To read my most recent article, click here.
To read my most recent article, click here.
As if the political situation in the Middle East could become no more volatile, we now have not just WikiLeaks but another document scandal, this one pertaining to the failed Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Dubbed the "Palestine papers," the documents represent the largest leak in the history of the Middle East conflict, comprising a whopping 1,600 confidential records.
Spanning successive White House administrations, the Palestine Papers were leaked to Al Jazeera and the Guardian of London and have already created a firestorm of controversy for the Palestinian Authority which gave away key political demands to the Israeli side. In the long-term, however, the documents could wind up shaming not just the Palestinians, Israelis and the United States but also countries as far afield as Chile.
That is because Palestinian negotiators seem to have caved when it came to standing up for their people's historic "right of return." Since Israel expelled Palestinians in 1948, refugees have been floating around various corners of the Middle East hoping to one day return to their ancestral homes. Yet, according to leaked documents, Palestinian negotiators agreed to the mere return of 10,000 people over the course of 10 years, a minuscule fraction of the overall number of refugees totaling more than 5 million.
According to reports, Palestinian president Abu Mazen remarked that it would be "illogical" to expect that Israel would accept five million refugees as this would signify "the end of Israel." If true — and needless to say the Palestinian authority has derided the papers as false, taken out of context or manipulated — then the document release sorely discredits negotiators. What is even more bizarre, however, was a scheme launched by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to relocate Palestinian refugees to South America.
The surreal discussion took place in June, 2008 when Rice met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Berlin. At the time, Rice was following up on the Annapolis peace conference of the previous year and final status negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert. According to minutes from the meeting, Rice remarked "maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind. Chile, Argentina, etc (ie, give land)." Though the suggestion was certainly outlandish, Rice may have been influenced by a previous decision to transfer 117 Palestinian refugees to Chile between March and April, 2008, shortly before the Berlin negotiation.
Grim Conditions at Al Tanf
The 2008 transfer, a truly dramatic exodus, brought Palestinian refugees from far-flung Middle Eastern camps all the way to South America. The Palestinians had long been stuck in the miserable makeshift Al Tanf camp located in a bleak no man's land along the Iraqi-Syrian border. For years, the refugees had sought a stable home without success. The majority of Palestinian refugees who arrived in Iraq came from the city of Haifa in 1948, and their children grew up in the new adopted country. Under Saddam Hussein, the Palestinians were treated favorably but after the dictator's fall the refugees once again came under persecution. In the midst of war and instability, some were deprived of their residency papers which made it impossible for the refugees to come and go from Iraq.
The Syrian Al Tanf camp, which received aid from the UNHCR and its partners - mainly UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), UNICEF, the World Food Program, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had been set up originally to harbor Palestinians fleeing persecution in Iraq as no other nation would take them in. When they first arrived, the refugees thought their stay in Al Tanf would be merely temporary but they ultimately wound up having to stay there for nearly four years, during which time they had to endure pests such as snakes and scorpions, not to mention extreme temperatures, sandstorms as well as snowstorms, floods and inadequate access to medical care.
Bachelet to Palestinians: "I Know What It Means to Be a Refugee"
Coming to the aid of the Palestinians, Chile offered asylum to some of the refugees in response to a UN appeal. Though the refugees were relieved to be leaving Al Tanf, they were apprehensive about their uncertain future. In Chile meanwhile, the authorities undertook an ambitious program aimed at reinserting the Palestinians into national life, while providing crucial assistance in the areas of housing, food, clothing, education, health, language skills and employment. After forty hours of grueling travel from Damascus, the refugees arrived in La Calera, a small farming town north of the Chilean capital of Santiago. "Leave your suffering in the past and let Chile be the fountain of your newfound happiness," declared Deputy Interior Secretary Felipe Harboe.
In certain respects, Chile was an agreeable and logical destination for the refugees. The country has large tracts of sparsely populated land and has Latin America's largest Palestinian population, estimated at some 350,000 people. The Palestinian community in Chile dates back a century: the first to make the trek to South America fled the Ottoman Empire and the First World War. Today, most Palestinians are middle class textile merchants and have integrated well into Chilean society.
