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Lagos Humiliates Chile Over Iraq Vote Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere

Memorandum to the Press 03.24

26 May 2003

Lagos Humiliates Chile by Not Standing Tall Over its Iraq Vote

· By crucifying his UN ambassador, Juan Gabriel Valdés, Chilean President Lagos impales the legendary Chilean diplomat on a Cross of Free Trade

· White House strategy of giving a cold shoulder to Chile because it did not back Bush Iraq strategy at the UN, was based on the assumption that Santiago eventually would demonstrate that it was not being led by a latter day O'Higgins, but by a group of craven politicians

Not a Proud Day in Chile's History

Concertación coalition-comprised of several self-serving political parties headed by the Christian Democrats, but also including the Radical Social Democrats, the Socialist Party, and the Party for Democracy-has ruled Chile since the end of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship, with its candidates serving as the country's presidents since the country camel under civilian rule. Since the end of the Pinochet era, Concertación policies have been marked by a slavish deference to Pinochet and the Chilean military, as well as Pinochet's anti-democratic constitution. Concertación presidents also have exhibited an almost obsequious desire to harmonize their policies with those of the U.S.

While many had hoped that the leader of Chile's Socialist Party, Ricardo Lagos, who was the country's third democratically-elected and first socialist president, would be able to eradicate the very active ghosts of Chile's dictatorial past, he has instead maintained the tendency of Chile's ruling politicians to grovel before its military as well as to automatically defer to its relationship with the United States. As the deadline for the ratification of the elusive U.S.-Chile free trade agreement approached, the urge to cater to Washington's dictates claimed one more victim: Juan Gabriel Valdés, a Princeton Ph.D. who was widely viewed as being among Chile's most illustrious intellectuals and most gifted foreign policy thinkers, who had the independence of spirit to stand by his convictions that the UN must control the pace of the confrontation with Iraq. He did this by opposing the U.S.'s unilateral stand in favor of a preemptive attack against Baghdad before the UN Security Council, on which he represented Chile as its ambassador.

Valdés' Downfall

When Chile assumed its seat on the UN Security Council at the beginning of the year, the United States assumed it had gained a malleable ally in its quest to impose its Iraq strategy on that body. What it soon found, however, was that in addition to Germany, France, and Russia, it had to contend with several small but doughty UN delegations (Chile and Mexico) which were willing to buck Washington's demand that its professed friends must support its tenet that Iraq must be attacked without delay. In fact, at the time, Santiago was careful to cultivate a middle ground, however, not endorsing either the American or French proposals in March, but rather crafting a position more in line with Canada's middle-of-the-road approach.

There was a difference, however, in that, as in Mexico, Lagos had to follow domestic public opinion in Chile which overwhelmingly was opposed to any rush to war in Iraq. This brought Chile to oppose the strategy of the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing," which was sponsoring the second resolution which eventually was withdrawn due to a lack of votes. But there was another factor: Chile had to also placate Washington in order to achieve its long sought bilateral free trade pact with Washington. When the outspoken Chilean UN ambassador didn't harmonize with these verities, he eventually paid the price. On May 7th, Lagos announced that Valdés would be reassigned as the Chilean ambassador to Argentina, and that Heraldo Muñoz, would be taking his place, effective June 1, 2003.

Reliable sources had let it be known that Valdés had been more aggressive and resolute in presenting Chile's case in front of the UN than the Lagos administration had desired. Both William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador to Chile, and Inocencio F. Arias, the Spanish ambassador to the UN, had complained to Santiago about Valdés's lashing tone and feisty tactics in arguing against the U.S.-U.K.-and-Spanish positions. At the climax of tensions, Valdés took the principled step to let it be known that he would rather resign than agree to any instruction from Lagos requiring him to vote for the U.S.-UK resolution authorizing war on Iraq. Members of the big business-financed Chilean opposition-who were also influential in Concertación-described Valdés as being "persona non grata" in Washington and as an impediment to improved trade ties with the U.S.

