I have come back to you from thorny uncertainty. I want you as straight as the sword or the road. But you insist on keeping a nook of shadow I do not want.
Good poets do not always write for their time, but this fragment from Pablo Neruda’s The Question repays some meditation by Chile-watchers.
Chilean history has been, of course, filled with thorny—or shaky, if you prefer a more apt but depressing metaphor—uncertainty. From its earliest modern beginnings, Chilean politics has proceeded in lock step with the country’s motto: Por la razon o la fuerza (“by right or might”), oscillating between both modes of governance, much to the peril of the Chilean people. And, while many of the country’s modern leaders—starting with Bernardo O’Higgins all the way up to Michelle Bachelet—have spearheaded salubrious economic and social initiatives, the nook of shadow persists, and its recent manifestation, under the Bachelet regime, is cause for some concern.
Let’s begin with the Chilean economy, long a model of Latin American inspiration. While Chile remains the most competitive economy in Latin America, inflation continues to color economic forecasts. Recovering only recently from a five-year low in 2014, Finance Minister Alberto Arenas was quoted in a Reuters article as saying that the economic “data confirms that the Chilean economy is going to grow around 3 percent” during 2015. Some of this success will require Bachelet to face the economic challenges head-on, from the perspective of the government. Her recent comment that “it is not enough with what we (the government) do…the private sector must invest and make the economy work. Because we have a budget investments,” sounds odd and somewhat misguided.
The Education System
Last month, in an interview with Lally Weymouth of the Washington post, Michelle Bachelet, on point of starting her second term as president, was asked how she would ensure access to quality education, one of her platform priorities. Bachelet responded by saying:
It means that from nursery school to university, people will have access — if they have the merit and capacity — to receive a quality education. Lack of money shouldn’t be an obstacle for people who want to be a professional or a technician. I don’t think that capacities and talents are distributed by social patterns. You have intelligent, bright people everywhere. We are losing many students with potential because people who live in a rural village do not have easy access to a good education, and when they try to go to a university, it is more difficult for them.
Judging by the estimated 150,000 students who have been marching through the streets of Santiago under the banner “Chile Decides its Education,” the current administration has not been operating fast enough.
Bachelet, to her credit, has made significant improvements in the scholastic realm, making good on her promise to provide free education between kindergarten and high school. It may be that like Barack Obama, president Bachelet is learning a lesson in prudential rhetoric; sweeping promises are very difficult to backtrack once uttered. A representative refrain came from Aurora Isidora Rozas, a spokeswoman for the coordinating assembly of high school students, who said: "we need to protest against this caste of corrupt politicians and businessmen who are involved and who are not ruling for a majority, and instead they're cooking up the reforms behind four walls." This statement is instructive because it gets at the heart of what most Chileans amalgamate with all of their social and economic problems: corruption.