The town of La Calera has long been home to Chileans of Middle Eastern descent, and as the refugees arrived they were greeted by local residents waving Palestinian flags and singing the Palestinian anthem. Later, the town served Arabic food, played local folk music, and danced to Chile's national dance, called the "cueca." The refugees, relaxed but exhausted, smiled and nodded while murmuring "gracias" to the crowd. "We are confident that here we will be able to live in peace," one refugee remarked through an interpreter. After the ceremony the exhausted migrants were escorted to their apartments.
As I discuss in some detail in Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan), former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was herself a political exile in her youth: fleeing Chile during the military rule of Augusto Pinochet, she found shelter in communist East Germany. As the Palestinian refugees arrived, the socialist politician harked back to her own past. "I want to tell you that I know exactly how it feels to arrive in a new country as a refugee," Bachelet remarked during a reception for the Palestinians.
What about "The Right of Return"?
For the Palestinians, undertaking a new life in Chile was infinitely superior to languishing at the Al Tanf refugee camp. Yet, this outlandish story raises fundamental questions about the Palestinian struggle and its long term political prospects. By accepting Chile's invitation, the Palestinians sacrificed their "right of return." For Israel, it must have seemed like a sweet deal: if the Palestinians carved out a home 8,000 miles away in the Andes, this could relieve pressure on Israel to return land.
For the Palestinian community in Chile, relocation of their compatriots to South America gave rise to some mixed feelings. While the local community thanked the Bachelet government for its generosity, it maintained the Palestinian historic right of return under United Nations Resolution 194. The local Palestinians argued that Chile, which had already signed the resolution, would be violating the principle of right of return by agreeing to the refugee relocation.
The Chilean authorities, activists argued, should continue to lobby the Israelis and the international community so as to relocate the Al Tanf refugees to their legitimate homes. It would not be until later that the Palestinians would come around, reluctantly, to the Chilean plan. Mauricio Abu-Gosh, president of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, remarked that the right of return should be upheld but that the first priority should be to rescue the refugees from their plight.
Two years later, in the wake of the release of the Palestinian Papers, Abu-Ghosh was outraged when he read of the revelations. Israel, he remarked, was "making the rules" in defiance of UN Resolution 194. Ghosh added that Chile was certainly a desirable country for foreign immigration but Rice's notion of turning the Andean nation into a new homeland for Palestinians was "impractical." Daniel Jadue, vice president of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, declared that the news was "completely unacceptable." Rice's suggestion, Jadue explained, indicated that the negotiation was "dishonest," and "clearly inclined toward Israel."
What is behind the Palestinian-Chilean connection? Perhaps, Rice was inclined to suggest Chile as a possible relocation point given that the Bachelet government was a pliable U.S. ally in the wider region. Though the Chilean president was a socialist and publicly declared her support for other leftist governments in South America, her government pursued friendly relations with the United States. Indeed, as I have written, Bachelet did her utmost to convince Washington that not all Latin American leaders were fire breathing populists or identical in political orientation. According to documents released by WikiLeaks, Bachelet told U.S. diplomats that there were many moderates in Bolivia and President Evo Morales was very different from Venezuela's Chávez.
The Palestinian Papers raise some provocative questions. Did the Bush administration ever broach Rice's idea officially with Chile and Argentina? If WikiLeaks has any documents pertaining to this issue, then Julian Assange should consider releasing any information which would fill in the gaps from the Palestine Papers. If there are further revelations, this could cause severe embarrassment not only to the U.S. and Israel, but also to the Palestinian Authority. What is more, further reporting could discredit the Chilean government which publicly supports the creation of a Palestinian state but which privately may seek to hide any skeletons lurking in the closet.
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In Oliver Stone's recent documentary South of the Border, leftist regimes in Latin America are depicted rather idealistically. In country after country, Stone interviews the region's leaders, who criticize the United States and present a common anti-imperialist front. Yet, while it's certainly true that politics has taken a decisive leftward shift from Venezuela to Bolivia and beyond, many differences and tensions remain. That, at any rate, is the impression I got when I read U.S. diplomatic cables released by whistleblower Wikileaks. Previously, in a couple of online articles, I analyzed internal political fissures within the top echelons of the Brazilian political leadership. U.S. cables reveal that some members of the Lula administration harbored suspicions about Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, and, more often than not, saw eye to eye with Washington when it came to wider South American geopolitics. While these revelations are surely eye opening, it now appears as if they may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Take, for example, the case of Argentina. Publicly, the nation's power couple, Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, has embraced Hugo Chávez and the region's leftist "Pink Tide." Yet in 2007, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires noted that Néstor was engaged in a kind of diplomatic double game: on the one hand, the Argentine president sought to "stake out a position for himself close to Chávez," while also maintaining a close working relationship with the U.S. on particular issues such as counter-terrorism. The U.S. Embassy saw Kirchner as a kind of latter-day, independent Charles de Gaulle, a politician who would maintain a "balance" in relations between Venezuela and the U.S.
