Cable 91254, Las convicciones socialistas de Bachelet
DATE: 12/29/2006 12:56
SOURCE: Embassy Santiago
DE RUEHSG #2661/01 3631256
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 291256Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0635
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 2773
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1607
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 3445
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0035
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1227
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 4869
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1631
C O N F I D E N T I A L SANTIAGO 002661
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, CI
REF: SANTIAGO 2432
Classified By: Ambassador Craig Kelly for reasons 1.4 (b and d)
1. (C) Eight months into her term as Chile’s President, the core socialist principles that guide Michelle Bachelet are very much in evidence. Her administration’s first budget emphasized increased spending on education and health care and she has expended much political capital on social issues such as the «»morning after»» contraceptive. In the international arena, Bachelet’s initial inclination is to adopt positions of brotherly solidarity, including those with an «»anti-imperialist»» tint. In the case of the UNSC vote, for example, Bachelet preferred a vote for Venezuela until Chavez’ various blunders, strong domestic opposition, and steady, persistent US persuasion, made it untenable to do so. She favors collectivist solutions to problems – the country is awash with commissions – and noted that investigations into corruption allegations did not diminish the inherent virtue of the State.
2. (C) Bachelet likely maintains in her heart ambivalence towards capitalism and too close ties to the American «»hegemon,»» a gut instinct that may sometimes frustrate USG policymakers on issues such as IPR. But intellectually Bachelet understands that Chile’s future lies in moderation, contrary to the currents that have moved the continent towards the populist left. At the recently concluded Cochabamba summit, for example, Bachelet acknowledged the benefits of globalization (to Chavez’ visible discomfort) and her government remains committed to free market principles, tight fiscal policies, and Chile’s growing web of free trade agreements. We will continue to stress to her and her team the importance of innovation and investment, keys to the regional leadership role we feel Chile should assume. End summary.
3. (C) Go to one of Santiago’s better restaurants specializing in meats and one option for how meat is cooked is «»bleu»» – seared on the outside but rare inside. Nine months into her administration, it is clear President Michelle Bachelet is politically bleu – a moderate with fundamentally socialist core beliefs that will sometimes bloom into full evidence. Bachelet’s first official act after taking the presidential oath was to sign legislation mandating free health care for the elderly. Her first budget posits a 10.6 percent increase in spending on education alone and overall spending on domestic programs (health care, education, and infrastructure) is set to increase by 11 percent. The President’s tendencies were evident as well in a social issue that dominated news headlines for much of the winter – her proposal to make the so-called «»morning after pill»» available to under age of majority girls, without the consent of parents. Bachelet’s stance put her squarely at odds with the influential Catholic Church an offended many within a society that is still conservative – albeit slowly changing – when it comes to traditional «»family values.»» In the end, she was forced to table the proposal.
4. (C) The press here still runs occasionally a photo of a visibly pleased Bachelet receiving a quick rub on the shoulders from Hugo Chavez at the 2006 European-South American summit in Vienna, and notes her warm interactions with the Venezuelan president at other high-visibility functions. Coupled with Chavez’ repeated declarations that he is a committed «»michellista»» (most recently at the December 200 Cochabamba summit of South American leaders), coy analysts posit a political «»love affair.»» Ideologically, Bachelet is sympathetic to much of the rhetoric and some of the politics found on the left. At th risk of delving too far into easy pop psychology, Bachelet is a child o the 60’s. At the November 2006 APEC summit in Hanoi, she revealed that she had visited Vietnam in the mid-1970’s, and fondly reminisced about her days marching in the streets against the U.S-led war in Vietnam. Bachelet lived in exile for several years in then-communist East Germany. And, of course, her father, an air force general who remained loyal to Allende, was tortured and died in one of Pinochet’s prisons, not long after the coup that was facilitated – at least those of the left sincerely believe – by the USG.
5. (C) The President’s collectivist worldview is reflected as well in her embrace of regional solidarity she is loathe to move Chile out in front of the pack or to make moves that risk offending her brother states.»» (Comment: To be fair, that caution also speaks to a Chilean national character trait.) This was most in evidence during th debate leading up to the UNSC vote. We believe – based on comments we received from well-placed contacts in the Foreign Ministry (including a nearly despairing FonMin Foxley), the office of the Presidency, and others who know Bachelet’s mind – that she truly wanted to cast Chile’s vote in favor of Venezuela and Chavez. It was only after the many Chavez blunders, strong domestic opposition from the Chilean public, the opposition and members of her own coalition, bolstered by a low-profile USG campaign over the course of seven months, that Bachelet recognized that a vote for Venezuela would be a serious error, and gave Foxley the nod for an abstention.
