Thursday, 12 September 2013

The day after

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary since the coup d'état which toppled Salvador Allende and installed a 17-year military dictatorship in Chile. There were ceremonies - religious and civil - protests, and lots and lots of opinion. Here is an op-ed I wrote with Carl Meacham in the Miami Herald on what it all means. Here is another one (in spanish)  which was published today in La Tercera on how we move forward.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Piñera in Time

President Sebastián Piñera was interviewed in Time Magazine. What strikes me is how much the interview sounds like him. Even in English, his cadence comes through. Also, how critical he is of the US.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

40 years

September 11th will mark  40 years since the coup which toppled Salvador Allende. I wrote a column (in spanish) on how Chile remains politically segregated, even to the point of being unable to organize a national commemoration of the events.

My friend Alberto Pando, former CNN reporter, has produced this excellent documentary (with English subtitles).

Monday, 19 August 2013

Religion and politcs

I love Campbell and Putnam's American Grace. My hope is to replicate something like it for Chile some day. There is no question that in Chile, as in the US and elsewhere, religion continues to play an important part in politics. Recent events in Egypt are the most recent and depressing example.

The tension is between the desire to create (or maintain) secular politics while not decreeing secularism in all of society. Many people want to hold on to their beliefs. As I say in this piece, the only way to do so is to understand, as Jacques Berlinerblau has written, the difference between secularism and atheism.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Why Nations Fail (But Hopefully Not Think Tanks)

On Monday we're launching a new think tank in Chile, called Espacio Público. The keynote speaker is James Robinson, one of the coauthors of Why Nations Fail. My colleague Eduardo Engel interviewed him (in Spanish) here.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Downton Chile has set up a new blogs section, and a few of us who used to be occasional columnists now have these very nifty mini blogs. Mine is called Polítifunk. Today I published my first Polítifunk column, comparing Chilean politics and society -- and really what's going on in the rest of the world as well -- to the world of Dowton Abbey. We have one foot in one century and one foot in another, and unless we are very careful it is all going to end in tears. That's my happy thought for the day. Anyway, here's the column.

Mapuches, but not just Mapuches

Whenever I give talks on the challenges facing Chile in the near future, I always mention the unresolved tension with indigenous communities. This week, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, issued a report that highlights the Chilean state's mishandling of indigenous issues, and warns that a continuation of these misguided policies could explode into real violence. The BBC reports.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Some thoughts on Egypt and Snowden

In addition to the University of Chile, I teach at the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. Here is a bit I did (in spanish) for their online magazine, Apuntes Internacionales.

Messy Right

It has been hard to keep up with events in the Chilean right. In the last few months the two parties that make up the Alianza coalition have put forward four candidates. Today, only Evelyn Matthei remains. Here, in as succinct an explanation as any, Patricio Navia explains how and why.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Source: AP / Nelson Antoine

Here is something I wrote with my colleague Francisco Javier Diaz (currently running for congress) on the protests in Brazil and they challenges they present for social democracy.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Belen III

What began as a personal tragedy for the family of a little girl and then became a discussion about abortion rights in Chile, has again turned into an issue of Piñera's leadership, after he went TV to announce that he was proud of Belen's "depth and maturity".

An expert quoted in this Washington Post piece, is scathing: “So what the president is saying doesn’t get close to the psychological truth of an 11-year-old-girl. It’s a subjective view that is not based on any scientific reasoning to support it.”

Belen II

I mean, really. Is this a serious country?

Sunday, 7 July 2013


It is the kind of story that used to appear on US daytime talk shows in the 1990s. An 11 year old girl is pregnant as a result of being abused by her stepfather. Her mother defends the stepfather, saying that the girl encouraged the rape and that it was consensual. The only thing that's missing is Ricky Lake and flying chairs.

But even though the lives of the girl, Belen, and the baby are at risk, no abortion is possible because a law imposed by Pinochet in 1989 (not 1973, as this New York Times article suggests) prohibits any kind of termination. 

