Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chile ends an era

The result of Chile's second round vote today was not a surprise: Sebastian Piñera won, narrowly but clearly (a little over 3% margin).  The surprise is that he was leading very early in the campaign, winning convincingly the first round to the point that his margin of victory today was rather short.  The biggest surprise though is how a prosperous Chile, ruled by a successful coalition for 20 years, decided to send home, thank you very much for your trouble, those people that allowed them to join the OECD. We can suppose that at the end of the campaign enough Chileans felt ingrateful and guilty enough and thus returned to the losing "Concertacion" to make sure the defeat would not be humiliating.

There are reasons to explain how a government whose president has currently an amazing 70 to 80% favorable ratings could not transfer them to its candidate.

First there was the 20 years itch, or whichever way you want to describe voter fatigue, or even ennui. Voters can be amazingly fickle, from the ungrateful Chileans today to the downright stupid ones in Venezuela who keep voting in the most corrupt and incompetent administration of Venezuela's history. Unfairly in Chile they decided that it was time for the other guys.

But the other guys were helped a lot by the mistakes of the "concertacion", a perennial alliance of once formidable adversaries: the socialist and christian democrat parties of the pre-Allende years. Their alliance allowed, as Punto Fijo did in Venezuela, Chile to get away from the bloody Pinochet dictatorship into the most successful economy and democracy of South America, or even Latin America for that matter.  There was a price to pay for that: the opposition took quite a time to appear because it could only come from the right as the Communists and other left of left groups where discredited after Allende.  Thus, once the main Pinochet supporters became too old, a new and modern Liberal Right emerged and after 20 years managed to win. Christian Democrats and Socialists had become too much alike and novelty was to be sought elsewhere.

The other error was the reelection bug that bit former president Frei, the second one of the concertacion period. For reasons for which I do not know all the gory details, primaries inside the concertacion were avoided creating a break with a new ambitious newcomer, Enriquez-Ominami, who run as a third party candidate. He got a fifth of the vote in the first round and obviously in spite of his very late return to the fold, it seems that enough of his followers either stayed home or went ahead and voted for Piñera.

Thus ended what will be seen as the most successful coalition government in Latin American history so far.

This is neither good nor bad for Chile: none of the candidates was going to rock the boat, and even less on the successful consensus economic policies. The amazing stability of the Chilean democracy is so set that it was one of the reasons why the OECD welcomed Chile. The image above which I watched live on TV is the amazing visit that defeated candidate Frei (right) made to Piñera (left) headquarters. Where else do you see a presidential candidate make a concession speech AND visit the winner afterward, that same night!?  When you see such a democratic behavior and such a graceful concession you know that Chile has a few good years ahead of itself. This is the real good of the whole process!

The election though will have some effect on Latin America. As I already discussed, the election of Piñera would be the momentous political event of 2010 as it will affect the re-composition of South America leadership.  Piñera has already stated that there is no democracy in Venezuela.  I am certain that Frei thinks likewise but the compromises he has had to do to try to prevail in the second round would have limited his role to counter Chavez (1).  Uribe who was alone at UNASUR suddenly will find a friend there, and very likely make a second one as Peru will be more likely to support them.  At the OAS Panama and Costa Rica will certainly be more vocal than what they already are.  Thus the evasive policies of these organizations in front of the tantrums of Chavez might not reach an end but will certainly make Chavez life more difficult, the more so that his checkbook has run sort of dry.  Let's wait for the return of Honduras, and we will see.

But there is another effect, a stealth one.

If you look through Google news in Spanish the reports on Piñera election are rather neutral in their headlines. Seek the news in English and you will see in almost all titles the words "tycoon" or "billionaire" used in the title next to Piñera, almost as if this one had used his billions to buy himself the presidential chair. Besides the fact that it is insulting for Chilean democracy, it also reveals the frame of mind that has set inside the US and European press rooms: socialists presidents should now be the norm in South America, because, well, you know... thus the eternal praise of Lula as the wished for ruler, further supported now that Chavez can be described as an accidental buffoon.

