NEW YORK – Speaking to a global audience at the UN general assembly earlier this week, President Sebastián Piñera brandished his centrist credentials. His speech suggested that he’s trying to establish himself as a modern conservative, similar to Germany’s Angela Merkel. It’s a clever tactic for image building, but will not cover shortcomings forever.
Sebastián Piñera gave a bold speech at the UN, not shying away from criticizing US-President Trump and even his Brazilian friend Jair Bolsonaro.
While Trump used the conspiracy theory and anti-semitically charged term ‘globalist’ to claim the world “belongs to patriots,” Piñera countered that patriotism doesn’t preclude “thinking about a global world.”
The Chilean even took a jab at Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. In an aggressive speech the day before, Bolsonaro portrayed concern for the environment as leftist bollocks that hinders economic growth. This way, he defended the destruction of the Amazon and blamed the raging fires on “NGO’s and inadequate regulations.”
Piñera fired back the only correct response to such nonsense, saying “we must leave behind this false dichotomy between economic growth and environmental protection.”
This was significant because it showed that his government is willing to take a risk. Chile has been working extra hard to strengthen relations with Brazil, which foreign policy-makers consider a first-class ally. So Bolsonaro, seeing behind every criticism communist treason, surely felt hurt.
Watch the full speech, doubled in English, here:
By rejecting the language of Trump and Bolsonaro, Piñera advanced a seemingly modern conservatism, not based on abhorrent and bizarre conspiracy theories and hostility toward science. This same approach worked well for Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel.
When she took the helm of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the party was a chauvinist and classist club, corrupted to the core. Merkel opened it up to urban, younger voters, by appropriating ideas from her left-wing political rivals and promoting globalization. That brought her the admiration of the Anglo-Saxon press and worked for a long time with the electorate.
While Piñera’s speech was laudable, observers shouldn’t be fooled. He still rejects globalization to present himself as a strongman at home.
- Exhibit A: The UN migration pact his government rejected with much fanfare. Piñera will also sign off on the destruction of nature, if the price is right.
- Exhibit B: Selling protected land in Patagonia to a mining company. And for climate change as business opportunity see.
- Exhibit C: The exacerbating water crisis that will flush handsome profits into the pockets of the owners of Chile’s water resources (which were privatized decades ago).
Piñera will have another bright moment in the global spotlight during the APEC and COP25 summits in November and December. But notwithstanding the centrist mirage, global citizen Piñera should then answer for what patriot Piñera does.
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).