Cablegate: Scenesetter for Secretary Clinton's March 1-2 Visit to Chile
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SUBJECT: Scenesetter for Secretary Clinton's March 1-2 Visit to Chile
1. (SBU) Welcome to Chile. Your visit in the final days of the Bachelet administration will highlight the outstanding relations that we have enjoyed with Chile over the past four years. You will also meet President-elect Sebastian Pinera, an energetic moderate whose election marks a historic change from 20 years of center-left Concertacion rule. Both Bachelet and Pinera are taking pains to ensure a smooth transition that will enhance Chile's already strong democratic and economic institutions. Pinera and his foreign policy team are eager to further strengthen and deepen our bilateral relationship, and we will have ample opportunities to do so as we jointly address regional and global issues. In addition to the change in government, 2010 is a historic year as Chile celebrates its bicentennial and joins the OECD. The first is emblematic of our long, shared democratic history, while the second is yet another opportunity to work together to advance our shared interests.
Chilean Leadership: At a Historic Crossroads
2. (SBU) Your visit comes at a historic moment for Chilean politics: the cusp of the inauguration of Chile's first center-right leader since military rule ended in 1990. Wealthy, Harvard-educated businessman Sebastian Pinera defeated former president Eduardo Frei to win Chile's run-off presidential election on January 17. He will be inaugurated as the country's new president on March 11, just a week after your visit. Pinera's election was historic. The center-left Concertacion coalition had governed the country continually for 20 years, ever since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990. Pinera, a centrist who hails from the country's center-right Alianza coalition, will be the first center-right figure to lead Chile since Pinochet and is the first to be elected to the presidency since 1958. This is a change of tremendous symbolic importance, signaling that the country has moved past a political discourse that has long calcified around who supported and opposed the military regime. Nonetheless, policy changes are likely to be modest. President Michelle Bachelet has built broad support for her policies, particularly for her expanded social safety net. Pinera has promised to continue many of these policies, but will bring a pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship twist.
3. (SBU) Meanwhile, outgoing President Bachelet and her Concertacion coalition are caught in a political paradox. Bachelet herself is incredibly popular--enjoying an unprecedented 83% approval rating--and there is broad consensus that the Concertacion has been very successful in consolidating democracy, strengthening institutions, and overseeing impressive economic growth. Nonetheless, voters see the Concertacion as tired and stale, having failed to confront problems with low-level corruption or include newer leaders in its ranks. The Concertacion's choice of Eduardo Frei, the uncharismatic 67-year old former president and son of a president, as its presidential candidate only amplified this perception and contributed to the Concertacion's electoral loss.
4. (SBU) Electoral defeats--the loss of the presidency and also a relatively poor showing in the December 2009 congressional elections--have left the Concertacion in disarray. Over the past month, party leaders have squabbled in the press about who is at fault, demanded and refused to submit resignations, and attacked the few party members who agreed to take high-level positions in the Pinera government. Meanwhile, Bachelet herself has remained above the fray, highlighting the achievements of 20 years of Concertacion rule, instructing her staff to cooperate with their successors, and maintaining her international presence through a trip through Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guatemala. In response to a request from the UN women and children's agency UNIFEM, Bachelet has agreed to serve as spokesperson on behalf of Haiti's women and children--a role that will keep her in the public eye as an international statesman and the caring protector of vulnerable people. Bachelet is also considering other options, including a possible role as Latin assistance coordinator for Haiti. Meanwhile, many in Chile's left are already banking on a Bachelet presidential campaign in 2013.
