If Trump Doesn’t Want It, Chile Does
It may not appear to make much sense, but while President Trump belittles with ugly self serving insults the main US national security organization, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Chilean government is turning to that same FBI to help resolve a sticky legal issue related to a local criminal case involving cell phone interceptions.
So, the President of the US, who is ultimately in charge of the FBI, does not trust it to be fair in pursuit of justice under the law (although he appointed the present Director), but the Chileans are willing to work with FBI specialists assigned to the US Embassy in Santiago, a clear expression of collegial bi-national problem solving….and trust.
This is not the only expression of the topsy-turvy world we have brought upon ourselves. The conservative Trump administration is a year into its four year term, and Chile’s newly elected conservative (and also wealthy) president, Sebastian Piñera, is about to begin his four year term in March. While these two presidents have some notable similarities, they are different enough, and their country’s cultures are different enough, that Chile and the United States are marching these days to very different drummers. The comparative cases of immigration, trade, and climate change are enough to describe this north-south divergence.
The Trump administration, in an ugly expression of nativism, racism, and just plain cultural ignorance, is all about fencing out the “bad hombres” from “shit holes” south of the border, sending home Haitians and Salvadorans (but not Cubans, for reasons I am sure some of my friends can explain), and reducing significantly new immigrants from countries that dress, talk, pray, and think differently than the (mostly white) Christians who inhabit the central and southern parts of the US.
Now compare this to Chile, a really quite conservative country generally speaking. Since the Spanish arrived from Peru to settle Chile and established the Capital city of Santiago, waves of European immigrants settled into the country, pushing the original inhabitants out of areas the settlers felt they needed for agriculture and later forestry development, but not before meztization of the general population. Germans, Italians, more Spanish, and Yugoslavs came and stayed, many becoming the driving force for development of the country.
For several years now, as Chile has consistently experienced economic development while other south american countries have faced more difficult political and economic situations, Chile has experienced increasing numbers of immigrants from the neighboring Spanish speaking countries of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Argentina. The Peruvians have invaded the rather simple traditional Chilean culinary scene, making ceviche, aji de gallina, and causa limeña pervasive favorites. The incursion of Peruvian food in Chile is helped along by the fact that Peruvian women who can prepare these delicious meals are replacing the Chilean maids, who specialized in empanadas, cazuela and porotos granados. To make the takeover complete, the Peruvian version of the pisco sour is generally favored over the Chilean version, but I, with my solid affinity for things Chilean, would never agree with that. (Buy me a Peruvian sour, though, and I’ll drink it, gladly.) Colombians have permeated the service industry, with their obviously clearer well spoken Spanish and polite demeanor. Neither of these characteristics has rubbed off too much on their Chilean brothers and sisters. Argentines have for years moved back and forth across the Andes, as tourists, entrepreneurs, and consumer neighbors, often to take advantage of currency and fiscal policy differences. These immigrants have never been overwhelming in numbers, and they assimilate well due to the common language and culture.
Due in large part to Chile’s relative political stability and economic growth, the number of foreigners living in Chile has doubled in the last four years. Now a new influx of Venezuelans and Haitians is resulting from the combination of civil strife at home, and work opportunities in Chile’s ever growing economy.Ten years ago, you could count on two hands the Haitians emigrating to Chile; two years ago about 50 thousand arrived, and last year that number rose to over 100 thousand. The Haitian immigration is interesting in that you might not think Haitians would be attracted to Chile. It’s much colder part of the year, it is not tropical, and is a long way away from Haiti. There had not been a regular flow of tourist or business travel. There was, however, a popular Haitian/Chilean soccer player on the previously successful Chilean national “Roja” soccer team, and Chile participated for years in the UN security force in Haiti, probably raising the image of Chile in the Haitian population. Whatever the reason, Haitians are flocking to Chile and they seem to like it, adapt well, and the Chileans so far have welcomed these non-Spanish speaking immigrants.
