On January 17, voters in Chile’s presidential run-off selected conservative Sebastián Piñera to become their next chief executive. The win for Piñera ended the 20-year hold on the presidency exercised by the center-left Concertación coalition and made Piñera Chile’s first elected conservative president in 52 years. Piñera, a billionaire businessman and leader of the Coalition for Change, successfully managed to ward off negative campaigning by former president Eduardo Frei, who tried to link Piñera to the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Piñera captured an estimated 52% of the vote in the country of 16.8 million.
The new Chilean president vows to become an “entrepreneurial” leader and has already set his sights on restoring a healthy six per cent growth rate, lowering taxes, and improving government efficiency while pursuing programs to reduce poverty and inequality. Unlike countries under populist’s presidents offering promises rather than performance, Chile has significantly reduced poverty, lowering it in the last two decades from 40 percent to 13.7 percent.
Piñera will be able to build on the solid foundation of Chile’s prudent macroeconomic strategies. As a trading nation, Chile has responded to the dynamics of global competition by negotiating 21 trade agreement s with 51 nations, including the U.S. Chile moreover imports $4 billion more in U.S. exports than it exports to the U.S., creating tens of thousands of badly needed U.S. jobs. The 2009 Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom judged Chile to have the 11th freest economy in the world.
Within in the ranks of Latin American presidents and politics, Piñera joins with other recently-elected, conservative-minded presidents like Ricardo Martinelli of Panama and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras reflecting a growing counterweight to the radical influences of Venezuela’s populist , anti-American president Hugo Chávez and his leftist allies.
The Obama Administration should recognize the opportunity to work closely with the Piñera government in the weeks ahead. It should dispatch Secretary of State Clinton to attend Piñera’s inaugural, reenergize efforts aimed at promoting the synergy of free trade, job creation, economic growth, and poverty reduction represented by Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas. It should also work to cooperate with Chile on Haiti relief and recovery and continued strengthening Hemispheric security ties.