It is only time that it becomes again respectable for the right to be a democratic opposition, such as it is in Western Europe where once a social consensus is reached, social democrats and liberal democrats can take turn in office for the greater good of their people. Pretending that Lula is the only option and that you need a tycoon to twist the will of the people is not only a disservice but plainly stupid with dangerous implications for the future of democracy as it denies the right for Latin Americans for an opposition that is not approved by the press rooms of Western prosperous democracies.

On this respect the political maturity of Chile seems light years ahead of most of Latin America country. In fact if in Venezuela the opposition is so weak it is due in large part that it is too afraid to be seen on the right of Chavez. And this comes since 1958 where everybody pretended to be left of center, even the natural right who called itself social-crisitiano.  They might have practiced on occasion neo-liberal policies, but they always called themselves leftist.  Heck, the International Socialist has Venezuela with three, 3, socialist parties, a record of sorts!!!

PS:  I was forgetting!!!   The vote in Chile IS MANUAL, you know, pencil and paper; and all ballots are, gasp, counted by hand!!!!!!!  And yet, barely one hour after the voting stations closed (ON TIME!!!  IMAGINE THAT!!!!) the first bulletin was announced, and Frei acknowledged defeat.  Never mind, as I described above, that he went all smiles to kiss Piñera....

Who was it that keeps saying that Venezuela as the best electoral system in the world?  Could that person please inform us of the complete results of the 2007 vote, please..... Could that person also explain to us how will Chavez concede defeat gracefully, EVER?


1) For the record, even though my political feelings would have led me to the concertacion, today my preferences are made strictly on who is worst for Chavez.  Thus I am pleased by Piñera victory though I feel very sorry for the concertacion who did not deserve its defeat.


  1. 1979 Boat People12:28 AM

    Super markets in Toronto now carry quite a fews "Made in Chile" and " Made in Costa Rica" products. Most of these products normally imported from Mexico before.

    I have not seen products "Made in Venezuela" in these super markets yet.

  2. 1979

    the only Venezuelan food items you could find are

    harina pan
    ron cacique or santa teresa

    and this in a specialty store, and the three last ones maybe in Miami but i doubt in Toronto

    fortunately Goya brand carries a lost of stuff that can be used as a substitute for Venezuelan cuisine.

    on rare instances you can find Venezuelan chocolate, bit not processed in Venezuela, just made from Venezuelan beans.

  3. Boludo Tejano12:46 AM

    Daniel, you do realize that Enriquez-Ominami, A.K.A. MEO, ran as Chavista Lite. He lost some support when an old interview was dug up where he said he wished he had been born in France- or was it Italy- instead of in Chile

    His parents were in exile during the Allende years, so he spent some of his childhood in Europe.

  4. I am glad to see the opposition win in Chile, maybe it will help to inspire the ones in Venezuela.

    The old guard was in power too long, it got complacent and needed a weeding. Too much longer and the government bureaucracy becomes one with the party and you end up with a beast.

  5. Boludo

    I am sure Juan Nagel will give soon more details. He is a product of the glamorous "gauche caviar" of Paris who loved to dot over Chilean exiles.

    In other words, he is all glamour with prestigious last names of Allende helpers, but with little substance.

    But he ran an "insurgent" campaign and the trouble he created implied that some of his supporters voted from Piñera even though they should not have done so. We need to see the final totals and compare them with the first round, something I hope Juan will do. On paper, anyway, after the first round Frei should have won.

  6. 1979 Boat People1:00 AM


    These super makets now have a Latin America food section to serve the community.

    One time, i saw Harina Pan products (made from white corn or yellow corn) but these products were not made in Venezuela.I will double check them this week.

    Love reading your posts Daniel.

  7. 1979

    You are right, they are made in Colombia. The reason is very simple: we are not allowed to export food because "el pueblo" will starve. thus POLAR who makes harina PAN in Venezuela also makes it in Colombia since over the years they learned to eat arepas. That is the corn flour you find in Toronto.

    you need to know that Venezuelan corn flour is different from the US one, the one used for corn bread. It does not work in that recipe, just as US corn flour does not work for arepas. It comes from the processing of the corn, very different.

