VALPARAÍSO – According to the annual tradition, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera addressed the nation during his ‘Cuenta Pública’ in Congress yesterday. This Chilean version of the State of the Union came at a tense moment for the government. Disappointing economic numbers, controversial educational reforms and tensions with the indigenous peoples dominated the headlines these last months. What did the Chilean president promise during his speech?
For the second time in his current term, President Sebastián Piñera addressed Ministers, Senators and political leaders in Congress and Chileans through all national television channels. Traditionally, the Cuenta Pública reflects on the governments’ progress and looks ahead to projects, reforms and laws the government is planning on. Chile Today lists seven of the most important promises in the 2019 Cuenta Pública:
1. War on narcos
One of the first things Piñera spoke about, was sending more special police forces to 33 Chilean neighborhoods that have been identified as “high risk” due to the presence of drug gangs. Not only on the streets, also inside prisons, where some high-ranking drug dealers manage to live a life of luxury, the president promised zero tolerance.
2. Drugs Prevention
Eliminating the supply will only work if you also focus on the demand. That is why the Chilean government, according to the Cuenta Pública, will also help vulnerable youngsters who are addicted or who grow up in an environment where drugs are dealt, with prevention and rehabilitation programs.
3. Educational Reform
Just weeks before the Cuenta Pública, the Ministry of Education dropped a bombshell with a reform of the 2020 Chilean curriculum, announcing the elimination of the mandatory status of subjects as History, Physical Education and Arts for students in Chilean high schools. Piñera didn’t mention this reform in the speech but promised to make reforms that make the educational system in Chile more accessible, with, among others, more quality control for school in vulnerable neighborhoods and more grants for youngsters to be able to enter higher education.
4. Train to Valparaíso
Not for the first time, the Chilean president promised the construction of a train that directly connects Santiago with Valparaíso. The face of Valparaíso Mayor Jorge Sharp after this promise said it all: Chileans have been waiting for years for this project to be delivered, and maybe for that reason Piñera refused to name a deadline or give more information. Apart from this trajectory, the Chilean government will look at expanding and improving the current train network in Chile, as well as constructing metro networks in other Chilean cities, starting with Concepción.
5. A Ministry of Indigenous Peoples
Not something new, but Piñera did, shortly, refer to the situation of the indigenous peoples in Chile. He announced the creation of a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, and talked about how a so-called Council of Peace in the Araucanía region, where various conflicts with Mapuche peoples occur, will “stabilize” the region – without mentioning how a ministry or council will change a conflict that goes back to an era when the Chilean government wasn’t present in what Mapuche people consider to be their ancestral land.
6. Environmental Reform
Chile organizes the “World Cup on Climate Change” this year and tries to move forward on environmental reforms that put the country, still economically depending on natural resources, in a better spotlight. The recent news that a French company opened another coal-fired energy central in Chile didn’t help. Nevertheless, Piñera assured that Chile seeks to “decarbonize our energy matrix and transform Chile into one of the first countries in the world to be Carbon Neutral”.
7. Reduction Of Number Of Parliamentarians And Senators
A groundbreaking announcement that already went public before the Cuenta Pública had actually started. The president announced that he is seeking a constitutional reform that will reduce the number of parliamentarians from 155 to 120. The number of senators in Chile should go from 43 to 40. Part of the constitutional reform is putting limits on the re-election of senators, deputies and mayors according to Piñera, as some senators are holding chair ever since Chile transited to democracy 40 years ago.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.