The dawn of ostrich-style migration politics

In a surprise move, Chile pulled out of the UN migration pact at the last minute. Congressional foreign affairs committee leader Ricardo Lagos Weber, cited by Bloomberg, said it was a closed-door decision, and daily La Tercera reported that interior, not exterior politics won out. This suggests the government will defy consensus-seeking to pamper its electorate and put its head in the sand in the face of global challenges.

In a foreign affairs ministry press release, Roberto Ampuero explained the move. None of it made sense on a technical level and even included lies and distortions.


To start, Ampuero said that “although the agreement is not legally binding, Chile will not adhere to anything that can be used against it in international courts and that violates the sovereignty of the state of Chile.” Amid the posturing, he forgot to explain how a legally non-binding agreement could be used in any court against Chile.

Even more bizarre the second part of the ‘argument.’ The migration pact doesn’t touch sovereignty at all. Any country that recognizes the pact may still maintain a zero-immigration policy. Furthermore, Chile doesn’t only cede sovereignty, it throws it happily away. As the foreign minister and every bureaucrat know, concluding free trade agreements always involves ceding sovereignty.

By signing an agreement, countries bind themselves to the norms negotiated in the contract. If tensions rise, a supranational court, over which Chile has no influence whatsoever, decides the matter. In theory, Chile could end any contract, claiming it a sovereign decision. But that would still expose the country to supranational lawsuits, fines and bad blood.

As country with a complex free trade network, Chile is bound by thousands of rules, preventing it from behaving as it pleases. Chile has happily traded away sovereignty because it in exchange it received glitzy stuff for its shopping malls. Without the promise of glitz, the government just seems afraid of the world out there.

Chile shocks with last minute withdrawal from Marrakech migration pact

Minister best, all others amateurs and criminals

Ampuero also took aim at the Chilean diplomats and experts who provided substantial input to the pact. He said it would clash with Chile’s “rules to have a secure, orderly, and secure migration [policy].” This represents quite a strong jab at Ampuero’s staff and the country’s experts in the field, as the minister accuses them of having worked against Chile’s interest. To avoid the ring of an insult, such words normally need to be backed up. In any case, respect for the top diplomat certainly diminished inside Teatinos 180.

Wading into an even deeper morass, Ampuero also waffled about good and bad immigrants. For the record: The UN pact is about migration not the quality of immigrants. It doesn’t force countries to import or keep criminals. Ampuero, however, in a bad performance as a strongman, even painted tourists as potential vampires who come to eat Chilean children. The minister criticized that immigrants enter the country as tourists and use their time inside to obtain regular work visas. It’s not clear what’s illegal about that approach. A tourist may surely seek information about immigration rules. Chile entered into numerous reciprocal agreements that allow citizens to travel around the world.

It’s further unclear how tourist visas relate to illegal immigration or the UN pact for that matter. Work visas can be – and are – rejected even if applicants hold a tourist visa. The UN has no act in this process, except as a scapegoat for a weak argument. (Personal disclosure: I entered the country as a tourist, extended the visa as many times as possible, then obtained a work visa with the help of family, opening the path to permanent residency. Throughout the years, I have maintained a tax-generating side business assisting Chilean scientists to get their research published in international journals. I’m also on a full-time work contract in the top income bracket and pay taxes accordingly. I clashed with the law once because of speeding. The state still stands.)

About 2,000 immigrants face deportation as Piñera unfolds plans


Even though the official arguments seem ridiculous, they make sense on a political level. This is remarkable because so far foreign policy has been an elite activity. It has been treated as state policy which shuts out most public influence, so ‘experts’ can rule as they see fit.

A majority of Chileans reject the pact too, meaning the government left them in the dark about the importance and nature of the pact to boost its approval ratings. From now on foreign policy becomes public, not state, policy whenever the government sees an advantage. It also means, in true conservative fashion, to put the head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend a problem doesn’t exist. (The same happens with abortion, which though criminalized is common in the country.)

President Piñera looked for a surprise candidate, signaling he wants to turn the post into a reality show role. He didn’t want a minister; he wanted a lapdog. And Ampuero – sophisticated enough to indulge foreign representatives, but submissive enough to defy his diplomats if his boss demands- fulfills this role perfectly.

In a final twist, parliamentarians representing Chile in Marrakech approved of the pact. They did so because the government left them in the dark. It constantly postures over order, to only swagger its way into chaos. How deep the resulting damage will run remains to be seen.

This is an article from Teatinos One/Eighty, the column from Chile Today Foreign Affairs correspondent Christian Scheinpflug.

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