“We shall sew a seed of social capital, cohesion, and well-being with deep roots which is the basis of all solid and sustainable development,” declared Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in her address at Brookings this week. President Bachelet said that she returned to Washington “optimistic that we have initiated positive changes for the future of the country and confident that this is a worthwhile task.” She continued:
In recent decades, Chile has embarked on a successful path of democratic changes. We have significantly reduced poverty and have also strengthened the country’s stability—economic, political, and social. We are internationally recognized as a country with good practices, clear rules, and working, and I would say, sound institutions. This has given us a solid anchor in the fluctuations of the globalized world.
In other words, ours is a steadfast stability, ours is a steady growth. And the basis for this has been the stability of our domestic social, political and economic relations.
Bachelet asserted the importance of eliminating “inequality, which affects social cohesion,” because doing so will enable Chile “to achieve inclusive and sustainable development and enable us to be counted among the most modern democracies.” She enumerated three aspects of this strategy:
- Tackling disparity of opportunity, lack of access, and injustice.
- Encouraging harmonious, sustainable and inclusive growth.
- Achieving civic participation in decisions affecting all Chileans.
In her discussion of Chile’s democratic and economic progress, President Bachelet explained that “inequality undermines one of the most important foundations, both of the economy and democracy: trust; Trust is a precious asset.” Since the people “should be the focus of any social contract,” there is an “important challenge of ensuring that people are involved in decision-making on decisions that affect them.”
Bachelet described four broad reforms:
- Education—The “structural reform of education, focusing on quality, public education, and inclusion.” President Bachelet stressed that “knowledge which fosters equity, productivity and democracy … is essential to achieve ongoing prosperity” and suggested that “countries must make education the focus of their development strategy.” She explained that “Chile needs far reaching change to improve quality scope and coverage” of education within the country.
- The Economy—The “stimulation of economic growth and productivity, innovation, and competitiveness.” In explaining the necessary steps for economic advancement, President Bachelet explained that Chile “must add more knowledge, more complexity, and more innovation to its economy.” She described how Chile needed to take steps “to increase participation and diversify production matrix” as “other production sectors must contribute more to generation of wealth and economic growth.”
- Tax Reform—“Tax reform providing ongoing resources for the state and redistributing more equitably the efforts of common development.” President Bachelet described the importance of a “policy of structural balance” and suggested that such reform “must also lead [the country] back to path of fiscal responsibility which is essential if the state is to honor its commitments in the medium and long term.”
- The Constitution—A “new constitution, an up-to-date one allowing more scope for democracy, participation, and guarantees for people in all their diversity.” President Bachelet explained that the “key to a more solid society” was a new constitution, “higher levels of proportionality,” and “legitimate mechanisms for resolving differences.”
Discussing the country’s economic growth, Bachelet touched on Chile’s new energy agenda, which focuses on “ensuring that the country will have a diversified, balanced, and sustainable energy matrix” and “greater competition, efficiency, and diversification in the energy market.”
Bachelet also described Chile’s foreign policy role both within Latin America and around the world. Stressing how “differences are not obstacles for convergences,” she emphasized the “importance of free trade” (with reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and “working together to create a multilateral trade system based on clear, predictable and transparent rules.”
“Latin America is our natural space and from there we shall reach out to the world,” she said, and “we shall pay special attention to Latin America and we shall continue to develop our excellent political, economic and cultural relations with our partners in Europe, Asia-Pacific and particularly North America.”
During the question and answer period, moderated by Harold Trinkunas—senior fellow and director of the Latin America Initiative at Brookings—President Bachelet discussed the role she hopes Chile will play during its current term on the United Nations Security Council. She also reviewed Chile’s position on the present Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. She noted that Chile already has a free trade agreement with the other eleven nations currently negotiating the TPP, so any final treaty must be an improvement on Chile’s present agreements.
President Bachelet concluded by discussing the more inclusive approach her government proposes to take in its relations with Chile’s indigenous communities, hoping that she will begin to address the “historic political debt” Chile owes to its original inhabitants. We need “a new pact” with the indigenous communities,” she said, “so they can really be integrated, but within their own specificities, the diversity of their own culture.”
President Bachelet was introduced by Ted Piccone, acting vice president and director of Foreign Policy, who discussed Bachelet as a “global leader in the fight for gender equality” and stressed her critical role in Chile’s development and growth.