April 2, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Chile's shaky political transition

Notwithstanding continuing aftershocks of over 6.0 magnitude, the inauguration of Chile's new president Sebastian Piñera went ahead as scheduled on March 11. It marked the first time since the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet that a conservative has led Chile. In many people's minds, conservative and authoritarian are virtually synonymous, so it will take a lot of confidence-building measures before those on the left get used to Piñera as president. In his inaugural speech, he called on Chileans to uphold national unity, an obligatory gesture. The necessity of rebuilding after the earthquake means that it will be extremely difficult to live up to his campaign pledge to be fiscally prudent. After being sworn in as president, Piñera began a tour to the worst-hit regions of Chile. As a billionaire, it will be a challenge for him to convince the lower- and middle-class earthquake victims that he truly understands their plight. See the Washington Post.

As for the suddenly-weak left in Chile, former President Michelle Bachelet urged the Concertacion group to adopt a self-critical attitude and to rotate its leadership so as to maintain vitality. During an interview in Spain, she didn't rule out running for president again in 2013, as Piñera's term comes to an end. She was attending a conference on women's leadership in Spain, which is currently governed by Socialist Jaime Zapatero. See El Mercurio, in Spanish. (Zapatero is facing a severe budget crisis, part of the generalized economic crisis afflicting European Union right now.)

Earthquake effects

It was on February 27 that the massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile, and miraculously, the death toll is far less than most people feared at first. According to Chile's Interior Ministry, 432 are confirmed dead, and 98 remain missing, yielding a total figure of 530. Chile's high level of preparedness and building codes undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives; all the money invested in such preparations has clearly paid off.

The loss of exports of wine, timber, fruit, and other products will put an extra burden on Chile, just when it most needs capital funds for reconstruction. The biggest of the "aftershocks" had a magnitude of 6.9, and really should be classified as an earthquake in its own right. It happened on March 11, just as the inauguration ceremonies were getting underway, with the epicenter at the town of Pichilemu.

And if all that wasn't enough, on March 15 there was blackout, and 90 percent of the country lost power. It was caused by an overheated transformer, apparently not related to the aftershocks.