Néstor: A Paper Tiger?
From the beginning, American officials noted, the Kirchner style "has been combative in the face of real, imagined and fabricated challenges from sources as varied as the Catholic church, neoliberalism and the 'Washington consensus,' the World Bank and IMF, parasitic foreign multi-nationals, the press and political opponents (whether from within or from outside the Peronist party) and — indirectly stated — the U.S. This style has stood him in good stead. As the economy boomed, buoyed by favorable external factors, his popularity ratings have soared, and have remained high, due in no small part to his pugnacious character." Wikileaks cables reveal U.S. diplomats by turn as either cynical, supercilious or blasé toward the South American left, so one must take the documents with a certain grain of salt. In this case, however, it would appear that the Americans had a bead on Kirchner. Indeed, even as Néstor struck an anti-imperialist pose, senior Argentine officials were meeting with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for discussions on counter-terrorism and counternarcotics efforts. What is more, in conversations with Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana, Gonzales brought up the "the situation in Bolivia and Ecuador, and the need for strengthening stability in the region." Hardly confrontational, the Argentines placed great importance on attracting U.S. investment.
Despite his rhetorical bluster, U.S. officials had little fear of Néstor. Though U.S.-Argentine relations took a nosedive as a result of the November, 2005 Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas, in which leftists leaders, Kirchner included, showed up George Bush, Néstor was at heart an opportunist and would not move against the U.S. In fact, the Mar del Plata episode "perhaps convinced Kirchner he had gone a bit too far down the populist route. Since then, we have seen a gradual and steady improvement in relations with an increasing willingness by senior-level officials in engaging in dialogue with us and in identifying areas where we can strengthen cooperation.
Cristina: She's No Rebel
Cristina Kirchner proved similarly pliable. On the presidential campaign trail, the Argentine first lady touched base with the U.S. ambassador and "expressed a strong desire to promote foreign investment, increase scientific and educational exchange with the United States, and 'tell it like it is' with American policymakers." Cristina's conciliatory tone convinced the Americans that she would be a "reliable, trustworthy, and accessible partner of the United States."
In another 2009 cable, U.S. diplomats report on Argentina's mid-term elections in which the Kirchners lost badly. Discussing the post-electoral milieu, the Americans expressed skepticism that Argentina's power couple would radicalize the country, preferring instead a "reform-lite" agenda which would seek "to recapture political space without significant policy concessions."
Moreover, on the foreign policy front diplomats did not expect Cristina to embrace a more "Bolivarian" agenda. The Argentines, U.S. diplomats noted, had "become much less eager to criticize the U.S. directly since Barack Obama became President. CFK [Cristina] wears her affection for our Commander-in-Chief on her sleeve." Furthermore, Argentina was unlikely to embrace Bolivarian politics more generally, since Brazil was a much more important economic partner than Venezuela. "Lula and his associates will remain an important moderating influence on the Kirchners," diplomats noted.
Chile: Bachelet Placates U.S. Diplomat
Judging from the cables, the U.S. had little to fear from Chile, either. During a luncheon meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela at La Moneda Presidential Palace, Bachelet exclaimed that not all Latin American leaders were fire breathing populists or identical in political orientation. Fortunately, Bachelet remarked, there were many moderates in Bolivia and President Evo Morales was very different from Venezuela's Chávez. Then Bachelet dished on the Kirchners, remarking that Argentina "has problems with credibility as a country." The country's Peronist ideology, Bachelet said, "can lead to paranoia" and undermine political and economic stability. In contrast to orderly and reliable Chile, Bachelet said, "Argentines tend to live from crisis to crisis...rather than pursuing stable, long-term policies." In a particularly damning aside, Chileans at the meeting agreed that Cristina was emblematic of Argentina's problems.
