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Cablegate: Chile: Looking to the U.S. For Inspiration On Political

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTIAGO 001150

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL CI
SUBJECT: CHILE: LOOKING TO THE U.S. FOR INSPIRATION ON POLITICAL
RENEWAL

REF: SANTIAGO 1062

1. Summary: Young Chileans have long complained about uninspiring
political leaders, weakening political parties, and the overall lack
of renewal in local politics. A glance at Chile's presidential
candidates and other political leaders shows that, for the most
part, individuals who emerged as leaders following Pinochet's defeat
in 1990 remain at the forefront of Chilean politics. In this
context, Barack Obama's election has captured the imagination of
Chile's younger generation of political activists and leaders who
hope for an Obama-style political renaissance. Three emerging
leaders described as the "Chilean Obamas" recently described how
politics needs to be more closely connected to people's problems and
called for changes to Chile's voting rules to encourage more voting
by young adults. Unfortunately, their dreams of renewal are
unlikely to be realized when the political elite have the most to
lose from any voting reforms. End Summary.

Three Chilean Obamas
--------------------

2. After years of stagnating politics and little political
participation by younger Chileans, Chile has finally found an
inspirational figure on whom to pin its hopes for renewal:
President-elect Barack Obama. In a seminar titled "We Need to Renew
Chilean Politics" hosted by the independent think tank
Independientes en Red on December 11, moderator and television
journalist Gonzalo Feito presented three panelists as the "three
Obamas": Claudio Orrego, Mayor of Penalolen; Jose Antonio Kast,
Deputy representing the southwestern district of the Santiago
Metropolitan Region; and Felipe Harboe, former Undersecretary of
Interior. Although they hail from the elite upper-middle class, all
three have a strong social focus, and interact closely with
marginalized communities. They are viewed as dynamic, charismatic
personalities destined to lead the revitalization of Chile's
political scene, and some of them seem to secretly relish the Obama
comparison: Orrego's website includes a pop art image of him, a la
Obama.

-- Claudio Orrego; Mayor of the large and diverse Penalolen
municipality in Santiago:

Orrego, who received a Master's degree in Public Policy from
Harvard's Kennedy School, is known as one of the "princes" of the
centrist Christian Democratic Party (DC) - someone expected to
inherit a powerful position within the party (Reftel). However,
when asked, he expressed displeasure with this royal reference,
saying "positions of political power are not inherited, they are won
through votes." Orrego said he feared that the current structure
and culture of the DC don't allow for the much needed generational
renewal, foreshadowing his faction's poor showing at the DC national
conference on December 13. (Note: The DC national consensus board
elected Deputy Juan Carlos Latorre, a Soledad Alvear confidant, as
party president until 2010. Referring to the princes in his
acceptance speech, Latorre stated that no group inside the DC should
claim that there isn't room for participation within the party. End
note.)

-- Jose Antonio Kast; Deputy representing low-income Southwestern
Santiago:
Kast, a conservative Deputy from the far-right Independent
Democratic Union (UDI) party is serving his second congressional
term. He participates in the Chamber of Deputies' Education,
Family, and Youth Committees. In his speech, Kast emphasized the
renewed need to make sense of politics, citing "a disconnect between
politicians and the real problems of the people" and stating that in
Chile "leaders have little faith in innovative, enterprising
people." Kast is the son of German immigrants who are the founders
of a local restaurant chain and food production company. His
deceased older brother Miguel Kast was a "Chicago Boy," (Note: The
"Chicago Boys" were young Chilean economists who trained under
Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago in the 1970s and then
implemented their free market ideas during the Pinochet regime. End
note.) and early leader in the Pinochet government, having served as
Minister of Labor (1980-1982).


-- Felipe Harboe; Former Undersecretary for Interior, planning to
run for Congress:

Harboe's first public speaking appearance after stepping down a few
weeks ago from his position as Undersecretary of Interior
(2006-2008) proved to be his debut on the political stage. (Note:
Chilean law does not allow high-ranking appointed government
officials to run for elected office within one year of holding
appointed office. Any officials wishing to run for Parliament had
to resign by December 11 to be eligible for election. End note.)
Harboe is an active member of the Party for Democracy (PPD) and is
their favorite to run for current Deputy Carolina Toha's seat
representing the district of Central Santiago in next year's
parliamentary elections. (Note: Toha, a PPD Deputy, will not run

SANTIAGO 00001150 002 OF 002


for reelection. She most likely will run for Senate. End note.)
Already speaking with the voice of a candidate, he emphasized the
need for more access to information and civic education, calling for
"transparency, efficacy, and efficiency."

Proposals: Younger Voters and Younger Politicians
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. Orrego, Kast, and Harboe all cited the need for change in
Chile's voting procedures, where a cumbersome registration process
and mandatory voting for registered voters keep registration rates
low. This rigid structure, which does not include measures for
absentee ballots or overseas voting, is often blamed for low
participation rates by younger adults. (Note: Adults age 18-29
account for less than 8% of registered voters, while making up for
approximately 23% of the population. End note.) One proposal,
supported by Orrego and Harboe, would automatically register all
Chileans to vote on their eighteenth birthday. In lieu of an
automatic registration system, Kast proposed keeping registration
voluntary, but making registration available at a wider range of
locations (e.g. universities, identification services, DMV, etc.)
All agree that making voting optional would encourage more young
people to register and vote in future elections.

4. The three panelists encouraged the young audience to take a more
active role in politics claiming that younger politicians would
inspire more Chileans to vote. Kast criticized the youngest
leaders, mostly the university student associations, for only
focusing on volunteer work when they should be taking political
action. He stated that the responsibility for making a change falls
on the youth and that "we need not only new faces, but young faces
in politics." Harboe concurred, adding that "the problem is not
politics itself, but rather the politicians." While Orrego stated
that the DC's old guard hasn't allowed for new politicians to take
on higher positions within the party, Kast highlighted that UDI does
allow for fresher faces, attributing this to the fact that UDI is a
newer party, founded in 1983, while DC is over fifty years old. UDI
has already developed some initiatives to groom young emerging
leaders for political careers. (Note: In a November meeting between
the conservative Jaime Guzman Foundation and E/POL Officers,
foundation representatives highlighted their program which helps UDI
identify recent graduates with leadership potential for mayoral and
city council positions throughout the country. End note.)

5. Comment. Multiple polls in recent years have shown that
Chileans want change: new faces, new leadership, and a revitalized
group of young adults in politics. However, the old guard
politicians are not willing to give up their turf, claiming that
rising stars need to focus on party unity rather than on their
individual political careers. In reality, chances for a Chilean
Obama are slim. The idea only exists in the public discourse at the
moment; when it's time to vote, the party elite play it safe rather
than taking risks with the unknown. End comment.

URBAN

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