So now there is a debate in Chile, which will last maybe 10 days. Then we'll forget about it and things will remain the same. Hopefully, Bachelet's high levels of popular support provide some political cover to do something about these outdated laws once she's elected at the end of the year.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The primaries in The Economist

I haven't posted much recently, as it has been hard to keep up with both Chilean politics and everything happening around the world. But fortunately, we have The Economist. Here is a post they just published on the recent primaries in Chile. Given the electoral system, it is hard, although not impossible, to foresee a majority for Bachelet in Congress. Even with a majority, Bachelet 2.0 will not be easy. The social movements will not go away, the price of copper is going down, the economy is cooling, and the coalition she represents is exhausted. Should be fun.

Sunday, 30 June 2013


For the first time, national primaries were held today.  Results should be announced at about 7 pm local time. In the meantime, the Diario Financiero, our version of the Financial Times, interviewed me on some of the implications of the primary campaign and likely outcomes. Here it is.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Chile is number one.... if you read from right to left.

If you wish to understand what is happening in Chile, this one chart pretty much explains it.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Trudeaus and Chilean liberalism

Liberalism in Chile has a funny history. During the first half of the last century the Liberal Party was considered conservative. And in the post-Pinochet era, liberalism is conflated with neo-liberalism. Since the centre of the political spectrum has been taken up by the Christian Democratic Party, and to some degree (depending on one's point of view) the PPD, there was little space for a new Liberal Party.

But today, in political upheaval that is redesigning the ideological and party spectrum in Chile, it's all pretty much up for grabs, and there are several liberal groups emerging, including a new Liberal Party and Red Liberal (in this case, red is 'network' in Spanish, not red as in red).  But even now, and although they are clearly liberal on social issues, they seem to have trouble moving past the neo-liberal worldview in the economic sphere.

So, taking advantage of the recent election of Justin Trudeau as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, I wrote this piece to remind them of another type of liberalism, in another country, in another time. And maybe, in the future, too.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

But they're only numbers

For some time it has been apparent that the numbers don't add up. Política, the political science journal I edit, published a paper a couple of years ago indicating that the unemployment numbers published by the Piñera government were, at least, problematic. Since then issues have popped up in other statistics, such as poverty. The ECLAC, which together with the University of Chile participated in the design and implementation of tools for measuring poverty in Chile, pulled out after accusing the government of political interference.

And now, last week, officials from the National Statistics Institute accused the government of having totally bungled the census. So we really don't know how many people live in the country, or where. Whether they are poor, or unemployed. And we don't know what the real inflation rate is. So we do not know whether the Central Bank is doing a good job or not with interest rates. So we don't know if our exchange rate is accurate or not.

But wait, it gets better!

The minister in charge of the census is the Economy Minister, Pablo Longueira. But he is now the ex Economy Minister, because he resigned to run as the UDI's candidate for president. The reason the UDI needed a candidate is that its previous candidate had to step down for, among other things, having millions of dollars in offshore accounts in the Virgin Islands.

One of the reasons that post-authoritarian Chile signed so many free trade deals, joined every regional group there was, tried to become an active member of the Pacific Rim, and, most recently, joined the OECD, was to prove that it was in the big leagues. The consolidation of strong, politically independent, and uncorrupt political institutions would be the basis for this integration, but would also be bolstered by it. In three years, however, that has all been thrown away. Again, the Economist has taken notice.

Monday, 8 April 2013


On the death of Margaret Thatcher. Others will write on her relationship with Pinochet, on the Falklands, on the ideological similarities between the model she implemented in Britain and what Chile went through.

My view is that there is one area where Thatcher was decades ahead of the Chilean right. She took on the establishment, and kicked it in what the brits would call an arse. Even though the target of her reforms was principally the labour unions and the obsolete and often state-run industries of post-war Britain, it seems to me that what she really did, probably intentionally, was put the final nail in the coffin of the old fashioned, Upstairs-Downstairs, Downton Abbey British right. Her model was one where hard work mattered and was rewarded. It was about opportunity, not Oxford. The high-flying, champagne-drinking, espresso-sipping, Michelin-starred London of today's City may be crass and overpriced and less quaint than the Hyde Park that Mary Poppins used to take Jane and Michael to, but it is, at the end of the day, a city of the twenty-first century. That was Thatcher.