Underlying this situation in Chile is a fairly flexible, not very sophisticated national immigration law. With this growing immigrant population, a new, improved immigration law is probably required. A draft law was developed several years ago, and the outgoing Bachelet government prepared another draft law that has been kicked down the road to the next administration. Every country has its racists and cultural purists, as well as people who are just simply afraid of people who speak, dress, and worship differently. But so far, and especially during the recent presidential campaign and election, Chileans showed a level of civility and maturity on the immigration issue that compares well to the disgusting references to immigrants during the United States presidential election, and since, by the now president and his supporters. This bodes well for the difficult discussions Chileans will need to have on the new immigration law. If they can upgrade their immigration and naturalization law, maybe Chileans will also figure out how to improve the overall situation of the indigenous people living in the northern Andean and Araucanian regions of the country, but that’s a discussion for another time.
For years, maybe decades, US foreign policy has tugged, pushed, and pulled other countries to commit to freer trade, bullying them to lower their duties on imported goods especially those from the United States. Non-tariff barriers to trade like phytosanitary standards, labor laws, and environmental standards were to be similar to those practiced in the US, to create a “level playing field”. And all these issues were negotiated initially in global trade pacts, then when that didn’t work, regional agreements. One country that struggled to keep up with the free trade movement was Chile, lowering import duties to almost zero, floating its currency, welcoming foreign investment, and signing free trade agreements with 65 countries. Chile ignored the Mercosur free trade agreement that includes most large South American countries, and instead is a member of the Pacific Alliance (with Mexico, Colombia, and Peru), a much more successful trade pact. This led to Chile joining the negotiations for the much anticipated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yes, this is the trade pact from which Trump, in his now familiar loud, ugly fashion, has withdrawn the US.
Chile and the other TPP countries will probably sign this agreement, in spite of the fact that the US President took his ball and went home in a huff, suggesting he might consider returning to the table if he could get a better deal for the US. Of course, in the meantime, the Chinese are cleverly positioning themselves to fill the void left by the US withdrawal. There is no clearer example of differences in the way countries approach international diplomacy in this “time of Trump”, than the Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister’s polite suggestion that it would be good if the US would rejoin the discussions of the TPP, while the US Secretary of State flits around South America warning about the dangers of China’s involvement in international trade and investment. The Ugly American is back, and it shows blatantly on issues of international trade.
Smaller countries like Chile find comfort and occasional benefit in joining together with other countries in alliances, especially the International Organizations like the UN and its technical and specialized bodies. So, after being preached to for decades on the dangers of global warming and climate change by the so called developed countries, led by the United States, Chile and most every other reasonable country was appalled when Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreement. It’s possible most other countries didn’t think that the US would do what the agreement was urging (a self designed and self monitored plan to reduce environmental impact). It’s also possible most other countries had low expectations of the Paris accord with or without the US involvement.
However, the negotiations leading up to the Paris accord signing did help focus global attention on climate change, however you want to define it or whether or not you think the human race has anything to do with it. If we compare what the leaders of the US and Chile have done since the US withdrew, there are indications that the Chileans are quite serious about moving to cleaner energy production, investing heavily in solar and wind, and stopping planned large hydroelectric projects which might have had devastating environmental effects in some of the country’s most valued natural areas. The effects of climate change are being felt every day in Chile, as it is in the US. Increased flooding and landslides from increased melting of permanent glaciers, last year’s frightening and damaging wild fires caused by extraordinarily high temperatures and winds, and significant variations in temperatures and rainfall in sensitive agricultural land have the disaster response mechanisms of the country on perpetual alert.
But in the US, President Trump and his ministers of environment, interior, and agriculture, all steeped in conflicts of interest, are backing off important environmental safeguards many believe will greatly mortgage the future of the quality of air, water, and life in general in the US.
Again, on climate change, Chile goes one way, the US another. Take your pick.
Posted in Santiago, Chile, on February 8, 2018.