Lagos's sudden repudiation of Valdés, who he has known all of their lives and who comes from one of Chile's most illustrious families, must be seen as an act of the Chilean president bending his knee to Washington in order to properly bring to an end the U.S. punishment of Chile for its "defiance" over the Iraqi issue. Since Chile's opposition over Iraq had become well-defined at the UN, the Bush administration has been dragging its feet in arranging for the formal signature of the long-awaited US-Chile free trade agreement, which had been initialed by both sides but not signed, and had been scheduled to be sent to congress several months ago on an accelerated basis by the White House. Just before the UN vote on Iraq and after 12 years of episodic discussions, (in which Valdés was one of the negotiators), Washington finally was about to fulfill its pledge to Chile on free trade, on the terms that Bush and Lagos had agreed upon December 11, 2002.

The Politics of Free Trade

Now that Lagos has propitiated Washington's wrath over Iraq by removing Valdés, the White House now is attempting to downplay the punitive nature of its stalling over finalizing the treaty, claiming that the agreement in fact was being bogged down by the lengthy and complex translation process and not by any resentment against Chile. But in leaks from the Bush administration, however, officials have ceased even bothering to deny the connection between trade and politics. Both U.S. Trade Representative Robert Mueller and his deputy Peter Allgeier have admitted to the press that the administration had been disappointed in Chile's performance at the Security Council, and that the direction of U.S. trade policy towards Santiago was part of the larger foreign policy review being directed by the State Department and the NSC. Such words were an affront to the underlying philosophy that accompanied the founding of the Office of the USTR, as was explicitly spelled out at the time, that trade issues would never be held hostage to other U.S. foreign policy considerations, or be used to blackmail or intimidate other nations.

Any claims that Chile's pending trade agreement with Washington has not been a casualty of the Bush administration's myopic conception of vengeance as a factor in its international relations, is further undermined by the analogous experience of Singapore. That nation's completed a twin trade agreement under similar ground rules as Chile's, with the United States. Bush signed the US-Singapore deal on May 6th, however, and promptly sent it to Congress for ratification. The difference in treatment is without doubt due to the fact that Singapore was an eager supporter of Bush's "coalition of the willing". In snubbing Chile and embracing Singapore, the Bush administration was effectively rewarding a traditionally strongman government that frequently ignores the will of its people, while penalizing a country, Chile, that has made substantial progress in democratizing its basic institutions.

Valdés' Replacement

By ousting Valdés, Lagos is trying to appease the White House so as to expedite the signing of the pending free trade agreement and putting it into effect. Unlike the outspoken Valdés, the Bush administration likes his replacement. Heraldo Muñoz, a member of the Socialst Party and a former classmate of Condoleeza Rice at Harvard, who is being seen - at least by some administration figures - as much more friendly to American interests. U.S. Ambassador Brownfield publicly called the appointment, good news, stating that Muñoz was a very good friend. It only took a couple of hours after the announcement of Valdés' replacement for the Bush administration to reaffirm its commitment to a its free trade agreement. As the Washington Post quoted Bush in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, "We have an important free trade agreement with Chile that we will move forward with." Of course, no explicit date was given for the finalization of the agreement, as at the time, Washington still needed to ensure backing for the Security Council vote that would lift sanctions against Iraq. In a rather indicative sidebar, although Valdés reassignment was not scheduled to go into effect until June 1, he was replaced by an alternate, Cristián Maquieira, on May 22 on a de facto basis, just before the Security Council was to vote on removing Iraqi sanctions.

Of course, Lagos has denied any connection between Valdés' replacement and the free trade agreement. He maintains that Valdés was reassigned for personal reasons, as the UN ambassador has long-desired a position closer to home. He also has invoked the translation process as the reason for the trade agreement's delay, affirming the U.S.'s commitment to it even more than Bush himself has acknowledged. These overtures rang somewhat hollow, however, as the announcement of the diplomatic replacement came the day before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee was scheduled to begin hearing testimony on the US-Chile FTA.

As a major corruption scandal stains the Lagos administration and hampers its efforts to reform Chile internally, an even bigger skeleton is now out of the closet: Lagos's shameful lack of backbone has transformed Chile into Latin America's southernmost banana republic, leaving Juan Gabriel Valdés being far more a latter-day Bernardo O'Higgins in fighting for his country's interest than the country's president. For the Concertación coalition, it too was prepared to engage in any self degrading tribute to Washington which was required - even one of Chile's most distinguished national figures - in order for Chilean businessmen to achieve a free trade pact, even if it meant selling the nation's honor by a socialist for U.S. trade dollars, to the deafening applause of Chile's CEOs."

This analysis was prepared by Lisa N. Perry, research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Issued 16 May 2003

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 223-6035, or email

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