Monday, January 18, 2010

Chile Elects Right Wing President - Bolivia Relations May Worsen

In our Opinion Section this week we look ahead at the implications of Chile electing right-wing billionaire President Sebastian Pinera on relations with Bolivia's Evo Morales.President Evo Morales and outgoing center-left-wing Chilean President Michelle Bachilet had rather
frosty relations but their relationship was one of quiet begrudgement and Bolivia and Chile did not particularly worsen their already bad relations. President Morales has a reputation for slamming his political adversaries and his ongoing name-calling fight with Peruvian President Alan Garcia may be a preview of Bolivian-Chilean relations to come as both Morales and Pinera begin long presidential terms this month. Pinera's background and persona could not be more different from that of Morales. Pinera comes from a wealthy Chilean background; his father was Chile's ambassador to Belgium and later to the United Nations in New York. Pinera lived in Belgium and New York, and then returned to Chile attending the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile where he earned extremely high academic honors and graduated with a degree in economics. He went on to get a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Harvard University in the US where he got a master's degree and and a PhD in economics. He taught for 3 years at Harvard before returning to teach economics and business in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. Pinera is a billionaire and owns 100% of the Chilevisión TV station, 27% of Chile LAN airlines and 13% of the Colo-Colo football club. He headed the presidential campaign for Hernán Buchi, a finance minister of ex-dictator Pinochet although he claims to have voted against Pinochet in the famous 1988 plebiscite election in which Pinochet was ousted. He is a member of the right wing National Renewal party and is allied with the ultra right-wing UDI party that openly supported the Pinochet dictatorship. Despite Chile trading power from a left wing to a right wing government, many political analysts expect the pro-business Pinera to do little radically change the status quo in Chile.
Evo Morales Ayma could not be more different from Chile's new President. Morales was born to abject poverty with no electricity or running water in the highland village of Orinoca to an indigenous Aymara family. Two of his seven siblings survived childhood and they lived in a three by four meter abode hut with a straw thatch roof. Evo attended primary school and started high school but did not finish. As a youth Evo held jobs as a llama herder, ice cream salesman, trumpet player, and baker before moving to the Chaparé cloud forest with his family in search of better economic alternatives in fruit growing. It was in Chaparé where Evo became involved in the coca growing union movement, eventually being elected the president of the five federations of coca growers in their struggle against government control and international erradication efforts. Morales' fight for coca gained widespread support in Bolivia where non-narcotic coca leaf is used for spiritual and medicinal purposes and chewed by much of the working class. In 1995 Evo united a coalition of poor farmers, jungle land colonists and indigenous people in a political party that despite numerous setbacks eventually broadened its support base to the country's middle class and won the presidency in 2005.     Morales is an outspoken indigenous union-leader socialist who has little personal wealth and Chile's new President is a white-looking harvard-educated, right-wing, soft-spoken capitalist billionaire. If this contrast of characters wasn't enough basis for a regional spat emerging, Bolivia and Chile have been bitter political rivals for over 100 years. Bolivian lost access to the Pacific to a Chilean land grab in a the War of the Pacific in 1879-1884 and Bolivian have not stopped rallying emotions against Chile ever since. Morales has joined this traditon often lampooning Chile for its refusal to give Bolivia a corridor to the ocean.  It remains to be seen whether Morales and Pinera will develop the kind of acrimonious and combative relationship Morales has with right-wing Peruvian President Alan Garcia or whether Bolivia-Chile relations will remain frictional but quiet as they were under Bachilet. It seems that the only hope of non-horrible relations relies on Pinera offering Morales some legitimate reasons to hope to access to the sea through a mutual dislike of Peru; a gambit of regional division that has long allowed Chile to keep the two neighbors from uniting against it as they did in the War of the Pacific over 100 years ago. The outlook for an actual improvement in relations is virtually nil but stranger things have happened.

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