As the social uprising gathered steam, political elites alleged foreign interference. To bolster the claim, a Big Data report emerged out of nowhere, but only caused ridicule as far as South Korea. Are more casualties in the making?
When the first metro stations went up in flames, the president and other political elites quickly pulled the old bogeymen of foreign intervention out of the closet, alleging coordinated attacks by ‘well-organized’ groups, and completely ignoring the existence of ubiquitous chat apps designed to facilitate organization of any kind.
Resorting to learned paranoia made sense as a cynical tactic to gain room in dealing with the protests and the violence. But as the crowds grew bigger despite massive police repression and further destruction, President Sebastián Piñera kept insisting even more forcefully on the existence of vague specters. Given the ease with which the president made the claim in major national and international media, it’s clear these circles take a foreign invasion for granted.
To get it out of the way: No country interfered in the protests. Upper-class voters and commentators suggest as much for parochial reasons. If orchestrated by other countries, the destruction would constitute an act of war and the military would have mobilized long ago, or the president and the commander-in-chief would have been deposed of for dereliction of duty.
Also, investigations police PDI bought in 2015 during the Bachelet government a highly invasive software called Phantom for nearly US$3 million in a drive toward a digitized police state. Since implementing Phantom, no electronic communications in Chile and beyond remain confidential. PDI claimed it bought the software to protect national security so it would definitely have picked up enemy communications.
And if, as some claim, Chile’s productive system was the target, attackers would have blown up electricity substations in isolated areas along the north-south transmission axis, on which most of Chile’s energy distribution hinges. If that line fails, the country goes dark. It’s unthinkable an enemy wouldn’t know about this soft spot.
Last, all the arsonists that were identified and convicted so far are nationals, and many even had a previously clean slate.
But these facts don’t suit the government and conservative voters. Relations to neighboring countries and investors, are expendable in search of utopia. Asked about police violence on CNN Español, Piñera said a “gigantic disinformation campaign and montages” were underway, organized by “foreign governments and institutions” that would not just target the country but the entire system. This information supposedly came from “friendly governments,” who warned some images of police brutality come from “outside the country,” from Russia and East Europe.
But Russia operates a similar system to Chile’s based on cronyism, white collar crime, and corporate impunity. And it wouldn’t sacrifice Chile’s (and Colombia’s) stable and lucrative market to help Venezuela’s poor and uncertain market, contrary to what a rather propagandistic piece in the New York Times suggested. For Russia, Chile is a pliant partner and it has no reason to sabotage the relationship. But Chile’s leaders just did so.
Around the time of Piñera’s interview, the so-called Big Data report emerged, and contrary to government intentions, it hinted at the influence oligarchs have.
At first the government dragged its feet on the origins of the report. It only said it wasn’t publicly financed and came through intelligence agency ANI, which must vouch for its sources. But although interior minister Gonzalo Blumel thought the report contained “extraordinarily sophisticated” data, it was ridiculous. It said that Twitter accounts from K-Pop bands and fans, football star Gary Medel, singer Mon Laferte, and others helped incite and sustain the protests. South Korea – an important partner – thought the Chileans have lost it.
Later it emerged that Spain’s Alto Data Analytics created the report by pushing some algorithms through the bot-infested Twitterverse and selling the results to a sucker. Turned out this sucker was Chile’s richest man, Andrónico Luksic, a Zuckerbergy-type of oligarch, but old. Rodrigo Hinzpeter, who was a hardline interior minister under Piñera I and is now a high-level executive at Luksic’s umbrella company Quiñenco, served as the conduit between Luksic, the government, and ANI. The politics-business revolving door is spinning smoothly in Chile.
Through Hinzpeter, an ANI property could serve as place of delivery, enabling the government to imprint credibility on nonsense. Even if, as officials duly repeat, the report wasn’t financed with public money, highly paid officials had to talk about it for days, instead of devoting their time to real problems.
Luksic said Quiñenco contracted the Spanish firm to dragnet the web as part of corporate surveillance and to assure its workers’ (i.e., Luksic’s) safety. But the foreign background of the report remains murky, because firms like Alto Data Analytics normally have confidential client relations, as Chile’s top political analyst German Silva observed, and wouldn’t want their reports to make the rounds.
Meanwhile, foreign minister Teodoro Ribera prefers to do business instead of international politics. He should forge alliances to confront the crisis the entire region is facing. He should work to hold Russia to account – if he believed the president – or he should repair the damage Piñera has done. South Korea should be on his agenda and oligarchs put in their place.
But as product of Chile elite culture, Ribera instead vies for capital from the United Arab Emirates and highlights the importance of the local business community – all old, male and some implicated in large-scale theft – for the 2020 international agenda. So, how many more casualties until Teatinos 180 gets to work?
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).