5. (SBU) In the weeks since the election, Pinera and Bachelet have both taken pains to ensure a gracious, open, and efficient transition. Pinera and his team have been moving decisively to hit the ground running on March 11. Pinera unveiled his new cabinet on February 9, naming many well-educated technocrats with strong private sector ties. (Sixteen of the 22 ministers-designate have studied at a U.S. university.) Political heavy hitters who had worked hard to get Pinera elected complained that relatively few ministers were drawn from their ranks, but these concerns were largely answered by Pinera's inclusion of more political insiders at the under secretary level, an announcement he made on February
United States and Chile as Partners
6. (SBU) The U.S. and Chile are strong allies, working together on a variety of bilateral, regional, and global issues. The Obama and Bachelet administrations have enjoyed a close rapport, as signaled by Vice President Biden's March 2009 visit to Chile, President Bachelet's work with you and President Obama at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas, and her subsequent visit to Washington last June. Pinera advisors tell us they want to bring the U.S. and Chile even closer during the next four years. President-elect Pinera is slated to visit Washington in April for President Obama's Nuclear Safety Summit, one of Pinera's first trips overseas as president.
7. (U) The U.S. and Chile have forged a vibrant bilateral partnership, with strong institutions in both countries ensuring continued cooperation from the bottom up as well as from the top down. During President Bachelet's visit to Washington, we signed agreements on clean energy cooperation and cancer research, reflecting the breadth of our relationship. The Chile-California Partnership for the 21st Century, launched by Bachelet and Governor Schwarzenegger in June 2008, highlights the economic and geographic similarities between Chile and California and fosters collaboration in agriculture, energy efficiency, environmental resource management, and education. In early 2010, the United States and Chile signed a new extradition treaty, a double taxation treaty, and an MOU on trilateral cooperation, further strengthening bilateral ties in the last months of the Bachelet administration. Bilateral military and law enforcement ties are among the best in the hemisphere. We expect strong continuity in this cooperation, with little turnover in the senior ranks.
8. (U) The U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is a cornerstone of our relationship. The U.S. is Chile's largest trading partner, and Chile is our fifth largest trading partner in Latin America.
Bilateral trade has more than doubled since the FTA went into effect in 2004, totaling more than $16 billion in 2009. Despite this success, sticking points remain, such as Chile's failure to implement strong protection for intellectual property rights, as required by the FTA.
Chile on the International Stage
9. (SBU) The broad parameters of Chile's foreign policy will remain constant under Pinera, who brings English language skills, overseas experience, expert-level economics knowledge, and a pro-U.S./pro-free market stance to his diplomacy. Pinera advisors tell us that the new administration will prioritize relations with the United States and Latin America. Some observers have speculated that Pinera may have less patience with regional populists than President Bachelet had. Chile's relationship with Latin American political and economic powerhouse Brazil is likely to be particularly important. Questions about the way forward in Haiti, where Chile has maintained a 500-person strong peacekeeping contingent for the past several years, will be an important in months and years to come.
10. (SBU) Chile's ongoing maritime border dispute with Peru proved to be a frequent irritant to President Bachelet. Relations between the two countries have soured since January 2008 when Peru asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on its maritime border with Chile. Peru submitted its case in March 2009. Chile will submit its response to the ICJ in March 2010, but the final ruling will not come until 2012. Pinera may place greater attention on promoting investment and trade cooperation with Peru, but it remains to be seen if both sides can keep the border dispute from dominating their bilateral relationship.
11. (SBU) Under President Bachelet, Chile became increasingly engaged in regional and global issues. Bachelet served as president pro tempore of UNASUR established a moderate tone for President Obama's initial meeting with regional leaders at the Summit of the Americas and played constructive roles on Cuba's conditional re-entry into the OAS, the conflict in Honduras, and the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement.
12. (SBU) Two early regional challenges for Pinera will be the Rio Group and the OAS. Chile assumed the pro tempore presidency of the Rio Group in February, and Pinera accompanied Bachelet to the meeting in Mexico. Chile will need to manage enlargement of the
Rio Group and the claims of some that an enlarged Rio Group could replace the OAS (a view Chile firmly rejects). Despite misgivings about Jose Miguel Insulza's leadership at the OAS and frustration about his tendency to intervene in domestic politics, Pinera announced February 12 that he would back Insulza's re-election as OAS Secretary-General. Within the sphere of multilateral politics, OAS reform is top on Pinera's agenda, with the President-elect having argued during his campaign that the Democratic Charter should be strengthened to guard against undemocratic actions taken by legitimately elected governments.