The more populist regimes could use a bit more diplomatic support from the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Yet as the Wikileaks documents reveal, that is extremely unlikely since moderate leaders throughout the region are politically compromised by the United States and, even worse, criticize their peers in private with American diplomats. Even worse, some leaders even lobby the U.S. to take a harder line with Chávez. At one meeting in 2009, for example, Mexico President Felipe Calderón urged U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to increase U.S. presence in the wider region, and in particular to engage Brazil in an effort to isolate Venezuela.
Faced with dwindling support, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia have become very embattled and take a no holds barred, combative approach toward Washington. It's a battle of nerves which has become much more intense than commonly portrayed in the media. As early as 2006, for example, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas noted that "Cubans cooperate extensively with Venezuelan intelligence services." Indeed, diplomats reported that "Cuban intelligence officers have direct access to Chávez and frequently provide him with intelligence reporting unvetted by Venezuelan officers."
U.S. officials fretted about the situation, remarking that "The impact of Cuban involvement in Venezuelan intelligence could impact U.S. interests directly. Venezuelan intelligence services are among the most hostile towards the United States in the hemisphere, but they lack the expertise that Cuban services can provide. Cuban intelligence routinely provides the BRV [Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela] intelligence reports about the activities of the USG [U.S. government]."
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas struck back in kind. Two years later, American officials requested assistance from the Department of Defense in executing a "strategic communications plan...to influence the information environment within Venezuela. The strategy's goal is to counter the active and deliberate campaign by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV) to instill in the population a negative perception of the U.S. and distort more than 100 years of close and mutually beneficial relations between our two countries." Hardly amused by the Americans and their propaganda efforts, Venezuela reportedly conducted intelligence operations against the U.S. Embassy as recently as January, 2010.
Bolivia: A Pawn in Wider Geopolitical Chess
Faced with domestic political unrest and hostility from Washington, Bolivia has also engaged in a battle of nerves with the United States. Yet unlike Venezuela, Bolivia is very poor and perhaps as a result has relied on extensive foreign assistance in charting its political destiny. In Wikileaks documents, Bolivia emerges as a kind of political pawn in the midst of larger geopolitical forces.
In 2006, the U.S. Ambassador in La Paz wrote that "President Morales... lacks confidence in his economic and international relations abilities." As a result, Morales relied on a group of Cuban and Venezuelan advisers "who seem to have growing influence with the President." U.S. sensitive reporting meanwhile revealed that Morales met with his foreign advisers many times a week without any domestic advisers present. "Morales," the ambassador continued, "likely sees the Cuban and Venezuelan advisers as non-threatening to his domestic power." The following year, a U.S. report claimed that Venezuela had greased the political loyalty of Bolivian military commanders. However, these Venezuelan "bonuses" had "created much resentment in the mid- and lower-ranks and cost the high command significant legitimacy." U.S. cables suggest that Morales may be somewhat sensitive to the notion that Bolivia is being overrun by foreign interests. In one communication, it is mentioned that "Morales sees environmental issues as one area where he can carve out an international identity independent from that of his close ally, President Hugo Chávez." An animated Morales reportedly declared that "he was surrounded by well-wishers in [the international climate summit at] Copenhagen urging him 'not to abandon them,' while Chávez was alone in the corner."
How much can we trust these sensitive documents dealing with Bolivia, let alone Venezuela? Perhaps, U.S. officials in both countries painted an unflattering portrait of both countries because they thought that was what their superiors wanted to hear, or alternatively the intelligence is just plain shoddy. However, one cannot discount that the accounts have some basis: recently some Latin American leaders failed to show up for a summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Perhaps, the Wikileaks scandal is causing embarrassment.
Wikileaks and its Significance for the Hemisphere
Though the U.S. certainly doesn't emerge very rosy from the Wikileaks scandal, coming off more often than not as manipulating, imperious and supercilious toward the Latin American Pink Tide, the recent torrent of released documents doesn't reflect well on South American leaders either. Far from presenting a united anti-imperialist front, the Pink Tide is internally divided and frequently compromised. Additionally, some reports reveal certain leaders as somewhat vain or petty. It's too early to say what the likely impact of the Wikileaks scandal will be on the hemisphere, though hopefully it will prompt South American political leaders to take a more critical stance toward the United States and to cease their useless and counter-productive backbiting.
