Coming to Britain, Chile's new star of global politics
Friday 15 October 2010
The dramatic rescue in the Atacama Desert has made stars of the 33 miners who spent more than two months trapped underground with the eyes of the world upon them. But the remarkable outcome has also turned Chile's President into a Latin American hero with a truly global profile.
This weekend, Sebastian Pinera will fly to Britain to start a European tour at a time when his star could hardly be more ascendant. Officially the trip is a mixture of high politics and a charm offensive directed at the financialsector to encourage investment in Chile.
But given the events of the past three days, Mr Pinera's visit will inevitably be something of a lap of honour for the leader of a country basking in the glow of a flawlessly executed rescue.
In Britain on Monday, he will talk with business leaders in the City before heading to Downing Street to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Minister Nick Clegg. He will then deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, before heading to France and Germany on the following day.
Few European leaders can boast anything like the approval ratings that the 60-year-old Harvard trained economist now enjoys thanks to Chile's efficient response to both the earthquake earlier this year and the San Jose mining disaster.
Mr Pinera, who made his billions introducing credit cards to Chile in the Eighties, is more than aware of the publicity and credibility boost the successful rescue has given his country. "Chile is not the same country that it was 69 days ago," he said when the last miner had been pulled from the ground. "We are more respected."
Pinera's new-found global popularity is partly down to luck. Had "Los 33" perished after the initial collapse, the story might have received brief international coverage before becoming another statistic in an area of the world where mining remains a deeply dangerous occupation – although safety standards in Chilean mines are much higher than in neighbouring countries. But analysts believe the phenomenal success of the rescue operation – in terms of speed, efficiency and technological competence – will help reinforce Chile's reputation as a regional leader in Latin America.
"The successful rescue of the miners is no 'Chilean Miracle'," wrote Daniel Kaufman, a Chilean-born senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institute.
"It is not the result of a supernatural act from above, but instead stems from the heroic strength of those entombed below ground and the indefatigable efforts of many others at ground level."
Walter Molano, head of research at BCP Securities, Connecticut, told Reuters the rescue operation "showed an incredible amount of seriousness in terms of patience, planning and resources, which underscores Chile as a member of the developed world." But it is not clear that it will have an immediate impact on investment, he added.
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