VALPARAÍSO – President Sebastián Piñera delivered his final Cuenta Pública this Wednesday in the Senate building in Valparaíso. Although his presidency will forever be marked by the social protests and pandemic, he preferred to look ahead instead of looking back. “Crises also bring opportunities,” Piñera said.
A recurring theme in La Moneda presidential palace the last months has been the legacy of President Sebastián Piñera. How will the Chilean president be remembered, and what can rightwing presidential candidates in the upcoming elections take away from his legacy? Few will remember the “Piñera years” as times of joy and growth. Not everything is the president’s fault, however: the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis were things leaders around the world struggled with.
Few presidents will have led Chile during such turbulent times. But also few will leave La Moneda so battered and bruised. During the Cuenta Pública, the president’s annual speech best compared to a State of the Union, Piñera remained upbeat. The majority of his announcements were about the final year of his presidency, with only some moments of looking back.
What’s to Come?
“I believe we must deepen the value of freedom, including the freedom to love and form a family with whomever you love, and also the value of the dignity of all relationships of love and affection between two people,” Piñera said early on in his speech. “I think that the time has come to guarantee this freedom and dignity to all people. I think the time has come for equal marriage in our country.”
In Chile, two partners of the same sex can still not marry despite a bill that was drafted during the Bachelet years. Piñera dropped a bombshell with his announcement about legalizing gay marriage: already during his speech representative Leonidas Romero from the same National Renewal party as Piñera wrote this is not why Christians voted for Piñera. Others from his coalition also said they were surprised by the announcement, which nevertheless can be seen as a big step forward for equal rights in Chile.
En la #CuentaPública2021, el Presidente @sebastianpinera anunció que "pondremos urgencia al proyecto de ley que lleva años en el Congreso y que establece el matrimonio igualitario en Chile". pic.twitter.com/awyboHRJr3
— Gobierno de Chile (@GobiernodeChile) June 1, 2021
Security has always been a main topic of the government and with the latest surge in crime in the Metropolitan region, Piñera announced a new Ministry, focused on public security. At the moment, this still falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. The new ministry will focus on safeguarding public order, crime prevention, fighting crime, organized crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and the protection of Chile’s borders, Piñera said. Talking crime, Piñera also discussed the conflict in the Araucanía region. According to the president, his government has not managed to bring back peace to the region. He said that in the region, which has a large indigenous community, in the coming months a 5G network, optical fiber networks, electric buses, and better infrastructure will be added.
Another topic that has overshadowed the Piñera presidency is the pandemic. To be able to deal with future health problems and to stimulate the health sector, the president said he would create an “Extraordinary Health Fund” to face the health crisis and its aftermath, worth US$2 billion.
Looking to the Past and to the Future
If there is one event that will forever stain the Piñera presidency it is the estallido in 2019 – and, more specifically, the human rights violations committed under his watch during the social protests that rocked the country. Piñera, in his last Cuenta Pública, referred to the estallido as a “peaceful demand for greater justice, greater equality of opportunities, less abuse, more dignity and less privileges,” but was quick to point to what he called “a wave of irrational violence.” He referred to burned metro stations, “attacked” hospitals (no hospitals were attacked during the estallido) and vandalized national monuments and churches. Piñera also mentioned the lives lost during the protests, the often life-lasting injuries protesters received thanks to state troops, and condemned human rights violations and acknowledged that, in some cases, protocols weren’t respected by authorities.
The president also looked forward at the end of his speech. He discussed the historic path that lies ahead for Chile, in which a new Constitution will be written by an assembly elected by Chilean citizens. About the new Constitution, Piñera said: “I think that in our country fundamental rights must be guaranteed, such as the right to life, including the unborn, the right to quality health and education, the right to a decent neighborhood and housing, the right to work, social security and property, and the essential right of access to water.” He also discussed the current crises that Chile has yet to overcome.
Despite the negative trends that mark his presidency, Piñera was optimistic. “I want to share with you a message of hope. We are going to overcome the health crisis,” he said. “We are recovering lost jobs. Our economy is getting back on track. But much more importantly, Chileans will once again have the opportunity to continue carrying out our life projects and fulfilling our dreams.”