More on this in my column in La Tercera.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

What she should do

Another piece from La Tercera where I, and others, have the chutzpah to tell Bachelet what she should do. I honestly didn't even know I was doing that when the journalist called. I thought we were just talking about the weather.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

She's back......Now for the hard part

So with this morning's arrival of former president Michelle Bachelet her honeymoon is well and truly over. At the airport she managed to avoid making major statements, but she won't be able to keep up the silent treatment for long.

I wrote something this morning for La Tercera on one of the less obvious challenges that Bachelet will face during the campaign and in government. The column was quoted in an article in Spain's El Pais.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

She's coming home

Last weekend Michelle Bachelet announced she would leave her post at the UN to, in all likelihood, run for president of Chile. Again.

Here is a column I wrote on the subject for America's Quarterly.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Is he or isn't he?

How much ink has been spilled on the subject of Pope Francis in less than a week? Most of this has been speculation, on what kind of pope he will be, what signals the Church is sending with his election, whether he supported the Argentina dictatorship, whether he is a right wing homophobe or a closet Commie sympathiser.

As the first Latin American pope Francis' place on the democracy-dictatorship-o-meter is important, not only because of the region's history over the last half century. As this Salon piece suggests, Francis may or may not represent the continuation of a thirty year counterrevolution in the Church, a reaction to Vatican II whose intellectual father was the former and now-retired Holy Father.

Pope Frank's actions thus far send mixed signals. Perhaps because the context is so different today, and the Church is more threatened by corruption than Communism, the signals seem to be that Francis will try to rein back the splendour and concentrate on the poor. This, together with Francis' Latin American roots, have led some to wonder wither the new pope might not be a secret adherent of Liberation Theology. But, as this article, sent to me by my friend Pablo Bello (@pablobello), suggests, things may not be so simple. Just because Francis is worried about the poor doesn't make him a liberal, much less a liberation theologian. Just because he favours good relations with Jews does not make him a fan of Vatican II. Just because the pope is not a capitalist doesn't make him a communist.

The whole debate seems so last century. But there is a deeper point and one that is more relevant for Latin America, and it pertains not only to how 'left' and 'right' mean different things than they did a generation ago, but how they also mean different things in Latin America. Is a pope who ministers to the poor, but is also a homophobe, left, right, or is he just Hugo Chavez? Does taking the bus to work make you humble, or a populist?

These are issues that have come up in Chilean politics. President Piñera, for example, took exception to the opposition calling itself progressive, saying that he, too, believed in progress. His government has been far more active in establishing regulations on things like second-hand and drunk driving than were the four 'progressive' governments of the Concertación, and he is likely to get a civil partnership law passed by the end of the year. Confused? Try being a chilean voter.

So far, the only thing that seem quite clear is that Francis is leaving the red slippers to Dorothy.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Where Hugo I'm not going

Hugo Chavez' death, while not unexpected, caused quite a furor last week. Typical questions included 'What future for Chavismo?', 'Who is the heir apparent?', 'What did Chavez mean for Latin America?'.

With that question in mind, here is something I wrote with Francisco Javier Diaz for the Policy Network in London. It is the English version of a column I wrote last week in La Tercera.

On balance, Chavez was not a good thing. But it would be irresponsible not to recognize the causes which led to his rise in Venezuela, and the conditions around the world which make his type of politics attractive for alienated voters and desperate politicians.

While Chavismo may or may not survive Chavez, elements such as populism, personalism, resource-exploitation and anti-Americanism will be with us for a while I'm afraid.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Que Pasa?

After a bit of a summer break, I'm back. The academic year gets going tomorrow.

Over the summer, I wrote a couple of columns for the weekly newsmagazine Que Pasa. The first was a tribute of sorts to Albert O. Hirschman. I have always found that his Rhetoric of Reaction was as good an explanation as any to why things get or do not get done in Chile.

I wrote the second on an airplane, having just watch Lincoln, the Spielberg film. It seemed to me that Lincoln's heroic efforts to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed put Chilean legislators, who have spent a quarter of a century blaming Pinochet for everything, to shame.

Anyway, hope to update more regularly now that we return to our regularly scheduled life.