6. (C) Bachelet’s early months in office were rocked by street protests led by high school students protesting the woeful state of Chile’s educational system. She was heavily criticized for a tentative respons deemed inadequate in the face of street violence. Some in this still male-dominated society pointed to her reluctance to use force as a womanly»» weakness. Others attributed it to the «»natural attribute»» of a socialist hesitant to employ the State’s security apparatus. Bachele was able to finally bring matters under control with the promise of the formation of a commission – to include student leaders some of whom are barely in their teens – to study the problem and propose solutions. Si months later, that commission and its eighty-one(!) members has yet to conclude its work and, indeed, have not even agreed on the nature of th problem.
7. (C) Forming commissions – inclusive of all segments of society as is feasible – to address issues seems to be the default position of the Bachelet government) one wag bewailed that the country was «»awash in commissions.»» Recently formed commissions have studied pension reform and the allegations of corruption arising out of the Chiledeportes scandal (reftel). When the latter released its report suggesting the adoption of some thirty measures to address the problem of corruption in government, Bachelet herself announced the package. In a revealing comment on her socialist worldview, the President allowed tha corruption was an issue, but then provided a ringing endorsement of the State’s involvement in the life of the citizen: «»I am not one of those who believe that reform of the State signifies its weakening to reform the State the first thing to do is believe in the State.»»
8. (C) The «»inner Michelle,»» the president who has shown a remarkable ability to connect with the everyday person on the street – the Ambassador has seen examples of this empathy up close – reinforces the conceit of the Chilean center-left that it is more «»caring.»» That quality helps explain that despite a sometimes first rough year office, including charges that she is indecisive, that many on her team of advisors are inexperienced, and that her government is uncoordinated, the most recent polls have Bachelet’s approval ratings at fifty-six percent, nearly the equal of where she stood on inauguration day nine months ago.
9. (C) Blessed with charisma, Bachelet also has a pragmatic side. And that characteristic allows her to embrace – or at least accept – concepts and policies normally anathema to the left. She is quite familiar with the United States, having lived and studied there and has voiced admiration for certain aspects of U.S. society and its people. At the Cochabamba summit she stated – before an unhappy Chavez – that globalization was here to stay and that properly managed it brought concrete benefits to the world’s disadvantaged. With no experience in the business world, indeed no «»feel»» for the concerns of business, Bachelet has nonetheless had the good sense to allow her top-notch Minister of Economy to adhere closely to the sound fiscal policies of her predecessors. Chile’s economic growth in her first yea has been respectable if not spectacular. And she has smartly allowed FM Foxley and other true believers in free trade to continue past Concertacion governments’ policy of negotiating FTA’s with virtually every country under the sun.
10. (C) But her lack of familiarity with commerce – and her innate belief that it arises out of man’s baser instincts – also means she and her administration can be a hard sell on policies of importance
to the USG, such as protection of IPR, for example. That the protection of pharmaceutical patents prejudices the poor through higher prices, or that copyright infringement of movies and music is a victimless crime, permeates the worldview of many of our contacts withi the Bachelet administration. There is a frustrating disconnect between that stance and that one which declares, as Bachelet did recently in an end-of-year essay published in the «»The Economist,»» that Chile seeks access to better health care and new technologies.
11. (C) On a continent that has drifted to the populist left, and with anti-U.S. invective on the rise, Michelle Bachelet remains committed to pursuing moderate, responsible social and economic policies. Regardles of core convictions that would normally suggest closer alignment with Chavez and his ilk, Bachelet recognizes that correct, respectful, and even close ties with the U.S. are in Chile’s long-term interest. Even if she were to try to reverse course, a majority of Chileans, half her coalition and the entire opposition – which won 47 percent of the vote in January – would seek to stop her.
12. (C) The larger question is whether her somewhat antiquated faith in the power of the State to solve all evils will allow her to move quickl enough to address the problems that Chile faces. Bachelet now has little more than three years to go, having lost her first year to the distraction of protests, allegations of corruption, the death of Pinochet, and a steep learning curve. As a Mission, we will continue to urge Bachelet and her key advisors to take those steps that will foster innovation and attract investment, thereby assuring Chile of the economic growth and democratic consolidation we hope leads as well to a more active regional leadership role.