The lead editorial in the Friday 19 October 2012 edition of Chile’s leading daily El Mercurio took careful aim at Piñera’s plan to present a new deal for Chile’s indigenous peoples. Not surprisingly, the conservative paper is deeply skeptical and a bit alarmist.
The first concern raised is that it won’t be easy to find a way of satisfying the aspirations of the country’s indigenous that will also be compatible with the maintenance of the rights of other Chileans. Mercurio goes on to talk about the challenges of multiculturalism and how difficult this is to encode in constitutional form. (An interesting point for bilateral discussion with Chilean partner countries such as Australia, Canada and the US, let alone Peru and Ecuador.)
Cost is also raised as a significant barrier with complaints about the cost of translating documents and providing services into indigenous languages.
The fear factor is brought in at the end of the piece with a warning that nothing will be possible with this putative ‘New Deal’ unless something concrete is done about the violent minority of indigenous in La Arauncanía and the damage they have done to the local economy.
Such a reaction from a conservative newspaper like El Mercurio is hardly surprising. More to the point, it likely reflects the opinion of many movers and shakers in Chile. One of the interesting reactions to informal discussions about Piñera’s ‘New Deal’ that I have had on the margins of the Chilean Political Science Association is that a right wing president is showing a remarkably reformist streak. As a couple of senior experts on Chilean politics have noted, the ‘conservative’ Piñera has done more to undertake badly needed reforms and push major shifts towards inclusiveness in Chilean society than took place in twenty years of centre-left Concertación government. Keep in mind that it is generally very difficult to find anybody with right-wing leanings at political science academic conferences. Whether or not these off-the-cuff observations over drinks hold water is an interesting question for further research.