(Guest Article by Valentina Lara-Sanchez) – As a 17-year old in Viña del Mar, I rode in the back of trucks waving flags stamped with your name hoping you would win the presidential election in 2010. You epitomized the change the country desperately needed. As a Chilean born in democracy, I could get past shady connections to Pinochet and forget about your involvement with the military during tumultuous times. You were the alternative to the fragmented Concertacion and with that came with more efficiency, collaboration and competency. Maybe you would run the country like the amazing businessman that introduced Red-Compra and owned LAN Airlines and my favorite soccer team, Colo-Colo.
My family waited in the streets of Cerro Castillo to see your inauguration. I spoke up for controversial policies even if that meant being one of the four students that rejected protests in a revolutionary environment at Universidad Catolica. I defended you in countless fights with my progressive friends arguing that you made the economy grow, created jobs and had even extended maternal healthcare. In the U.S., I told those that had never heard about our narrow country, that you were an excellent president, Harvard educated and a billionaire. An exception, and not the rule, in a region characterized by negligent and unprepared leaders.
The public questioned your leadership and credibility throughout your administration. Although the government’s approval ratings plummeted to their lowest rate in our new democratic history, I was still proud of you. Even when my friends in Santiago and Valparaiso were unable to attend school for six-months because you could not create consensus on higher education reform, as Mapuche activist burned homes and farms in La Araucania and when thousands protested against energy policy in Punta Arenas and Aysen. On the international front, I never doubted that the team at the Ministry of Foreign Relations would present an excellent case at The Hague and Peru’s maritime claims would be put to rest. To much surprise, I was forced to accept the results begrudgingly but believed that we could forge new relationships with our northern neighbor.
Poor organization and political errors resulted in defeat, but I was confident that we could win a larger battle in 2018. In June, I saw you and top members of your cabinet talk about the Chile we wanted. I clapped and smiled for the camera for 10 hours, listening to plans to address inequality, create beautiful public spaces, strengthen social programs and re-invent our economy. At the top of presidential hopefuls, you could potentially revert poorly executed reforms under Michelle Bachelet’s current administration, mend fragmented institutions and restore public confidence in politicians.
I cannot ignore that during your presidency, I felt like a relevant member of civic society. That being said, I have lost all respect for you after recent allegations of personal investment in Peruvian fishing companies in midst of The Hague proceedings. It is the first time in our contemporary history that a president crosses direct business interests with national priorities and security. Your actions are a disgusting conflict of interest. It is unacceptable that at a time when our top diplomats and international law experts were discussing how to defend our sovereignty you purchased almost 10 percent of stock in the Exalmar Group.
The investment is not only troubling considering tense bilateral relations with Peru in context of The Hague arbitration, but because the company operates in disputed waters. You did not publicly disclose the nature of these investments to the country, key politicians and experts during trial preparation and proceedings. You did not make mention of your intentions when Chile risked and actually lost 22,000 sq. kilometers of territorial waters. Through your private investments, you, Sebastian Piñera Echeñique, made a mockery of our institutions and national interests. And, unlike previous times, I do not see a way to support you.
Valentina Lara-Sanchez is a Chilean international development graduate student at Tulane University. Her areas of interest are conflict studies, gender-based violence and education in Latin America. She is currently an assistant to media organizations and a community-engaged graduate fellow at Tulane University.