SANTIAGO – President Piñera reshuffled his cabinet on Thursday. While some ministers just have to move desks, four others were given the boot. In the latter group is Roberto Ampuero, whose fraught stint apparently has served the purpose.
Cabinet reshuffles aren’t extraordinary in Chile. While still newsworthy they happen regularly in every government. Presidents change ministers around to remind them who’s boss or to replace those that act incompetent – or just a little too competent for the incumbent’s taste. Reshuffles also create enough buzz to distract from the president’s own failures for it’s the head of state who puts ministers in their positions in the first place.
The latest reshuffle comes in light of a public opinion crisis. Only 25% of respondents in polling firm CEP’s latest survey approve of the government’s work.
Leader Or ‘Leader’?
Piñera always knew that Ampuero’s not the man for the job. Not qualified enough, not connected enough, insecure, a bad communicator. But then these deficiencies got him the job. During his second mandate, Piñera apparently wanted to have more influence in foreign policy without Teatinos 180 getting in the way.
This worked not too bad. Ampuero willingly spew lies about the UN migration pact to bolster the government’s rejection, a goal which the hardliners around the president pursued and Piñera embraced for populist reasons. Frankly, the ex-foreign minister didn’t give the impression he was familiar with the details of the compact his diplomats worked on for years.
Then Venezuela. The crisis in that country serves as primary scare for the right to keep voters frightened – and therefore governable – enough about a socialist takeover. Piñera has played this card repeatedly during the campaign and in office. Ampuero has worked as amplifier for that nonsense, but out of loyalty rather than conviction.
The ex-minister has consistently kept high public approval ratings. But they just come with the job. In the end, Piñera pulled the plug, perhaps acknowledging that he and his circle can’t manage foreign affairs from government palace La Moneda alone; a competent and respected minister should lead Teatinos 180.
And so Ampuero leaves just as he entered: A tool of a populist president who overestimates himself and governs by the polls.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).