January 15, 2006

A postcard from the end of the world

It's 11:30 in Chile, and I'm watching TV.

Pundits and politicians are hard at work breaking down the triumph of Michelle Bachelet in today's Presidential elections. Instead of wondering why results are still missing in spite of very expensive electoral machinery, Chileans had official results with 99% of the votes counted by 9 pm local time. Instead of claims of fraud, they are breaking down the vote by gender line -in Chile, men and women vote separately, so it's possible to break down voting patterns- and by counties. All the information is already on the government's website. All this thanks to a transparent system based on a piece of paper, a pencil, a glass urn and an impeccable voter registry - a system that, in spite of being handled by the Interior Ministry, is impartial and trustworthy.

Is it healthy envy to ask myself why? Why can Chile have a working electoral system that everyone trusts, while Venezuela's citizens have en masse been forced to abandon the vote as an alternative? How can two countries with similar cultural circumstances have such different systems, with such vastly different outcomes? Only Jorge Rodríguez and his conscience can answer this.

In the meantime, I am amazed to see the international chavista brigade celebrate Bachelet's triumph as another swing to the left in the continent. Ms. Flanker, in the comments forum, has gone as far as saying that, since Bachelet's platform was based on modifying the private pension system, this is enough to place her bust on the lefty mantlepiece. These arguments show a deep, unabashed ignorance of what Chile has become and the type of policies that have driven its success.

Chile is the only Latin American country firmly on the way to development. It is developing thanks to many of the neoliberal policies that lefties decry. This is a country where a socialist President has inaugurated thousands of kilometers of ultra-modern highways built and managed by private companies in record time. Here, foreign businessmen come and build private parks that effectively cut the country in half (Google Douglas Tomkins for more details) and the discussion centers on whether or not the country has the right to build a road through his land. Chileans have access to modern health-care and pensions thanks to the participation of private industry. The system is not without flaws, but it is miles away from Venezuela's state-run system.

The country's main industry, copper, is wide open to local and foreign private investment. Tuition in public universities runs in the thousands of dollars per year, but this socialist government (and the coming one) have understood that effective subsidies are those that target the person in need, not those that provide free-for-alls that allow people who don't need them to benefit. This has helped put Chilean universities at the vanguard in the sub-continent.

This is a socialist government that has pledged to run a fiscal surplus, and Bachelet has pledged to continue on this path and promised not to raise taxes. Chile's socialist government has partnered private industry, and has signed free-trade agreements with the US, the EU, South Korea and China. Japan and India are soon follow.

Sure, there are problems in Chile. The pensions system is not working well, but Bachelet's reforms involve lower fees, more competition and tighter regulation. It has never crossed her mind that private industry should be shoved out of the system. Likewise, educational achievement has been lagging. But instead of blaming private education, the rich or the Catholic Church, like He-who-must-not-be-named has recently done, solutions are more innovative: vouchers, increased testing, teacher education, investment in "target" public shools. Income inequality is alarming, but she does not blame it on the rich.

So PSFs, here's some advice: try and not look so ignorant. Ms. Bachelet will preside over a government more "neoliberal" than any Venezuela has ever seen. More than CAP's, more than the second half of Caldera's, more than anything that Primero Justicia is proposing. She will also preside over a more succesful government than anything Venezuela has seen.

As I read Venezuelan news from afar tonight, my nostalgia mixes with rage. In spite of this, I am happy that my daughter could go vote with her Chilean parent today and learn what democracy is about. Some day, when she is older, I will tell her about how in Venezuela we had a democracy and we let it go to waste because we did not address its many flaws. I will also teach her to love Venezuela in spite of all her failures. I will teach her that the struggle for democracy is the most noble task our people face. And I will teach her that this includes her as well.