- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill:
- Official Title: President
- Government: Established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2014; no immediate re-election possible
- Political Classification: Center-right
- Education: BS, MS, PhD in Economics
- Age: 71 (born November 30, 1949)
Sebastián Piñera Facts and Information
- Piñera is a Chile's first billionaire President
- Piñera is politically conservative right, pro-business
- Piñera took over the position from a really popular and successful center-left President
- Piñera biggest issue in office has been massive student protests which have not been handled well
- Piñera approval ratings have plummeted, despite the economy doing well
Ahh…Chile! The narrow ribbon of a country wedged between the snow-capped Andes and a few thousand miles of Pacific Ocean shoreline. Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations; a resource rich country with a fast-growing economy that promises to explode even further into the future as trade with China and other Asian powers expands rapidly…and Chile has been a huge trade partner with the US for years already! Chile is a champ! Heck, even their current President is a billionaire! They must be doing great, and he must be a fantastico leader! Well…maybe not so much.
The head cheese of Chile right now is one Sebastian Piñera…and while he really is the first billionaire to be sworn into the Chilean Presidency, his investment savvy has yet to translate into a successful session in office. The very first day he took office in 2010, there was an earthquake during the inauguration party, followed by a tsunami warning, and it has been downhill ever since for this dud, I mean, dude. But let’s start at the start of this Piñera report…
Piñera developed an international cosmopolitan outlook early in life, as his daddy was the Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, and thus spent his early years chillin’ in NYC and traveling abroad. Young Sebastian was an ace in school, winning awards and scholarships and regularly achieving the highest ranks in his academic class…right on up to the point when he entered Harvard University where, in only three years, he graduated with a M.A and Ph.D in economics.. Damn. This guy has got it going on with the lifestyles of the rich and famous…but this is before he even got rich and famous! His accomplishments didn’t stop there: he went on to become a professor at four different colleges and universities including the University of Chile, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the Adolfo Ibáñez University, and Valparaiso Business. And then he set his sites on making money…
In the 1980s, Piñera used his business savvy to become the central player who introduced credit cards to Chile…and he made a fortune in the process. Literally. A fortune. He is currently estimated to be worth 2.5 billion dollars, and is regularly listed as one of the wealthiest humans on the planet. Since the 80’s his business interested diversified greatly, and he owned 100% of Chilevisión, a terrestrial television channel broadcasting nationwide. He also owned 27% of LAN Airlines (LAN), Chile’s main airline, and held 13% of Colo-Colo, a football club; among other minor stock positions in companies such as Quiñenco, Enersis, and Soquimich. He also created several social/charitable foundations including the Enterprising Women Foundation, Fundacion Futuro, and the Grupo Tantauco. The dude is a full-fledged tycoon. He made billions helping Chileans get millions of dollars into credit card debt. Damn credit cards. Cut’em up! But I digress…
So he was a college professor, then credit card guru, then billionaire…so I guess it was inevitable he would become a politician too. (is it just me, or are all the leaders of democracies starting to be drawn only from the ‘millionaire’ pool?) Sebastian was elected a Senator of Chile in March of 1990 to March of 1998. After that he became the Leader of National Renewal political party (a center-right conservative coalition) from May 2001 to March 2004. He actually ran for the Presidency for the first time in 2006, but was soundly spanked by Michelle Bachelet, a center-left Social Democrat who became Chile’s first female leader…and as an aside, she did a absolutely kick-ass awesome job as President from 2006-2010. She was very popular, very successful, beloved, and would have easily been elected again but Chile has a single consecutive term limit on the Presidency…but look for Bachelet to return to the top slot some time in the future.
So the undeterred billionaire tried again for the top slot in 2010, and this time he squeaked out the win. I’m sure his billions of dollars helped with that—he invested over 14 million in his own campaign. Piñera became the first right-wing leader since the departure of dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1990 (a military dictator that oversaw a terrible era for Chile that is still an open wound in the society.) I’m setting all this back-story for you intentionally so you better understand this guy’s current situation. Chile had a bad, bad run of rightist leaders in the past that really pissed them off, and then they has a really great, great run of liberal politicians in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and their economy was humming too, culminating with the very successful center-left Bachelet presidency up to 2010. And then the center-right, flamboyant billionaire Piñera takes over. You can almost see the writing on the wall of where this is going….
