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from issue no. 10 - 2004

DIPLOMACY. Interview with the Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker

Growing with justice

«We are neither populists nor free-marketeers». The Chilean Foreign Minister speaks about the realist policies of his country and of the positive awakening of Latin America. He also explains how it is possible to say no to the US on Iraq without being considered an enemy. And tells of his first visit to Rome to see the Pope

by Roberto Rotondo

For Ignacio Walker, the newly appointed Chilean Foreign Minister, the old saying “all roads lead to Rome” has never been so pertinent. In fact Walker, a forty-eight year old lawyer, professor of Political Philosophy, resigned from the Chilean Parliament at the end of September because he had been appointed ambassador to Italy. But he didn’t have time to present his letters of credential to the Quirinal, for on 1 October he had to scamper home because he had been appointed Foreign Minister in place of Soledad Alvear who had announced his candidacy for the next presidential elections in 2005. Despite that, one week later, Walker was again in the eternal city making his first official visit, with various meetings on both sides of the Tiber: at the Farnesina, the Foreign Ministry, with Minister Frattini and his vice Baccini; at Montecitorio with the President of the Lower House Pier Ferdinando Casini; in the Vatican, on 6 and 7 October, where, before being received in private audience by John Paul II, he unveiled together with the Pontiff and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State and former apostolic nuncio to Chile, a large statue of Saint Teresa of the Andes, set up in one of the outside niches of the rear façade of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Saint, a discalced Carmelite was born in Santiago and died of typhus in the convent at the age of twenty in 1920. She was canonized by John Paul II in 1993 and enjoys particular veneration in Chile. «In a time of so much violence and death, the figure of this saint stands out: a young woman with the same hopes, the same fears and the same dreams as all young people», said the cardinal of Santiago Errázuriz Ossa after the unveiling, pointing out that Teresa of the Andes is the first Latin American saint to whom a statue has been dedicated in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Ignacio Walker receiving the appointment of Foreign Minister from Socialist President Ricardo Lagos 
on 1 October

Ignacio Walker receiving the appointment of Foreign Minister from Socialist President Ricardo Lagos on 1 October

Your Excellency, your post has been changed, but Rome remains the first place on your agenda...
IGNACIO WALKER: That’s true and, both as a Catholic and Foreign Minister of my government, I’m glad that my first official visit was to Rome. As a Christian Democrat the unveiling of the statue of Saint Teresa and the meeting with the Holy Father also had a symbolic personal value: they were unforgettable moments that made me aware of the affection and concern that John Paul II has always had for Chile. I remember also that on 29 October of this year falls the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Chile and Argentina, in which John Paul II played a decisive role. But the most important thing for my government, which consists of a wide alliance between forces of very different cultural inspiration and policies, is that I return from my visit with confirmation of the excellent state of relations between Chile and the Holy See.
Let’s talk about Chile, a small country when compared to the two giants Brazil and Argentina, but with an economic, social and financial situation in some respects better. Well-wishers describe you as the “Switzerland of South America”, your critics as “kamikaze pilot of the free market”. They say in particular that the new free trade agreement with the US is a mark of subjection to US free market policies and may put your economic relations with the other Latin American countries that back the Mercosur into crisis. How do you answer them?
WALKER: The free trade agreement with the United States, like the one we’ve signed with the European Union (even if the latter is more a partnership, cooperation treaty), the one we’ve signed with South Korea, those we’re going to sign with New Zealand, with Singapore and perhaps with India and China, are part of the strategy of openness toward the outside world of the small Chilean economy, a country of fifteen million inhabitants that has everything to gain from the economic integration of the world.
But none of that means being slaves of the free-market economic model. In Asia also there have been large openings toward the outside world, think of China and Vietnam, but it doesn’t mean that they are free-marketeers. Opening the economy, controlling inflation, reducing the national debt, as Chile is doing, doesn’t mean being free-marketeers, it means being serious people, it means having a realist government. If we step off this road we can only choose between a return to the rabid free-market that we knew under Pinochet – with the so-called Chicago boys pursuing an economic and financial growth without rules and humanity - and falling into the trap of neo-populism, an experience that we have gone through several times on our continent and always without success. We are on a different course where we want to reconcile economic growth and social justice. The result of all this, after fourteen years of the “Government of concert”, is that we have doubled our economic product and halved the number of people living below the subsistence level, from 40% to 20%. Our strategy has broken with the free-market scheme without putting up barriers to the great processes of globalization common to all the countries of the world.
Newly appointed Foreign Minister Walker with John Paul II, 7 October in the Vatican

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Walker with John Paul II, 7 October in the Vatican

