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Hard-Line Socialism Overrules Chilean Consensus

By: Ángel Soto - @angelsotochile - Jul 18, 2014, 12:10 pm
The government of Michelle Ballet is pushing a tax reform en Chile
The government of Michelle Ballet is pushing a tax reform en Chile. (@Senado_Chile)

EspañolInstead of easing the tense, polarized atmosphere developed in Chile over the last few years, the recent “agreement” on tax reform in the Senate, between the ruling party and the opposition, has only ignited it further.

Regretfully, anyone who believed this would be a sign of a return to the “politics of consensus” was mistaken. Consensus prevailed in Chile during the 1990s and made the country an example for the rest of the continent. In those days, an economic model once stained by the original sin of Pinochet’s dictatorship became legitimized, and the country transitioned toward democracy. It combined economic and political freedom, displaying an average growth rate of 7 percent until at least 1997. It was called the “Chilean Consensus,” as an alternative to the “Washington Consensus.” The Chilean version of development was more realistic, less orthodox, more pragmatic, and consistent with our civic culture.

This consensus doesn’t exist anymore. The general attitude of public debate now follows a “with me or against me” type of logic; an attitude that sees the “other” not as a loyal opponent but as an enemy. In politics, this will lead you tothe edge of a cliff.

Several conservatives have criticized the tax reform agreement, pointing to the abandonment of “fundamental” ideas. They don’t understand that it was done to “avoid harming the country.” This attitude is consistent with principles, not pragmatism, as economist Juan Andrés Fontaine, a key figure in the fiscal agreement, has explained. On July 14, Fontaine, a former minister of Economy during the Sebastián Piñera administration, told El Mercurio that it “would have been irresponsible not to accept a substantially less harmful proposal than the original one.”

However, most of the critics has undoubtedly come from Chilean progressives. Deputy Guillermo Teillier, president of the Communist Party and a member of the ruling coalition New Majority, has made statements clearly indicating that there is no political will for an agreement. Teillier noted that the reforms have “goals that transcend this administration that have to do with the development of the country. It has sharp ideological edges.”

His words are taken from an interview released this week in the newspaper La Tercera, where the deputy added that “anything that rolls us back to the politics of consensus is fatal.” He went on to say that “there can be negotiations, but [they are done] in order to advance, to open a path, and not to impede the implementation of the reforms.”

With the same confrontational attitude, he referenced the former student leader and deputy, Gabriel Boric, in agreement. In an article ran by the same newspaper, Boric stated that it would be unthinkable to bend, as they have with tax reform, on education, one of the other pillars of President Michelle Bachelet’s reforms. “Making public what the dictatorship intended to be private — our most basic rights — is the axis that gives sense to her struggles,” he stated.

The most elementary conclusion is that — because of the progressives — we are headed back to the 1960s “forward without compromise” style of politics that damaged Chile. Meanwhile, conservatives remain cornered, haunted by their ghosts of the past and loyal to their self-destructive cannibalism.

Historically, Chile is a country that has yet to mature. It has spent a little more than 214 years as an independent nation fluctuating between the construction and destruction of political consensus. Today, it is suffering from a mid-life crisis — suicidal tendencies, or an incomprehensible madness — call it what you please. What is certain is that we are on the brink, once again, of a failed opportunity for development.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Ángel Soto Ángel Soto

Ángel Soto is an historian and political scientist. He is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society and a professor at the University of the Andes, Chile. Follow @angelsotochile.