SANTIAGO – For the fifth time since taking office, President Sebastián Piñera has shuffled his cabinet. Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel is one of the ministers that leaves. He is replaced by Victor Pérez, in an attempt to reinstate the equilibrium between the political parties part of government coalition Chile Vamos.
Less than two months after President Sebastián Piñera shuffled his cabinet for the fourth time in his second term, he was forced to do it again. This time, the cabinet shuffle is a direct response to the increasing tensions within the governing Chile Vamos coalition, tensions that were magnified when the administration failed to derail the pension bill that was ultimately approved in both chambers of Congress, partly thanks to votes from members of Chile Vamos.
Some of the shuffles are surprising. Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera from National Renewal (RN) gets replaced by his fellow party member Andres Allamand. Allamand clashed publicly with his party president Mario Desbordes in the last weeks, which is why this move could be explained as an attempt to bring back calm within RN. The party, however, will need to find a new president, because Mario Desbordes joins Allamand in the government as the new Defense minister. He replaces Alberto Espina.
Karla Rubilar, also from RN, became the face of the government as spokeswoman for the government during the social uprising. Although she received praise for her clear way of communicating from all political sectors during the different crises that hit Chile, she gets replaced by Jaime Bellolio, an outspoken representative for the Independent Democratic Union (UDI). However, Rubilar does not leave the government. She gets the Social Development ministry, which might feel like a relegation from her former position.
Another minister that leaves is Claudio Alvarado, who served as Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency. Alvarado, member of the UDI, had taken the position during the last cabinet shuffle in June and loses his position to Cristián Monckeberg (RN). For Monckeberg, it means his third post as minister in the current administration. During the last cabinet shuffle, Monckeberg lost his position as Housing Minister and became Social Development Minister. The most interesting shuffle, however, takes place at the Interior Ministry, where Gonzalo Blumel makes place for Victor Pérez.
- Interior: Victor Pérez (UDI) in, Gonzalo Blumel (Evópoli) out
- Spokesperson: Jaime Bellolio (UDI) in, Karla Rubilar (RN) out
- Foreign Affairs: Andrés Allamand (RN) in, Teodoro Ribera (RN) out
- Defense: Mario Desbordes (RN) in, Alberto Espina (RN) out
- Social Development: Karla Rubilar (RN) in, Cristián Monckeberg (RN) out
- Presidency: Cristián Monckeberg (RN), Claudio Alvarado (UDI) out
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Blumel for Pérez
Gonzalo Blumel, who took the position of Interior Minister exactly nine months ago, has been blamed for failing to unite the coalition ahead of the vote for the pension bill. Blumel had replaced UDI-minister Andrés Chadwick during the social uprising. Together with Finance Minister Ignacio Briones, Blumel became the face of a rejuvenation within the Piñera administration, but also caused the balance to shift: he and Briones are members of the center right Evópoli party. During the latest cabinet shuffles, UDI saw its representation among ministers, especially those in key positions, drop.
It was no surprise that, after the historic defeat of the government in the lower house of Congress, UDI president Jacqueline van Rysselberghe publicly took aim at Blumel, blaming him for the defeat. It caused the already existing rifts in Chile Vamos to widen, and political scientists predicted another cabinet shuffle.
Ahead of the State of the Union or Cuenta Publica, which President Piñera will deliver on Friday, July 31, replacing Blumel for Victor Pérez in a position that many consider to be prime minister, suggests that the president wants to bring back the equilibrium and calm to the divided governing bloc. Pérez is a veteran in Chilean politics: he was representative for the UDI from 1990 until 2006 and had been senator ever since.
With approval ratings for both Piñera and his government dropping, and some very critical months ahead – among other things, the referendum for a new Constitution will be in October – the administration wants a united Chile Vamos now more than ever. However, as polls indicate a clear victory for the ‘Approve’ or Apruebo-campaign during that referendum, the move also seems directed at the parliamentary- and presidential elections next year.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.