Recently, I caught up with Manuel Cabieses, the Director of Punto Final, a Chilean bi-monthly newspaper. During the one hour interview, Cabieses discussed his own background and opposition to the Pinochet government, Chile’s free trade agreement with the U.S., the state of social movements in Chile, Hugo Chavez, China’s rising profile in South America, and the current position of left media in Chile.
NK: Could you tell me a bit about your personal background?
MC: I originally worked in an oil company as a young man. We created a union there, and I was responsible for the labor newspaper. Through the paper I got involved in journalism; I never studied journalism in a formal setting.
NK: How did you get involved in politics?
MC: I first got interested in a party which no longer exists in Chile, which was called Falange Nacional. This was the precursor to the Christian Democratic Party. I got interested in it because my mother was Catholic and friendly with various leaders within the party. I was never a militant however. Then, when I started working I got interested in the Communist Party. I wasn’t such a militant there either, but I got interested in Marxist books. Later, for work related reasons I emigrated to Venezuela, this was during the 1960s. In Venezuela I had contact with the Communist Party of Venezuela which at that time had initiated armed struggle. I later returned to Chile and became more active in the Communist Party. I took up work as a journalist at the Communist Party paper for example. Later I broke with the Communist Party and I became a militant within the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (known by its Spanish acronym MIR). This was up to and even after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973. Later I was imprisoned and expelled from the country. Subsequently I returned in secret to Chile as a MIR militant.
NK: Could you explain a bit about prison and exile?
MC: (long pause). I was detained 2 days after the coup, in the street.
NK: Nearby to your offices here?
MC: Yes, here in downtown. I was in a car. We were all obliged to get out of the vehicle, and someone in the street recognized me. The dictatorship had issued advisories, warning that certain people should hand themselves over, including me. I was imprisoned a little more than 2 years, in different prisons all over the country. Finally I was expelled along with my family. We went to Cuba. I was there for around 4 years and later I returned secretly with my woman, that Senora outside who you saw in my office. We spent almost ten years living in secret here in Chile, working with the MIR. That’s about it in summary.
NK: How strong are social movements here and to what extent can they push the government to the left?
MC: They’re very weak and atomized. The dictatorship, through repression and imposition of its economic model, were able to fracture social movements, and almost succeeded in liquidating any kind of left political movement. The labor unions today are far fewer in number than in the 1970s. It’s unlikely that we’ll see the emergence of a potent social movement here like in other countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador for example.
NK: What about students?
MC: The student movement last year was very strong in the sense that there hadn’t been a movement like that for many years. But intrinsically it wasn’t very strong in terms of organization and wasn’t able to mobilize on a national level. This year the student movement hasn’t advanced at all.
NK: What about the Indians?
MC: After the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, the Mapuche Indians have been politically active on a sporadic basis. But, as with other sectors of society, it’s a very atomized movement and there is no national Mapuche organization. The most radicalized Mapuches have been very beaten back and repressed.
NK: Could there be more social conflict here if poverty increases?
MC: Chilean economic development has reached a threshold. The economy was growing at a rate of 6-7%, but last year it went down to 4%. This year it’s hardly expected that it will significantly increase beyond this rate. The dynamism of the neo liberal, export model, seems to have reached a plateau because Chile lacks necessary infrastructure. Fundamentally, the export model is based on mining, especially copper, the rest is fruit and wood. But there’s no capacity to promote greater development and we lack diversified technology to compete. As a result the economy grows slowly, and a high number of people, some 500,000 individuals, are unemployed on a permanent basis.
NK: Has poverty been reduced?
MC: There has been a reduction in poverty in terms of percentages, but what has advanced more rapidly is extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of a minority. Investors have reaped fabulous profits in the last few years, but meanwhile salaries and pensions have suffered. In this manner, the contradictions between extreme poverty and wealth have been sharpened. At the same time, the political parties have been delegitimized. The same political conditions are being generated here that we observed before the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or Ecuador on a permanent basis, or Bolivia. These conditions will generate a difficult political and social milieu in future.
NK: How does society view Chile’s free trade agreement with the United States?
