SANTIAGO – As a result of the massive protests that started in October, President Sebastián Piñera reshuffled his cabinet. He replaced the interior and finance ministers, and the government spokesperson. Chile Today takes a look at how they have done so far.
Reshuffling the cabinet showed that the government was concerned to show things are changing. Can the new ministers – Gonzalo Blumel, Ignacio Briones, and Karla Rubilar – contribute to that objective?
Gonzalo Blumel – President’s Loyalist
Replacing the president’s cousin, Andrés Chadwick, as Interior Minister, Blumel will oversee public order and security. This position also carries the responsibility of directing the Carabineros police force.
Chadwick has immense influence in his party. But he’s always been controversial with the public because of the smell of nepotism and because he is a supporter of Augusto Pinochet, but also because much of the public interpreted is actions as mishandling the Carabineros. Hence, he was under constant public pressure to resign.
His successor, Gonzalo Blumel, is a member of the center-right Evópoli party, which has a more liberal-conservative that conservative-reactionary slant. After working as a civil engineer, Blumel held several public positions, for example as planning secretary of Futrono municipality in Chile’s south. He also worked for Libertad y Desarrollo, an influential think tank devoted to neoliberal principles where he was an investigator the environmental program. In 2010, Blumel entered government as chief adviser for President Piñera’s first administration.
Blumel has demonstrated his support for the Carabineros, saying he “has no doubt the Carabineros have a deep conviction regarding human rights.” At the same time, Blumel recognizes some missteps but denies they are systematic. Blumel responded to calls to outlaw the ‘rubber’ bullets police use – research shows they contain only 20% rubber – by saying that such changes would only cause more violence. More than 100 Chileans have sustained eye trauma due to these bullets since the marches began – a record that even exceeds the number of such injuries in Palestine or Kashmir.
But the new minister also supports investigations into human rights violations. Blumel has met José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch, along with representatives from the National Institute of Human Rights to address growing concerns over police violence. He has also advocated for the plebiscite on a new Constitution.
Ignacio Briones – On a Key Position
Taking the place of Felipe Larraín as the Finance Minister, Briones occupies a key position. He has to find the money to finance the measures Piñera announced. Briones, too, hails from Evópoli and was previously the Dean of the School of Government at ivy league Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. Briones now must manage financial reform to combat the great income gap and improve the privatized AFP pension system.
Since taking office, Briones has expressed concern over the economic situation and is calling for a return to “normality” as a continuation of the protests would have “grave consequences”. Recently, Briones has worked with senators to reach a pension reform agreement. According to the agreement, pensions of citizens over 80 years old would increase 50% by 2020, 50% for the 75-79 age group by 2021, and 50% for those below 75 by 2022.
Karla Rubilar – Independent Spokesperson
As the governor of Metropolitan Region, Rubilar sharpened her public profile as soon as the protests erupted. Her communications with the public must have impressed Piñera as he appointed her government spokesperson, replacing the president’s confidante Cecilia Pérez, who became sports minister. Rubilar is a surgeon and started her political career in 2005. She is an independent not associated with any political party, but tilts to the right.
The new spokesperson dived right in, defending the president and denouncing violence against the police and private property while encouraging dialogue. Rubilar has often distinguished between peaceful protesters and “people who want destruction and chaos.”
As spokesperson, she’ll have to explain the administration’s decisions and options, and communicate the state of protests to those not directly involved. Hence, Rubilar has great influence about how others interpret the events that rock the country. Rubliar will need to defend Piñera in light of deteriorating approval ratings and even against political allies that accuse him of appeasing the public rather than addressing the institutionalized problems.
Despite the cabinet changes, protests continue as many believe the administration just implements “cosmetic change” with the help of loyal ministers. Unlike their predecessors, the new ministers will therefore have to thread a finer line between personal profile and government loyalty.
Bethany works as a professional English teacher from the United States. She obtained her Bachelors of Arts in English Education and Masters of Liberal Arts in English from Henderson State University. As well as a life-long Literature and Language lover, Bethany also dabbles in stand-up comedy on the weekends. She currently lives in Santiago, Chile where, in addition to teaching, she organizes bilingual events with The Chistolas, a comedy and event-management group.