Cablegate: Chile: Progressive Political Leader Hopes for Obama-Style

P 051257Z DEC 08


E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: CHILE: Progressive Political Leader Hopes for Obama-Style

1. (SBU) Summary: Claudio Orrego, the popular and recently
re-elected mayor of one of the Santiago area's most diverse
communities, told the Ambassador Nov. 25 that Chile is still looking
for "the spirit of Obama" and needs to mobilize a new generation of
voters. Orrego expressed disappointment that Chile's potential
presidential candidates -- Sebastian Pinera, Jose Miguel Insulza,
Eduardo Frei, and Ricardo Lagos, among others - all represent the
"old guard" of Chilean politics rather than fresh ideas. Orrego
also described his efforts to improve living conditions in his very
diverse community through public-private partnerships, additional
low-income housing, and supporting employment. Orrego, a
Harvard-educated member of the Christian Democrats, is seen as one
of the leading lights of his party, having significantly increased
his votes in a year in which the Christian Democrats as a whole did
poorly. End summary.

"The Spirit of Obama Has Yet to Reach Chile"

2. (SBU) On November 25 Ambassador Simons, accompanied by Poloff
and E/Pol Specialist, called on Mayor of Penalolen Claudio Orrego.
Orrego, a rising political star within progressive circles, spoke at
length of his impressions of the recent U.S. elections. He was
clearly well-informed and extremely interested, especially in the
different internet and grassroots campaign strategies deployed. He
lamented that the same spirit of grassroots mobilization and change,
"the spirit of Obama," has not reached Chile and that the younger
generation of politicians is not given the space to participate.

3. (SBU) Orrego illustrated his point, looking no further than his
own party, the DC, which will most likely put forth a former
president, Senator Eduardo Frei, as their 2009 presidential
candidate. This could possibly replicate the Concertacion primary
held in 1993 between Eduardo Frei (who won and went on to become
president in 1994) and Ricardo Lagos (who lost but went on to become
president in 2000). Orrego asked rhetorically how one can renew
politics, which has lost prestige and legitimacy among citizens and
especially young people, by turning to the past? He pointed out the
difficulty of change when elderly former presidents, like Patricio
Aylwin, who just turned 90-years old last week, are still giving
front-page opinions, and perhaps setting direction, for current
party politics. Orrego stated that, in his party, "you can get your
head cut off" for promoting new ideas and change.

4. (SBU) Orrego stated that Chile desperately needs the younger
generation of its politicians -- who, he insisted, are neither so
young nor so inexperienced -- to be involved in national politics.
However, he does not see an opening for them, across political
parties, anytime soon. (Note: In a separate presentation to an
international women's group on November 26, former Minister of
Economy and fellow DC Alejandro Ferreiro echoed Orrego's concerns
about the need for generational renewal in Chilean politics. When
asked by E/Pol specialist if the Concertacion would be able to
generate such renewal if it wins another term in office, Ferreiro
responded with a clear "no," and went on to say that he thinks that
only taking a turn out of power will shake the Concertacion into
seriously re-thinking its mission. End note.)

5. (SBU) Orrego mentioned electoral reform -- particularly the
implementation of automatic registration and voluntary voting -- as
an interest of his. (Note: Chile currently has voluntary
registration and mandatory voting, with rates of registration of 18
- 35 year olds at extremely low levels. A registered voter that
does not participate in an election can be fined. End note.)
According to the Mayor, there is a great deal of fear among
politicians about changing the electoral registration system.
Registered voters may be aging, but they are a known quantity, and
politicians inevitably work for those who vote and fear any change
that might bring unknown variables into their electoral equations.
Orrego argues that bringing in automatic registration and voluntary
voting could really "oxygenize" Chilean politics and stated that he
would be involved in promoting electoral reform.

A Popular Mayor of a Populous Urban Community

6. (U) Orrego (41) was re-elected in October's municipal elections
with a ten-percent increase in votes compared to his first election
in 2004. This is a considerable achievement in an electoral cycle
where his coalition, the Concertacion, lost 59 mayoral seats and his
party, the DC, dropped from winning 21 percent in 2004 to just under
14 percent of council member seats nationwide. The total number of
registered voters actually increased in Penalolen at a time when
politicians and policy-makers are wringing their hands over Chile's
aging and diminishing voting population. Orrego, who received a
Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School, is
seen as one of the up-and-coming young Concertacion politicians. He
served in government, including as Minister of Housing under former
President Ricardo Lagos, before going into municipal politics.

7. (U) Orrego's community of Penalolen, located in the Andean
foothills in eastern Santiago, is the eleventh most populous
municipality in the country and growing, with roughly 240,000
inhabitants. Unlike other municipalities of the Santiago
Metropolitan Region, it is very diverse in terms of socioeconomic
status, with wealthy suburban developments located across the street
from older neighborhoods that were originally squatter settlements.

8. (U) One of Orrego's goals has been the elimination of squatter
settlements: according to the Mayor there are still 300 families
waiting to be relocated into low-income housing projects. Orrego is
quick to note that, despite the eradication of traditional squatter
settlements, poor families still live as large groups of
"allegados," extended family that live in or add onto a main house
because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. He emphasized that
the "easy work" of developing the municipality - paving roads,
getting people on the electric and sanitary grid, building schools -
is mostly done and now they are faced with the more difficult
challenges of preventing teenage pregnancy and drug-use and dealing
with obesity and other public health risks.

9. (U) Orrego explained that his philosophy for working to bring
people out of poverty is based on the idea that the State alone
cannot do anything about people's poverty. The municipality has
programs that are designed to empower individuals to find ways to
help themselves.

10. (U) One example of the programs Orrego is pushing is aimed at
"cartoneros" -- informal sector workers who traditionally traveled
around the community on bike-carts looking for cardboard and other
materials being thrown away -- who are now organized into an
association of recyclers under the auspices of the municipality.
Another program promotes citizen participation and organization in
the recovery of public spaces. Orrego underlined that this model
sends the message that those who work hard can do well. The Mayor
emphasized that, of course, they then have to be able to do well
based on hard work and merit or the message of self-sufficiency is

11. (U) Orrego has also developed successful public-private
partnerships, including with Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Intel. He
is known for his longtime promotion of "digital government," and
stand-alone free internet kiosks are visible around the
municipality. Penalolen has one of Microsoft's first "innovation
schools" and has just inaugurated a multi-purpose sports and event
facility, made possible with significant fund-raising from the
private sector.

12. (SBU) Comment: Orrego is an example of the younger generation
of well-trained, globally aware, and technologically savvy Chilean
politicians, many of whom have found a space in local politics. He
appears to have figured out how to make public-private partnerships
work on the local level, which is uncommon. His view that
generational change within political party leadership is still a
long way off is a message the Embassy hears with increasing
frequency. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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