SANTIAGO – President Piñera travels to the Colombian border town of Cúcuta today, “to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need”, together with Colombian president Duque. Chile Today spoke with CT’s foreign affairs specialist Christian Scheinpflug about the remarkable move. “Piñera also seeks to establish himself as right-wing leader”.
A Live Aid concert on walking distance of the Venezuelan border, sponsored by business man Richard Branson and opposed by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters. It marks the end of another week full of tensions at the Venezuelan border. Maduro announced yesterday that he will close the border with Brazil – something opposed by the other president, Juan Guaidó – while the maritime border with Dutch islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao was closed already.
And if the situation at the border wasn’t hectic enough already, in the town of Cúcuta, on 20 km of Venezuela, tons of American humanitarian aid are waiting to enter Venezuela. President Piñera will arrive today, to deliver the Chilean share, together with Colombian president Iván Duque. A remarkable move from the Chilean government. Christian Scheinpflug, foreign affairs correspondent at Chile Today, explains the reasons behind Piñera´s move.
It’s above all a PR stunt on the back of a suffering population. Piñera doesn’t know physical work, so he won’t contribute much to getting stuff distributed. But handing one destitute kid a food package makes for a powerful image. You can expect much of these in his Twitter feed.
Aside from the propaganda, Piñera also seeks to establish himself as right-wing leader. Under his first mandate, a lot of left-wing governments were still in power, so it was easier for him to stand out regionally and by extension internationally. Now, he’s not special anymore, so he has to put himself on-stage to impress his peers and be taken seriously.
Further, the government is failing in face of the climate catastrophes, most notably the fires in the south. Showing his anti-Maduro bona fides will calm his followers, and the photo op provides them ammunition to defend Piñera.
[News Bite?] The president wrote on Twitter that: "Venezuela and its people need international support to regain their…
Not only the way President Piñera is presenting himself at the international stage marks a change, the way Chilean foreign politics are dealing with the crisis in Venezuela has also changed. Why?
One reason is the right-wing resurgence. In his first mandate Piñera mingled with Maduro and even eulogized Chávez. If he’d do so now, his voters and coalition would question his commitment. So he has to sharpen his right-wing profile and a ‘socialist’ villain provides the perfect antagonist.
Second is the scale of immigration. Venezuelan immigration put massive strain on the bureaucracy but also on the social fabric, even though Venezuelans are generally well respected. So he certainly felt pressure from top-level bureaucrats who have to manage the daily grind at the PDI, the immigration department, etc. to do something about the inflow, which in this case directly stems from Maduro’s policies.
Third, the foreign policy establishment is structurally conservative and politically neoliberal. Under Bachelet the neoliberal part was more prominent, reflected in the TPP11, APEC and courting of authoritarian countries like China for the sake of investments. Now, it seems decision-makers and bureaucrats got a little bolder to show the conservative, anti-socialist, side. The foreign minister is incompetent and likes his role as Piñera’s lapdog, so he won’t push back and uphold the image of a value-less, neutral state policy when it comes to Venezuela.
Piñera defended his decision to go to Venezuela on Twitter, “because democracy should be re instituted, and human rights are being violated”. Looking at the migrants in Chile in relation with other crises going on in Latin-America, there is currently a similar crisis going on in Haiti. Why is Piñera not responding on this crisis?
Haiti is a small, non-oil country so it features less in the international media and politics. Thus, it can’t provide the leverage that comes from allying with a sector in a big, important country like Venezuela. I also suspect that Piñera gives Moïse a free pass because the Haitian president is also a businessman (although a little less criminal than Piñera). Invoking socialist mismanagement criticizing him would not be possible. Given Moïse’s business background, criticizing and ‘helping’ Haiti would also not serve to give credence to the Chilean system, so Chile’s elite is less interested.
Also, racism. Giving stuff to a child from a black country wouldn’t invoke the same support as giving it to a child from Venezuela. Moreover, Haiti is in perpetual crisis in part because of the UN peace mission. Putting Haiti in Chile’s political focus would raise uneasy questions about what Chile actually did over there. Back then, the mission was planned and sold as stabilizing intervention but now it looks more like a colonialist endeavor executed by pedophiles and torturers.
In another quick tweet, President Piñera announced a new Interamerican model last week, called PROSUR. What can we expect from this model, also in relation with UNASUR?
Doing away with the leftist legacy. UNASUR was founded by leftist governments. But it never took off, even though Argentina and Brazil for example increased their bilateral trade a bit. Yet, due to the economic crisis, UNASUR did not have much to trade. Bad political leadership accelerated UNASUR’s irrelevance. But the cocoon still exists and could be revived, and it still would be a legacy of leftist governments.
Second, Piñera’s ambitions. He also wants something like UNASUR, but with a distinct Chilean, i.e. his personal, imprint. His assertion that PROSUR is only open to regional democracies, is PR. The Economist found Chile is a flawed democracy, so Piñera should not brag too much. This democratic emphasis would also betray foreign policy practice. Especially with regard to China, policy-makers argue they have to be realist; they can’t ignore China only because it’s an autocracy.
But in PROSUR they want to ignore Cuba and Venezuela for precisely this reason. Moreover, if PROSUR would actually take off, it would have to do business with China and Russia – it would benefit from overseas autocracies but not accept regional ones as members. That’s inconsistent and too obviously hypocritical. So, I suspect PROSUR is a pet project.
[News Bite?] According to Piñera, PROSUR seeks to replace the current Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, and excludes "non-democratic countries".
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.