But he started strong! Do you all remember the huge trapped Chilean miner saga in August to October 2010? Mr Piñera ‘s popularity peaked in the autumn of 2010 following the successful conclusion of the rescue operation to free 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days after their mine collapsed. This saga was reported on daily across the planet, and made Piñera an internationally recognized figure for a while; getting him massive press and high-level invitations to party with world leaders usually reserved for rock stars. In addition, while running for office he pledged to give private businesses a bigger role in the economy, and to set up a social development ministry, and to build 3 major hydroelectric projects in Patagonia to provide ore green energy to the burgeoning economy…and he has done many of those things. Some credit his administration with the creation of 200,000 new jobs. He has strengthened trade and political relations with the US, China, Vietnam, Peru, and Colombia. And their economy is still pretty solid too! So he must be beloved, right?
Wrong. By the summer of 2010, his approval ratings had dropped like a rock amid simmering social unrest, international gaffes, and a general feeling that he is not getting anything done. Let’s start with the simmering social stuff…
There have basically been non-stop protest since Piñera took office, mostly being done by students in an effort to get a better educational system in their state. The 2011–2012 Chilean Protests (in particular, the massive protests of August 2011) are a series of ongoing student-led protests across Chile, demanding a new framework for education. Some specific stated goals are: the end of the Chilean school voucher system, and its replacement by a public education system managed by the state; the end of for-profit education; and changes to tax code to better finance education….there is a widely held perception that Chile’s education system is grossly unfair, giving rich students access to some of the best (private) schooling in Latin America while dumping poor pupils in crappy under-funded state schools. Beyond the specific demands regarding education, there is a feeling that the protests reflect a “deep discontent” among some parts of society with Chile’s high level of inequality…and while I have said the country overall is growing and doing well, there still does exist a really wide wealth disparity gap.
What’s all this got to do with Sebastian? Well, to be fair, it is not his fault that the educational system sucks, nor that the wealth disparity is wide…hell, he just got into office 2 years ago! But his administration’s handling of the student protest has been deemed a gigantic failure to launch. They have hemmed and hawed, gone through 3 different educational ministers, and created some big proposals to address the issue…but in general nothing concrete has actually happened. All this while general strikes have had schools closed, and there was an additional strike over the raising of natural gas prices which also shut down some major thoroughfares and affected the tourism industry in places. Just bad karma everywhere, and Piñera has to pick up the tab on all that.
In other negative news: the hydroelectric projects have been stymied, there is still unfinished reconstruction from 2010 earthquake damage, natural gas prices have increased, student protests are turning violent, the educational system is in total disarray…and then he keeps making really stupid blunders in public. In Peru, he told their President that he (Piñera himself) was descended from an Incan tribe…ummmm, why exactly would you say that? No one knows. He then notoriously confused the fictional character Robinson Crusoe with the real human Alexander Selkirk, while giving a speech on a state visit to Robinson Crusoe Island. Oops.
But his crowning gaffe was during a state visit to Mexico when he made a joke, publicly, that went something like this: “when a lady says ‘no’ it means maybe, when she says ‘maybe’ it means yes and when she says ‘yes’ she is not a lady.” Ummmm…can you say wildly offensive to women? Like half the earth’s population? Dude, this guy is like the Chilean George Bush of blunders. Piñeras ‘jokes’, blunders, and mistakes have been labelled as “piñericosas” in Chile. You know you have a low public opinion if they create a new word just to make fun of you.
And indeed that is the case. Public opinion of Sebastan Piñera has plummeted. Most estimates now put his job approval rating at 25%, or less! That is really low by any state’s presidential standard! Apparently, not many others outside of Chile have a high opinion of him either: In April 2012 The Economist described Piñera as being considered an “inept politician” by both the opposition and supporters. So while he has committed no huge mistakes in his first 2 years in office, and despite Chile doing well overall, poor Mr. Piñera is currently a whipping post for all of Chilean angst about a great number of issues, and he is fast turning into a Chilean clown internationally as well. Poor Mr. Billionaire. I guess money can buy you a lot of things, but not respect.
Oh well. He does have 2 years left in office to either redeem himself, or perhaps crash and burn worse. Let’s hope for Chile’s sake, that it is the former, not the latter! What do my Chilean friends think? Give us a shout out on this bio and let me know what else we all should understand about Sebastian, and Chile in general.
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