealt a blow. The country drops to position number 80, and is now surpassed by places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Mali, and (ouch!) Argentina.

The cause? It's in the report:
"In Chile, where student protesters questioned the over-concentration of media ownership, violence against journalists included beatings, cyber-attacks and attacks on editorial staffs. Many of these assaults, often accompanied by heavy-handed arrests and destruction of equipment, were carried out by abusive armed police who were rarely called to account"
This confirms a phenomenon that I have been wondering about for a while. How is it that a government made up of people who have travelled, obtained postgraduate degrees at Harvard, speak many languages, and come from a private sector that claims to be open to the world, continue to think that the world is not aware of what is happening here? How is it that they continue to implement policies -- from education to security to aboriginal rights - that cause international criticism, whilst pretending that it has a model to sell to the rest of the world?

Increasingly, the world isn't buying.

Monday, 23 January 2012


Fortunately, the earthquake that hit Chile last week was political, not geological. But the agreement reached between Renovación Nacional and the Christian Democratic Party had the chattering classes, well, chattering. It was the first time since the early 1980s, and certainly since the return to democracy, that two political parties of different coalitions reach an official agreement on anything. The fact that it was on a package of political reforms is even more significant.

As I outline in this column, the reality is that the actual content of the agreement is rather short on details, or as Cristobal Bellolio says, "mucho ruido y pocas nueces". But after a long, hot year in which we thought that the political class had lost the capacity to talk to each other, the fact that the two parties were willing to take a leap into this unknown territory, is positive. It may well turn out that no agreement is actually implemented, or that the document becomes a starting point from which further negotiations may take place. The real value, however is these people have finally realized that, as Churchill said, "To jaw jaw is always better than to war war".

Of course, then he went to war.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


The US electoral calendar has gone into full gear, which is interesting for Chile in that one of the political reforms being discussed is primaries. In fact, the Christian Democratic Party held a primary today for the upcoming municipal elections. Here is something I wrote earlier in the week about the effects that primaries can have, using the US - a totally different kettle of political fish, I know -- as a comparative case.