MC: There are labor sectors who look favorably upon the treaty. They believe what the media has told them, that the prosperity, this dynamic export economy, will filter down from the top towards the bottom. There are sectors of society which are not numerically insignificant, which have benefited in some way from the export model. For example, in terms of credit. Credit cards didn’t exist here before. But today a great many Chileans, even those earning low salaries, have them. We have also seen massification of cell phones. In Chile there are 14 million cell phones, and the population is some 16 million people. Support for the export model is clearly demonstrated in the electoral arena. Since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990, between the electoral vote for the Concertacion and the right, more than 90% of Chileans have chosen to support this model. That’s because a political and social alternative hasn’t yet arisen.
NK: What have been the advantages of the model?
MC: There’s been a great modernization, growth in telecommunications, roads, airports, ports, and all sectors linked to export.
NK: Yes, the airport is quite impressive!
MC: If you go out into the countryside, a half hour out of Santiago, you’ll find agro export farms. There has been prosperity in that sense. Each year the companies register an increase on the stock market.
NK: Is there any chance Chile would back out of the free trade agreement with the U.S.?
MC: No, and in fact every day Chile signs a new trade agreement with other countries.
NK: How do you see China’s rising presence economically speaking?
MC: China is becoming more important. One sign of this is the anticipated copper profits from sales to China, amounting to $ 500-600 million dollars. China pays in advance.
NK: What do social movements have to say about China’s rising profile?
MC: Social movements are passive towards these types of issues. There are some labor leaders who are sympathetic towards China because they think it will have a respectful attitude towards Chilean interests. I think they are mistaken. The Chinese are doing business at the same velocity and lack of scruples as the United States.
NK: How strong is left wing journalism here in Chile?
MC: In television there’s nothing, there’s no station that identifies as leftist. There’s a radio station which belongs to the Communist Party, and there’s a few progressive radio stations. In the press there’s only two bi monthlies, El Siglo, of the Communist Party, and Punto Final, both have low circulation. We have no publicity and experience distribution problems. On the internet there’s more diversity but in Chile most people don’t have access as this is just beginning here.
NK: In Venezuela Chavez has created a lot of state television media and there’s been an information battle going on. Is that possible here?
MC: (long pause). You say, here?
NK: Yes (laughs). Are you surprised by my question?
MC: In Venezuela, you have that situation because there’s a government that confronts the private media. Here, the media is completely identified with the government. The government is the Concertacion, but the party shares power with the right. The media meanwhile is totally on the right.
NK: How strong is CNN and U.S. media here in Chile?
MC: Very strong, but amongst the middle and upper middle classes.
NK: Is Telesur (a satellite news station partially funded by Venezuela) beamed here, and could it compete?
MC: There are some regions of the country, for example in the center, where you can receive Telesur and even Cuban TV. Otherwise however, only people who have access to Direct TV can watch Telesur. You need a long range antenna.
NK: Have you ever had any contact with the U.S. Embassy here while working for Punto Final?
MC: I have never had any contact with them, expect for one time when I applied for a visa to visit Puerto Rico. I was turned down. But, the embassy subscribes to Punto Final (laughs).
NK: It seems to me that Chile’s relationship with the U.S. is a bit ambiguous?
MC: I don’t think Chile has criticized the U.S. in a very direct way as some other Latin American governments have done in the past. Chile is located here by a geographical accident, in the Southern Cone of Latin America. With the exception of the Iraq War, Chilean foreign policy is completely identified with U.S. and European interests.
NK: You interviewed Chavez, what was your impression and what do you think will happen as far as Chilean Venezuelan relations?
MC: In 1994 I met Chavez in Chile. He was on a tour of Latin America and in Chile no one wanted to receive him. No leftist party wanted to associate itself with him because he had this image of being a military coup plotter. But we at Punto Final interviewed him. We went to his hotel and did a two page spread. These days I have a very high opinion of Chavez. I think he’s matured as far as his political ideas, he’s made them more solid, firmer. Sometimes to my mind he uses strident rhetoric when characterizing certain foreign leaders and doesn’t think before he acts. As far as Chilean Venezuelan relations, I don’t expect much. I think optimally what one might hope is that Chile may retain a respectful attitude towards Venezuela. But, I don’t think it will be friendly. Perhaps friendly between high profile politicians like Bachelet and Chavez, but this won’t extend to deep relations between the two governments.
Manuel Cabieses is the Director of Punto Final, a Chilean bi-monthly newspaper.