The death of Margaret Thatcher received extensive media coverage in Chile, proving that the “Dama de Hierro” (“Iron Lady”) is still capable of stirring powerful emotions among Chileans—of irritation among her opponents and admiration from her supporters.
Her passing occurred while Heritage economic experts were in Santiago to present results for Chile in the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom (a publication that celebrates the core principles to which Prime Minister Thatcher dedicated her political career). Several Chileans told us why Thatcher mattered so much to them and why Chile mattered to her.
Both Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were impressed when, in the early 1970s, Chile became the first country in the world to take a resolute stand against what the conventional wisdom of the day said was an unstoppable tide of history that would sweep the entire developing world ever leftward. The spunky Chileans inspired the future British and American leaders to do likewise, and the rest is history.
Thatcher was a stalwart ally of Chile, standing with them against an unrelenting and withering stream of invective and criticism from the international left. The Chileans greatly appreciated her support and reminded us that it grew from Thatcher’s modus operandi as a politician: Like Reagan, the Iron Lady was always guided by conviction, not political expediency.
Later, when Thatcher faced one of her greatest tests in the war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, the Chilean government returned the favor and stood by her. They provided diplomatic and military logistical support to the U.K. and always, when discussing the dispute with their Argentine neighbors, referred to the Falkland Islands—not Las Malvinas.
Today, Chile is the top-performing country in Latin America in the Index of Economic Freedom and has achieved first-world status, with the highest per capita income levels in South America. Margaret Thatcher had a small, but significant, role in helping Chileans get there.