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“Just a Picture with Trump Won’t Do”

On Friday, September 28, the President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, is scheduled to have a White House meeting with President Trump. The idea of these two leaders meeting conjures up pleasant images of past Chile/US White House meetings between the relatively incompatible Bachelet and G.W. Bush, or even the younger, brasher Piñera I and Obama.

M. Bachelet meets G.W. Bush in White House, June 2006

Pinera meets Obama in White House, 2013

But the meeting this week brings together two leaders who are both proven to be somewhat unpredictable, independent, and comfortable going off message into unscripted territory. They both are rich and arrogant enough to believe they earned every cent of their wealth through hard work and because they are very intelligent; they will get along if each validates this in the other. In fact, however, while there are some similarities between the two men (see an earlier posting on this subject), they are not as like-minded as some accuse. And even if they were, the current political dynamics of their countries will force them apart, making the meeting on Friday risky, especially for Piñera and Chile, and as such well worth following.

The relationship between Chile and the US suffered immeasurably a half century ago because of US involvement in Chile’s internal political processes, including subversion of the Chilean electoral process. Chileans and their leaders were as offended by this as Americans and most of our leaders are when recently confronted with similar violations of US sovereignty by the Russians. Chile and the US have slowly worked the bilateral relationship back to one of relatively friendly collaboration in most areas. A milestone in rebuilding the relationship was the signing of the Chile-US free trade agreement in June of 2003, which eliminated tariffs on 90% of US exports to Chile and 95% of Chilean exports to the US. This agreement today is alive and well, and hardly the stuff of Trump’s whining about other countries “taking advantage of the US on trade”.

Chile and the US have for decades now appeared pretty coincident on the big issues that define western liberalism: support for democracy, free and open trade, defense of human rights, and resolution of conflict through multilateral means. At least when the leaders of the two countries have met over the past years they have agreed that these were shared principles, worthy of strengthening and support by two close partners with deep democracy in common.

The chief negotiator for the Chilean government on the free trade agreement was Osvaldo Rosales. He also led Chile’s team of negotiators for several other significant trade agreements, most notably with the European Union and South Korea. Subsequently, Rosales spent a decade working on trade and international economic integration issues at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).

Yesterday, Mr. Rosales landed a spot on the Op/Ed page of El Mercurio, Chile’s leading daily paper, renowned for its generally conservative views but recognized as an overall informative newspaper. His column is aimed at President Piñera, an attempt to define the background for his meeting with Trump later this week. Due to the timeliness of Rosales’s column and his role in the US – Chile free trade agreement, I have translated it and copied that entire translation here for your information and enjoyment, and for my (and hopefully your) subsequent comment.

Begin D. Joslyn translation of Osvaldo Rosales column Encuentro en la Casa Blanca, El Mercurio 9/25/18:

{“Pro growth policies, combating corruption, cooperation in energy and cyber security, efforts to restore democracy to Venezuela and a partnership towards a more prosperous, secure, and democratic west.” This is the publicized agenda set our for the Trump-Piñera dialogue to be held at the White House on Friday, September 28.

All laudable objectives which can entail a wide range of policies. Frankly, the image of the West that Trump is promoting has little in common with the liberal postwar regime where the US played a central role. Trump has become the principal adversary of multilateralism, questioning the UN, the World Trade Organization, NATO, the EU, removing the US from the TPP, the Paris accord, and forcing South Korea and Mexico into abusive renegotiations of the respective free trade agreements. Today he unleashes a trade war with China, appealing to a 16th century mercantilism and a threatening unilateralism, with which he introduces serious uncertainties for the future global economy.

The risk of an imminent financial crisis and global recession towards the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 is closely associated with Trump”s policies. He added increased fiscal spending and tax cuts for the most wealthy, to an already overheated economy, taking the fiscal deficit to 4.6% of GDP and over 5% for future years. His approach is questionable: expecting growth through a) Plutocratic tax reform, as M. Wolf (Financial Times) defined it, b) with energy deregulation that favors coal and petroleum, c) with financial deregulation that unwraps the crisis prevention mechanisms put in place as a result of the subprime experience, and d) with protectionist mechanisms that favor the national steel barons and negatively affect consumers and north american competitiveness.

Trump gets along well with authoritarians like Duterte (Philipines), Salvini (Italy) and Duda (Poland), where he wants to send troops. Regarding corruption, Trumps campaign chief (Manafort) and his principal lawyer (Cohen), have just pled guilty to crimes, and it is probable that Trump himself will face trial for various charges. 

Trump’s democratic resume is not especially enviable. His constant attacks on the press, his attempts to fire the independent council Mueller, who is investigating the connection between Russia and Trump, his conflicts with the FBI and other national security agencies, permanent discrediting of adversaries, insults to women, his racism and open sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan, his indifference to the most basic human rights of immigrants by separating children from their parents….the list could go on.

Hopefully the discussions about Venezuela will discard a north american invasion, an option entertained by the white House according to the New York Times. If there is any broader concern for the Latin American region beyond Venezuela, it would be good to consider the danger of Bolsonaro in Brasil, the principal danger in Brasil and in Latin America, according to The Economist.

