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The Independent Institute
Commentary

Open Letter to Sebastian Pinera


WASHINGTON—Your election as president of Chile is reverberating far beyond your country.

As a group of friends have had the chance to discuss with you in recent months, Latin America’s traditional enemy has been what Chilean historian Claudio Veliz called in his seminal book the “centralist tradition,” alluding to the concentration of power. Eventually that authoritarian legacy crystallized in the radicalization of the left through revolutionary terrorism and the radicalization of the right through state terrorism.

Your country was emblematic in that process—which is why Chile’s subsequent progress turned it into a “model.” People speak of Chile’s democracy and the reduction of poverty, but those are byproducts of a more basic phenomenon—the moral cleansing of the left and the right. The governments of the last 20 years have largely renounced the ideology of Salvador Allende, whose radicalization led to Augusto Pinochet’s murderous regime. Less obvious—because they were in opposition—was the embrace of the rule of law on the part of the right. Your triumph, with many votes from a young generation of Chileans who look beyond the Allende-Pinochet paradigms, turns that page.

Your leadership in the modernization of the right has been impressive. You were a student at Harvard when Pinochet staged his coup. You worked as an academic during the dictatorship, opposed Pinochet’s constitution in 1980 and campaigned for a “No” vote in the referendum in which the dictator tried to perpetuate his regime. Later, you opposed attempts to stop proceedings against accused human rights violators in the military, and have supported the Museum of Memory in honor of the victims even though the project was unfairly monopolized by the center-left government. On a different front, you have led a number of reluctant conservatives to accept the legalization of divorce, same-sex civil unions and the sale of the morning-after pill.

Your victory also challenges the mentality of many Latin Americans. At a time when the remnants of the authoritarian left are cannibalizing liberal democracy in certain countries, your vision of the region as a dictator-free zone of enterprise and rule of law is salutary. In the process of moderation of the left in part of Latin America, one thing has been missing: decisive regional leadership. The result has been a failure to fight back against the meddling of the revolutionary states and a paralyzing complex whenever there has been an opportunity to think big—the chance was missed to eliminate barriers to free trade across the hemisphere. You will not be able to change this landscape on your own, nor would it be good politics to engage in political warfare with every leftist autocrat. But your leadership could have an energizing effect on others, particularly since several presidential elections are likely to lead to changes of government.

Your victory could help reshape the way Latin Americans think of business. According to surveys by Global Enterprise Monitor, the region’s population is one of the most enterprising in the world. Yet the “centralist tradition” has sullied the image of business people. The fact that one of Latin America’s greatest investors has won a popular election in a continent known for economic inequality is a reminder that it will take enterprise and business acumen to help Latin Americans triple their per capita income.

You are often compared with Silvio Berlusconi. But unlike your Italian counterpart, you have acted more as a Warren Buffett-like investor than a manager of your companies. You placed your estate in a blind trust this year and you are selling your stake in LAN Airlines and the Las Condes clinic, and turning Chilevision into a foundation. You have said that the separation of business and politics is of paramount importance. Your friends as well as your enemies will hold you—implacably—to this standard.

I have been disillusioned too often by public figures and learned to be cautious. Politics is not the realm in which Latin America’s virtues have traditionally shone. It is also apparent that several constraints will hold you back—the powerful left-wing opposition, a right-wing party that will not be too comfortable with your overtures to other sectors, and the legal arrangements that give the military a disproportionate stake in the country’s copper wealth. But it has been a long time since anything coming out of Latin American politics has been so encouraging. Please, don’t let the cause of freedom down.


Alvaro Vargas Llosa is Senior Fellow of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. His Independent Institute books include Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, Lessons From the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, and Liberty for Latin America.

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