One year ago, Sebastián Piñera became president of Chile, welcomed by a devastating earthquake whose damages were estimated at $30 billion. Still, an objective assessment of those 12 months is reasonably good.
Consider the numbers: a GDP growth of 5.2 percent, a slight increase in productivity, a reduction in inflation from 4 percent per year in the previous president’s last year to 3 percent under Piñera, a reduction in crime and a relatively peaceful social climate, although some rabid leftists tried to portray the new government as the return of Pinochetism, thus presaging a contentious atmosphere.
More important than Piñera’s achievements and decisions — he increased taxes unexpectedly and prevented the construction of a coal-fired power plant because of pressure from environmentalists — is the smooth continuity of his governance.
In 1989, a center-left coalition led by Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin replaced the Pinochet dictatorship after a disputed election and did not renounce the positive aspects left by the general but devoted itself to building a modern democracy economically governed by the market and private enterprise. Piñera, a center-right leader, has done exactly the same.
He assumes power after the socialist Michelle Bachelet and destroys absolutely nothing. He simply marches on, proposes certain government measures that he and his experts find most effective and corrects or revokes others, while everyone remains under the rule of law, sheltered by the institutions.
That is why Chile is today the most successful nation in Latin America. The vast majority of society agrees that the best model of coexistence is found within the political paradigm of liberal democracy and in the economic bases of the market and the supremacy of civil society.
Consequently, the political class moves peacefully and civilly within that spectrum, which is shared by the 27 nations of the European Union and a dozen other successful First World countries: the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, Australia, South Korea and a few more.
Finally, those who make up the range of Chile’s liberal democracy — Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, liberals and conservatives, whatever their official names — have understood that they are not irreconcilable enemies but members of the same political family, capable of forming coalitions, barely differentiated by nuances that do not challenge the system in which they live but the style of management.
What is discussed with passion is the amount of the tax burden, the priorities in public spending and the social norms: abortion, sexual orientation, positions on drug use and the rest of the usual moral jousting.
That is maturity. That is how serious nations behave: without surprises, without revolutionary delusions aimed at reshaping the nation according to the fantasies of the current caudillo.
It is true that in successful societies the heroes are not usually politicians but the prominent entrepreneurs who generate wealth, the scientists who have made great discoveries, the athletes who have set Olympic records or the intellectuals and artists who are universally admired.
In these countries, the societies do not sacrifice themselves to glorify their rulers. The reverse happens: The rulers sacrifice themselves for the glory of the societies they serve. They rise to power not to command but to obey and serve.
That’s what Chile has been doing for more than 20 years. That’s the whole secret.