Piñera’s State of the Union: a Call for Unity

VALPARAÍSO – President Piñera delivered his State of the Union address on Friday night in the Chilean Congress in Valparaíso. During his speech, he looked back on a turbulent 12 months and shed light on his administration’s plans for the year to come. Social development, economic protection, and more security are high on the agenda.

“Chile and Chileans are living through extraordinarily difficult times,” President Sebastián Piñera said at the opening of his annual Cuenta Pública, the Chilean version of the State of the Union. Referring to the social protests, the devastating coronavirus outbreak, and the economic crisis, on both national and global levels, the president said that despite a difficult year, the difficulties are far from over for the country.

The president gave special attention to the pandemic, the global recession, the social protests, the upcoming referendum, climate change, the country’s drought, and social development for the poorer regions. He also announced an increased war on crime – especially drug-trafficking – and a tougher stance on violence against women. He also said the child protection service Sename would be reformed (the Sename has made the news in recent years for abuses that were committed within the institution’s premises).

In his speech, Piñera promised to tackle bureaucracy throughout the country, by reforming and modernizing the judicial system and the Carabineros (the national police force), and he said that Chile would look to shifting to greener energy. To stimulate the agricultural sector, he also said the country would start building 26 water dams and that it would start incorporating 5G technology, becoming a tech hub for Latin America.

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The Protests Last Year and the Referendum to Come

But looking forward without looking back was impossible during this year’s State of the Union. Several times, in different forms, the president addressed the social protests that erupted in October 2019. Piñera said the protests “have produced a profound change in our country.” However, and without mentioning the alleged severe human rights violations committed by Chilean authorities, the president pointed to “the wave of violence and vandalism that we have known since October 18 of last year, which we must banish because of the serious damage they have caused to the body and soul of our country.”

Connecting protests with the referendum on a new Constitution that is to be held on Oct. 25, Piñera said “a fundamental pillar of our democracy is respect for the Constitution, the laws and the rule of law, in both form and spirit. In recent times these pillars have been weakened, which constitutes a serious threat to the future of our Republic, our democracy, peace, and healthy coexistence among Chileans.”

Regarding the referendum that his government must organize, the president said his administration has the responsibility to organize the plebiscite in a form that is “secure, transparent, and participatory, allowing the voice of the citizenry to be expressed freely and fully.”

30 Years of Democracy

In his speech, Piñera reached further back than just the last year. This year, Chile will celebrate 30 years since the dictatorship of Pinochet ended and democracy returned to the South American country. Piñera mentioned all presidents since then and named some of the advances made by each of their administrations. “We have multiplied our per capita income by five. We reduced poverty from more than 60% to less than 10%, which allowed almost eight million Chileans to overcome poverty and a large and diverse middle class to emerge,” he said. “We also significantly increased life expectancy, greatly reduced infant mortality, and increased the coverage, quality, and access to education at all levels, going from 100,000 to 1.2 million students having access to higher education.”

Piñera underscored these advances by saying that they “allowed us to move from the middle of the table to positions of leadership in Latin America in terms of economic development and human development.” That this has not benefited all Chileans in recent years – one of the fundamental reasons people took the streets in October – the president admitted as well. “This does not mean ignoring the shortcomings, inequalities, and pain that continue to affect many Chilean families, which Chileans strongly expressed with their legitimate demonstrations last year. We have listened carefully to this message and it requires us to reflect and make amends with respect to the country that we want to continue building towards the future.”

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