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23/12/2009 | Chileans get it right

Carlos Alberto Montaner

The Chileans seem to be safe from the ideological idiocy so stubbornly entrenched in the political life of Latin America. The most notable result of the recent elections is not the decisive first-round victory of Sebastián Piñera, as predicted by all the polls, but the clear-cut defeat of Marco Enríquez-Ominami (MEO), a candidate from the banana left, which is a neighbor of Bolivarian Chavismo and, in this case, emits a glamorous Parisian scent.

 

The young deputy, raised in France, barely attracted 20 percent of the votes. His campaign chief and main financial supporter was Max Marambio, a man with a shady and violent past, linked for decades to the Cuban government, the basic source of his remarkable personal wealth. If MEO had won the presidency, Chile would have entered a new period of convulsions and confrontations, with no other fate than an increase in poverty, more relative backwardness and a considerable destruction of capital.

A few days after this first-round election -- the second, between Piñera and Eduardo Frei, will be in January -- there was another relevant news development: Chile was admitted to the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is the 31st country to join that select group of nations, generally considered to be the world's best governed.

The reason given to accept Chile to the club is the quality of its ``public policies.'' And that's true; in Chile, the public sector is reasonably honest, transparent and efficient. It is not perfect and major deficiencies exist, as those of us who habitually read the reports of Freedom and Development, the great national think tank, know. But the quality of the Chilean state is the highest in Latin America.

That is what explains the fidelity of a huge majority of the population to the model of government in which it lives. Chileans don't want to demolish it, as the irresponsible carnivorous left proposes, but to perfect it, because it has produced results.

Seventy-five percent of the voters, those who voted for Piñera or Frei, wish to live in a country ruled by law, open to the world, a country where individual rights are respected, while the productive apparatus, ruled by competition, remains in private hands, because they have bad memories of the old state-run eras.

Chileans don't want a government of caudillos but of institutions guided by meritocracy. And they reject radical adventures and class-driven confrontations because the social porosity and the economic opportunities permit them to rise up the ladder through honest work, within the system's codes.

In sum, Chileans are not afflicted with ``third-worldism,'' that chronic disease of the mind and heart that annihilates the neurons and prevents people from interpreting reality with a minimum of common sense. Far from hating the First World, they wish to become part of it.

Naturally, there are differences between Piñera and Frei, as there are between Obama and McCain, Thatcher and Blair, Aznar and Felipe González, but they are differences in shading.

Essentially, Chileans debate -- and disagree about -- the intensity of the fiscal pressure and the allocation of public funds, or the rate of interest, or the volume of monetary mass (extremely important subjects, of course) but they don't question the institutional heart of the system, based on the separation and balance of powers, or the philosophical foundations of a liberal democracy, or the basic principle that all citizens must place themselves under the authority of the law, beginning with the rulers.

They do so because they agree that that model, accompanied by the freedom to produce and consume, has enabled the formidable development of those 31 societies meshed in the OECD, to which Chile justly belongs.

Good for Chile. Nations are not safe from political catastrophe until the adults in overwhelming numbers support the economic and legal model that rules their coexistence, convinced that the state is capable of accommodating their values and interests in a just manner, while the politicians and functionaries properly perform their tasks as administrators.

Has any Latin America society, other than the Chilean, achieved the same degree of consensus and cohesion? Probably Costa Rica and Panama. Maybe Peru, Colombia and Brazil, with great difficulty, lean in that direction, but mature democracies are not abundant in our landscape.

They continue to be the exception in a tumultuous and immature continent.

Miami Herald (Estados Unidos)

 


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