Chileans Prepare Mixed Welcome for Bush Visit
Pinochet loyalists complain US still swaggers, but President Aylwin remains patient partner
SANTIAGO, CHILE — NO crowds of angry students or leftist militants will be shaking their fists at United States President Bush during his swing through the Chilean capital today. The only Chileans accusing Bush of acting the traditional part of an American bully are former partisans of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte's military regime.
The right-wingers charge that the eight-month-old civilian government of President Patricio Aylwin Az'ocar has caved in on so many bilateral issues that, in the words of one conservative newspaper, its attitude is ``practically neocolonialist.''
Congressional representatives from the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), composed of Pinochet loyalists, called last week for Bush not to be invited to a session of Congress.
``International relations cannot be reduced to the subordination of one country to another no matter how big or strong [one partner] may be,'' said UDI Deputy Pablo Longueira in a recent statement.
The conservative parties and the business circles that are the UDI's main backers also think Mr. Aylwin has negotiated poorly on a series of matters, among them:
US pressure to protect US drug companies with a new pharmaceutical patent law.
Responsibility for the ``cyanide grapes'' episode of last year, which cost Chile more than $300 million in lost export sales.
Compensation for the families of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his secretary, Ronnie Moffitt, killed in 1976 in Washington by terrorists linked to Chile's armed forces.
Allegations of US dumping of used clothing which undercuts local textile manufacturers.
US marketing orders that restrict Chilean fruit sales to the US.
Chile's Nov. 28 return to the list of countries whose products qualify for special trade status under the United States Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
Felix Viveros, a deputy of the National Renovation Party, the main opposition party, reacted to renewed GSP status by calling it ``a caramel, trying to reduce the systematically aggressive attitude of the US toward Chile.''
Chilean officials describe the visit - the first by a US chief executive since President Eisenhower came in 1960 - as a step towards normalization of relations after 16 years of military rule. Chile's market economy relying heavily on exports fits with the US recipe and is often held up as a model for neighboring countries.
But these same officials grumble in private about the slow response from the US, considering how thoroughly Chile has adhered to US views on economic policy and democratic rule.
Chile's nascent democracy has not succumbed to the populist temptations of stimulating rapid artificial growth, says Finance Minister Alejandro Foxley in an interview. ``And we were not responsible for the human rights problems that generated US sanctions. Yet it has taken eight months to get the first signs that something will change. This frustrates Chileans.''
Mr. Foxley voices similar frustration over Bush's Enterprise for the Americas Initiative: ``I was in Washington four days after this was announced, and I publicly said, `Chile is ready, ready to start negotiations along these lines.' Well, several months have passed, and we are still waiting.''
Chile has enjoyed seven years of 5 percent growth in GDP based on huge increases in exports of wood products, fruit, and fish meal, and a flood of foreign investment, especially in mining. State spending is held in check, tariff barriers are low, and inflation is a manageable 20 percent to 30 percent a year, a rarity on a continent where four-figure rates are more the rule.
The free-market model was introduced under the Pinochet dictatorship and preserved by Aylwin's economic team. The new government boosted social service spending and wages and improved laws governing union activity, but left the rest of the economic model intact.
Aylwin's critics point out that Chile has done nearly everything the US and other international players have demanded. Thus, they say, the US should go ahead and drop its remaining trade barriers.
But the Aylwin administration clearly values its close ties with the US and seems disposed to be patient. In a background briefing, an official did not even mention the notorious grape-poisoning incident as an agenda item for the Bush-Aylwin talks.
Most Chileans think perhaps the grapes were poisoned in the US as a way to pressure Pinochet.