The Magazine

Left Behind

Chile's retrograde socialists.

Mar 17, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 26 • By JOHN LONDREGAN
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Santiago, Chile

While the presidential primaries consumed the front pages of U.S. newspapers last week, the Colombian army's successful destruction of a base in Ecuador used by the FARC terrorists received only sporadic attention. Except for the remarkable success of the Colombian army in locating and destroying a nest of terrorists, the main participants all behaved about as one would expect: Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, and the FARC acted like thugs; Colombian president lvaro Uribe bravely stood up to terrorism; the French government was caught appeasing another terrorist organization, while international bodies meant to keep the peace held long meetings with no substantive result.

What ought to come as a surprise--an unpleasant one--is the reaction of the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. Chile's left of center governing coalition, the "Concertación," is often referred to as the alternative to the "toxic" or "predatory" left epitomized by the likes of the Castro brothers, Chávez, Correa, and Bolivia's Evo Morales. Indeed, last January Chilean Socialist (and president of the Organization of American States) José Miguel Insulza had the temerity to criticize Chávez's silencing of an opposition TV station--an act of principle that earned Insulza a fistful of obscene epithets from the petulant Chávez. How curious, therefore, that President Bachelet's initial reaction to the strike against FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was angrily to denounce Colombia's actions as unacceptable. Where, one might ask, was the voice of Latin America's "other left"?

Bachelet's intemperate reaction to Colombia's act of self defense is but the latest in a series of public statements and public policies that highlight the unwillingness of Chile's left actually to be Latin America's reasonable left of center alternative to the carnivores in Caracas and the homicidal ideologues in Havana. From a penchant for state-centered solutions, to a hostility towards law enforcement, to a disposition to impose abortion on a predominantly Catholic country, Chile's Concertación has proved remarkably hostile to personal and economic freedom.

Every Chilean president since March 1990 has been a part of the Concertación. During the period per capita incomes have approximately doubled, thanks to low tariffs and taxes, relatively little risk of sudden expropriation, and relatively little corruption. Yet the Concertación systematically denounces the very policies responsible for that prosperity. As it left power in 1990, Chile's military government imposed a constitution loaded with checks and balances, mostly checks. These made it hard to change status quo policies, which tended to be friendly towards markets. To make an 18-year-long story short, the Concertación has finally managed to place its own people in the supreme court, the constitutional court, the comptroller general's office, the national security council, the Senate, and so forth. They are now in a position to implement their shared program of "reform."

So what is the agenda towards which they have been working so tirelessly for so many years? In brief: statism, weakened law enforcement, and corruption.

First, let's consider a few of the Concertación's statist policies. The minister of health recently issued a regulation requiring all pharmacies to provide "morning-after pills" on demand, conscientious objection on the part of the pharmacist notwithstanding. When several major pharmacy chains took exception, they were threatened with massive fines until they buckled. The only whisper of complaint inside the Concertación came from a few members of the Christian Democratic party, whose manifesto clearly supports life and unequivocally opposes abortion. However, confronted with the morning-after pill controversy, the Christian Democrats' congressional delegation were mostly docile, save for caviling by the speaker of the lower chamber of Congress.

Then there is the burden of paperwork, which appears to be worsening. Businesses must endure the steady, hostile vigilance of government officials who seem to think of entrepreneurs as "bloodsuckers," to use the term of Socialist senator and presidential confidant Camilo Escalona. The government's education policy has also been hostile to market solutions. For example, an education reform bill contained a provision banning "for-profit" private schools. Was this based on evidence that the profit motive destroys academic achievement? No. Instead the government simply voiced its atavistic opposition to markets. When the opposition dug in its heels, and even some members of the government coalition balked, the provision was modified to allow for-profit schools--provided all the profits are reinvested in education!