  8. 1979 Boat People1:44 AM


    Thanks for the info.

  9. Lemmy Caution5:43 AM

    In last weeks presidential debate on TV, both candidates clearly said, that they don't consider the Chávez regime as democratic ( -> 1:06).
    In a debate last year ME-O was asked if he sympathises with Chávez. He answered "no".

    In german news there are 2 different versions. Some highlight Sebastián Pinera as a billionaire, others say that there is no much difference in the political aganda of Pinera and Frei. I find the second better informed. In the US its seems to be the same (

    ME-O wants to introduce more european socialdemocratic values into chilean politics. With a view to the still unequal income distribution in Chile, this doesn't appear that farfetched to me. He was the only one, who had reforma tributaria high on his agenda and I consider it as a good idea. Neither Lula nor the Concertación managed such a reform.

    I guess we will enjoy another civilized Government change from center left to center right in Brazil in october.
    All the civilized process of the chilean elections stands in stark contrast to what happens in Venezuela under Chávez.

  10. As I said when Obama got elected (which I was not greatly happy about): I hope and pray that he will do a good job and improve the lot of his citizens.
    With Latinoamerica looking more like 'Hugo and friends', I am happy to see someone NOT from the left win a presidency, and I do really hope that he does a great job :)

  11. Boludo Tejano10:33 AM

    On paper, anyway, after the first round Frei should have won.
    In looking at the numbers, I also predicted a Frei victory. I posted that opinion along with numbers from previous elections to prove my point at CC. JC disagreed with me.

    Reason: post first-round polls indicated a Frei loss. Some of the MEO voters were not lefties, but protest voters in the style of Perot in the 1992 US election, JC explained. He proved to be right.

  12. bloody Pinochet dictatorship

    leads naturally to...

    "tycoon" or "billionaire" used in the title next to Piñera,

    I've never seen bloody marxist, dictator used in the Heralds.

    Now mark my words here well, in 30 years an island based bloody marxist dictator will get the credit for easing the way forward into a 21 Century Social Democracy.

  13. Daniel, you say"

    "....the frame of mind that has set inside the US and European press rooms: socialists presidents should now be the norm in South America"

    The Western press is only starting by referring to Pinera as tycoon and billionaire.We can expect them to keep a critical spotlight on his doings and soon carp about his shortcomings in comparison to the successful previous government.

    For all its excesses, the only one to breach this consensus in a significant way is FOX news.We need more news organizations that can offer real variety and a different angle than the old " party line", of the Western press.

    Another point is that after 20 years, of having this unbeatable coalition in Chile,with no real alternative,people might not even have a reason to go vote, so I am glad that this coalition has been defeated, for the sake of democracy.

  14. Anonymous5:46 PM

    I am surprised that when speaking of Marcos Perez Ominami, nobody cares to remember that his campaign's chief was Max Marambio. Marambio although a Chilean businessman, has been a cuban operator for years (as he admitted in his book). Thus, MEO,the "young socialist dissident" might well be the Chavez/Cuban Trojan horse. Remember:MEO said he does not like Chavez. Well Chavez also said he did not like Castro or comunism in his first campaign. Presenting themselves as "independant", they just wait to be elected to show their real face. On this subject read Elizabeth Burgos in Webarticulista.

  15. Milonga9:42 PM

    Daniel: Am reading you, but have a cast in my right arm/hand... Difficult to write... If you understand Portuguese, this is an excellent analysis: I am also pissed they keep calling Piñera a billionaire rightist!

  16. I'm extremely happy about this victory for two reasons; 1) it shows that a mature democracy has evolved in Chile, right along with its economic advancement, that is a model for the rest of the continent,one that is 'tamper-proof', and b)it is another indication of the momentum shift away from Chavez continent-wide that began with Honduras (actually it may have began in Panama)and hopefully will be strongly confirmed in Brazil later on this year. Combined with his internal troubles, it has rekindled my optimism that the tide is finally starting to move in the opposite direction, and we are possibly in for some big sea-changes this year; though exactly what nature and what level they are going to be I wouldn't dare predict at this point.


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