For Chile, the key principles of our foreign policy should continue to be: a) support multilateralism, renewing and modernizing these mechanisms and institutions; b) resist that Chile gets brought into the trade and technological conflict between the US and China; c) challenge Trump’s protectionism with renewal of the World Trade Organization and providing strong leadership to and of the Pacific Alliance; d) global cooperation on global climate change; and e) promote the convergence of the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur.

Just a picture with Trump is little help to these objectives.

Signed: Osvaldo Rosales }

End of translation of Rosales column.

These days I am often asked, usually warily, by friends who have little connection to Chile and Latin America, “What do they(Chileans) think about us now? The last half of the question unstated but understood, is “,…with Trump?” I usually attempt, in answering this question, to be circumspect, and say something only generally true as I see it, like “Well, you know, I’ve known, worked and lived with Chileans for over half a century, so I’ve met all kinds, heard all comments and opinions about the US, our people, our customs, our politics, our food, and all that. Chileans generally like Americans, and many of them, especially the plugged in youth, are very quick to copy America and our habits, likes and dislikes. But it is also quite true that they have never thought Americans were especially cultured, educated to the world outside the US, nor very pleasant. The “ugly American” type is well known in Chile, and often only tolerated, dealt with politely, while not overly liked as a group, certainly not as a culture. Trump fits the part.

So, when I read Osvaldo Rosales’s article, it just seemed to me that his is a good, contemporary statement from one knowledgeable Chilean  (albeit political and obviously harboring pent up frustration with Trump), on how the US, under Trump, is seen from afar. Note, though, that his statement is directed at President Piñera. Rosales implies that his president may try to get away with just a photo opportunity, and not engage in the hard challenges he believes Trump deserves. Piñera will surely disappoint Rosales, in that he will not deliver to Trump the patronizing lecture on democracy, the advantages of internationalism, and the correct, even human, way to treat immigrants and the press. Trump will get that from many others in attendance at the UN this week, but most of them won’t be meeting with President Trump. 

The Chilean president will have only so much time with Trump, so he must pick his topics. He has to be focused; no matter what else he comes away with he needs to preserve the free trade agreement and the visa waiver program with the US. He also knows that in the grand scheme of global dynamics, the actual sitting US president, while aggressively over confident and combative, only rents, not owns, the White House (for now), and is not the only important and influential actor on the world stage with whom Chile can and must relate to reach its ends. 

That’s why Piñera is scheduling meetings in New York with Michael Bloomberg (another wealthy politician) and Bill Clinton to develop connections with a powerful sector of the opposition to the Trump-led republican party, with Canadian and New Zealand PMs, leaders of Finland and South Korea, Lagarde of the IMF, the OECD secretary general, as well as leaders of the World Bank and the European Union. Piñera is scheduled to meet with the secretary general of the UN, Antonio Guterres, reportedly to discuss the Paris Accord on climate change.

At any rate, President Piñera has a lot on his plate during his visit this week, including possibly a sit down with past president Michelle Bachelet. She now lives in Geneva, Switzerland, as High Commissioner for Human Rights, and will be in attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York. While her new beat is human rights (actually, it has always been her beat), their meeting will probably focus on the upcoming determination of the International Court of Justice in the Hague in response to Bolivia’s long standing demand for sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.

When he meets with Trump on Friday, the president of Chile will probably not approach the issues in as political and confrontational a stance as apparently Osvaldo Rosales thinks he should. However, Rosales reflects pretty completely the relative balance of coincidence and dissidence between Chile and the US on the big issues of today. Rosales is right. Chile, through Piñera for the moment, can and should reach for more than a “photo op” with Trump. How dexterous Piñera and his team is during his days in the US will influence how involved Chile and its leaders can be on key global issues. Piñera will probably not persuade Trump to reenter the Pacific Alliance or the Paris Climate Change Agreement, or UNESCO. But he should try, at least, to make Trump listen to arguments against US intervention in Venezuela. Chile and the US have a huge amount of ongoing collaborative scientific, cultural, educational, and security ventures. Open economies in both countries have contributed greatly to economic development through increased trade in goods and services. Strengthening these ties is as important as anything Piñera can do while in the US.

So yes, please, not just a photo op!! Trump is not Obama; he surely will not let the visiting Chilean president sit in his oval office chair, even for the photo.

Piñera sitting at Obama’s oval office desk, 2013

Posted on September 26, 2018, in Leesburg, Virginia.

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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.

3 thoughts on ““Just a Picture with Trump Won’t Do””

  1. Gary Wetterberg says:

    Interesting analysis. Enjoy the fact you spend the time and effort to keep so intimately involved with Chile. I suspect that most of our group, who were with you in Chile, still have at least a passing interest in what occurs there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It will be interesting to watch this “Presidental photo opportunity” as it evolves.

  2. Albert Howlett says:

    Thanks Dave. Let us know how the meeting goes, though I imagine Trump will be more than a little distracted by the Supreme Court today.

  3. David Mather says:

    Dave– As you know, I have lived isolated in the woods for a very long time which, I feel, helps me keep life in the proper perspective. I’m anything but well informed politically. Yet, I do pay attention, and especially to your blogs that keep me up to date with Chile which was, and is, so important to me. I guess my only real comment is that I think Sr. Rosales’ article in El Mercurio hits the nail on the head with each and every point he made…Thank you for what you do. Keep them coming…D.

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