Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feature on Bachelet

David Rieff in the NYT has a long and sympathetic article on Michelle Bachelet. Overall it’s solid with regard to the challenges Bachelet faces, with some interesting interviews. However, I do not think the article does a good job of explaining why her approval ratings are so low (they bumped up recently but remain under 40%) and why so many protests have erupted.

Because Chileans are like everyone else and can’t go on being grateful for how much better things are in the present than they were in the past, they don’t tend to see things that way, nor should they be expected to.

This is the thread that runs through the article--which, incidentally, does not interview any labor leaders, student leaders, unhappy members of the Socialist Party or PPD, etc.--is that Chileans are doing perfectly fine but just want more, and are annoyed that they don’t get it faster.

Given the intensity of the protests in the past 18 months, which were in response to multiple socio-economic problems, it is a stretch to say they’re based on relatively well-off Chileans just wanting to be more like Singapore or South Korea (which is another argument the author makes).

On the issue of poverty, the article provides statistics lower than any I’ve seen, saying the poverty rate is 10-15%, and that the government claims it is even lower. The Economic Commission for Latin America lists Chile’s poverty rate in 2003 as 18.7%, down from 38.6% in 1990. This can seem like a quibble, but I think it helps explain why many Chileans are dissatisfied. Yes, Chile has reduced poverty, but about 1 in 5 Chileans is poor, and inequality is among the highest in Latin America (generally second to Brazil). If you don’t include that in an analysis, then I don’t think you can really understand why Bachelet has had so many problems.

She did not create those problems, but a common perception is that she hasn’t been very successful in addressing them, especially given her campaign promises.


Anonymous,  10:51 AM  

The government's CASEN survey

now has results for 2006 that estimate poverty at 13.7 percent. Those are the numbers he's referring to. ECLAC takes its poverty numbers from CASEN, so they will update their data too.

I also think one of the reasons there are so many protests now is because people saw how she reacted to those student protests in May 2006. Education wasn't really on her agenda when she took office - some relatively affluent students take to the streets for a few weeks and suddenly it's a priority. Lagos wouldn't have done that.

Greg Weeks 11:15 AM  

Very interesting, thanks for the link. I should do a separate post on this sometime, because something is going on. The poverty rates dropped drastically between 2003 and 2006--5 percentage points as opposed to about 1.5 for the several periods before. Why? Plus, the current Latinobarómetro also shows that Chileans are more concerned about the economy than the average Latin American, including 67% afraid of losing their job in the next year.

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