13. (SBU) In June, the United States and Chile agreed to cooperate jointly in promoting development in other countries in the region. Under this trilateral initiative, we are already working together on infrastructure development in Costa Rica and sharing agricultural expertise with Central America. We have agreed to focus new efforts on Paraguay and El Salvador, and hope to carry this promising initiative into the next Chilean administration. We will need to quickly engage the new government on several upcoming meetings, notably President Obama's Nuclear Safety Summit and the Energy and Climate Ministerial of the Americas, both in April in Washington. On the trade front, Chile is excited about the President's commitment to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will hold its next meeting in Melbourne in mid-March. The GOC has repeatedly expressed its interest in joining the G-20 to play a role in reforming the international financial architecture.
Economic Excellence and Challenges
14. (SBU) Chile has been rightfully lauded for its sound economic policies over the past two decades, with a combination of steady growth and targeted social policies driving down poverty rates from 40% to less than 15% since the restoration of civilian rule. President Bachelet and Finance Minister Andres Velasco built on that reputation with their skillful management of the Chilean economy during the global economic crisis. Chile's trade-based economy suffered from the global contraction in demand, and GDP shrank 1-2% in 2009, while unemployment crept over 10%. However, the negative effects were tempered by Chile's strong economic fundamentals and sound institutions, plus a more than $4 billion stimulus package. The economy is showing strong signs of recovery and is expected to grow 4.5-5.5% in 2010.
developed country income levels in the next 15-20 years. This is feasible, but also a huge challenge. In recent years, growth rates have slowed compared to Chile's neighbors, and Chile's productivity has actually fallen over the past decade. Chile seems to have realized most of the initial benefits brought by macroeconomic stability, free trade, and a commodities-led export strategy. The new government will maintain the key features of the economic model that has brought Chile great success: stability, strong institutions, fiscal discipline, and a prominent role for the private sector. Pinera will look to generate greater economic growth and job creation by promoting investment, in part through tax reform, but also by creating a more business-friendly atmosphere throughout the Chilean bureaucracy, which can be slow and even stifling. Education, innovation, and labor reform will be critical for improving productivity over the medium- and long-term.
16. (SBU) In this context, Chile's accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is timely. Accession is a signature accomplishment for Bachelet and Velasco, and is an acknowledgement of Chile's high quality economic policies. Furthermore, access to the OECD's expertise and experience can also help guide Chile's next wave of economic reform necessary to become a developed country.
Environment and Energy Cooperation
17. (U) Our energy and environment cooperation is already strong, and we will work with the incoming Pinera administration to further enhance it. On January 20, U.S. and Chilean officials met in Washington to discuss progress under the environmental chapter of the U.S.-Chile FTA and Environmental Cooperation Agreement. They also signed an environmental work plan for 2009-2011 which envisions supporting Chile's new Ministry of Environment aiding renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors reducing emissions and promoting conservation and environmental management best practices and stewardship.
18. (SBU) Our energy cooperation with Chile is robust. In June 2009, the U.S. and Chile signed a Clean Energy Technology MOU, one of the first concrete steps taken under President Obama's Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas. The Department of Energy (DOE) is providing technical support to a new Renewable Energy Center and two pilot solar plants in Chile. Under its Global Treat Reduction Initiative, the DOE is also working with Chilean authorities to remove highly enriched uranium from research reactors before the April 2010 Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
19. (SBU) Chile is actively engaged on energy issues in the international arena. It is a member of the new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), and has been helpful on Iran non-proliferation issues. With our support, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published an in-depth review of Chile's energy policies in October 2009. Chile is already implementing recommendations from this study, including creating a new Ministry of Energy. Chile announced at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference that it would -- voluntarily and using primarily its own domestic resources -- reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% below ""business as usual"" by 2020. On January 29, Chile adhered to the Copenhagen Accord, but did not formally commit to any specific mitigation actions, in part due to domestic disagreement on the baseline.