Are there areas of the Latin American continent that could fall into the mire of a financial crisis like the Argentinean one of three years or like the Mexican one? Can the rabid free-market speculation of the ’nineties still strike?
WALKER: It’s not a problem with the free market, it’s not a problem of consent from Washington and it’s not a problem of the dictates of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The problem that we have been through in Latin America has been that of the volatility of the financial markets, which provoked a tough collision and tremendous crises. It was the case with Mexico, with Argentina and also with Brazil, where President Cardoso had to face four financial crises in eight years. Today everybody is asking how to make globalization more governable, but one has to start from the fact that globalization is not synonymous with the free market, they are two different things. Globalization is a much complex phenomenon that requires fitting political institutions. The Achilles’ heel of globalization is the weakness of its institutions and we must be capable of strengthening them without taking refuge in the slogans of the No-globals. But returning to your question, the Argentinean economy is growing today at the rate of 8% annually, even if it has to make up for the drop in the dark years when it lost 15% annually. Furthermore the country is becoming politically stabilized. Mexico has had a decided shift toward democracy with the passage from President Ernesto Zedillo to President Vicente Fox, after seventy years of uncontested dominance by the PRI [Revolutionary Institutional Party, ed.] So there are comforting signs on the continent. Another example is Brazil, which for the first time has a very solid party system. In short, despite the enormous problems with getting into the international economy, there is a margin of leeway for policies and it’s not true that we’re condemned to follow a rigid scheme imposed from outside.
Latin America seems to be moving politically left. There is a Social Democrat in charge of the government in Chile, a Socialist in Argentina, a trade unionist in Brazil, a populist left in Venezuela, not to mention Cuba. What do you think?
WALKER: I think it’s a very much more complex process. It’s not necessarily a shift to the left, and above all it’s not about the Left we knew before, that influenced by the Cuban revolution. There has been a process of renewal in socialism, in the Latin America Left, a very interesting one. We, as Christian Democrats, are allied with the Socialists and with the Social Democrats, and we have created a wide coalition that we can describe as center left, a concert of forces now reconciled after having been practically enemies. That has been possible thanks also to a certain change in the Left.
So I think that the old schema of left and right, of capitalism and socialism, are no longer adequate to explain a situation as complex as that of Latin America, which is very heterogeneous. Additionally, the idea of the continent’s shifting to the left is full of commonplaces. For example, for ten years Brazil has been following an interesting model, but that I wouldn’t describe as properly left. First Cardoso and now Lula have set up pluralist governments, with a party system that responds to very different experiences and cultures. You say that Lula’s a government is left, but the first to say it isn’t, and to complain to Lula about it, are precisely the more radical militants in the Workers’ Party.
The free trade agreement with the US did not prevent Chile voting some months ago at the UN against the war in Iraq. Did relations with the US get chilly after that?
WALKER: Our vote on the war in Iraq was motivated by a question of principle. President Lagos, speaking to President Bush, said that Chile did not agree with an intervention that was not multilateral and legitimated by the United Nations, as was that for the liberation of Kuwait some years earlier. The objection was to the concept of preventive war and unilateral action, and we took that stance precisely while we were negotiating the free trade treaty. So principles prevailed over interests, but in the conviction that in the end the economic treaty would be signed in any case. That treaty now stands. And despite the disagreement on a question certainly of no small import, the state of relations with the US is today good.
From the left, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, Brazilian President Inácio Lula da Silva and Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner

From the left, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, Brazilian President Inácio Lula da Silva and Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner

Chile is instead present in Bosnia and in Haiti alongside the military contingents of some countries of the European Union. What is the significance of that presence on peace and of international security?
WALKER: It’s a mark of the fact that Chile takes peace operations very seriously when they come within a framework of multilateralism. Today we are present in Haiti with a contingent of four hundred soldiers and we are working out a strategy for contributing to the development of that tormented country. We have also undertaken missions and peace operations in other countries of the world, for example Cyprus and Pakistan. In short, we believe in the politics of security and in peace operations when they have been conceived within the United Nations.
Which are the political and economic prospects opened by the Association Agreement with the European Union? How do you view the EU from across the Atlantic? Is it really, as they say, an economic giant and a political dwarf?
WALKER: For us the agreement with the European Union, which is a treaty of political association, of free trade and cooperation, has a fundamental strategic meaning. For us the EU is not a political dwarf. Indeed, I believe that the European Union is an economic and political power at the same time. In this epoch it seems as if only the military and economic weight of the US existed, that is considered the only superpower. But that’s not how it is. The European Union is being consolidated and the fact of having expanded from fifteen to twenty-five countries demonstrates a desire for development; just as the fact that giving itself a Constitution is not only a cultural problem, but demonstrates that Europe is getting stronger and can influence the political and economic problems of the world. The scale of problems also expands for European politicians and some old patterns no longer hold up. It’s no accident that there is great debate in the UN Security Council and on how to eliminate the right of veto that is a legacy of the Cold War. Much of my meeting with Minister Frattini was devoted to precisely that topic.
Last question. In May there is going to be a meeting in Santiago at ministerial level of the countries that belong to the “Group for the development of democracy, of human rights and of the community of democracies”. We live in a world where democracy and human rights are concepts often trampled on or manipulated for other ends. What contribution to peace and understanding may come out of the Santiago gathering?
WALKER: The democratic political system owes its legitimacy to the capacity to guarantee and respect human rights in the best of fashions. That was the lesson of Chile. We have reappraised democracy because of what we have lived through as regards human rights. When we speak about human rights, the ethical basis of democracy is at stake. The Warsaw meeting in 2000, the Seoul plan of action in 2002 and, now, the next meeting of the Communities of Democracies in Santiago in May 2005 represent an attempt, among others, not only to engage ourselves for democracy, but to try to widen its horizons. When we see, for example, that India, the largest democracy in the world, has just finished a difficult electoral process; that Indonesia, which has suffered a very dire dictatorship for thirty-five years, has had a considerable democratic process given the situation in the country; when we observe the election of President Lula in Brazil, two years ago, with 62% of the votes, we see comforting signs. With this initiative of the Communities of Democracies we want to contribute to ensuring that democracy is not only a political regime that manifests itself at the moment of the vote or in the elected institutions but be embodied in civil society, that it make the most of every sort of association, that it enable all, men and women, to have a real share in the life of their own country.