'El Presidente' urges the City to buy into Brand Chile

By Jerome Taylor
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:44

With their pinstriped suits and steely business acumen, the movers and shakers of the City are not an easy bunch to impress – especially if you are a politician.

But few world leaders can claim to have received the kind of welcome given to Chile's President Sebastian Pinera yesterday morning as he bowled into the Square Mile to try and persuade British business to buy into Brand Chile.

Riding the crest of a wave of popularity sparked by the successful rescue of "Los 33", Mr Pinera lost no time in using his country's new-found international prestige to tell investors – as his slick PowerPoint presentation put it – "to do it the Chilean way".

What began as a statistic-laden speech by a Harvard-trained economist ended as a passionate recap of the flawless rescue of the San Jose miners by a centre-right populist who seems as comfortable hobnobbing with a global elite as he is giving rousing speeches to the kind of blue-collar workers that toiled for 69 days to free their compatriots.

Even in the cut-throat world of big business, Mr Pinera's presentation – which culminated in a video replay of the dramatic moment when each miner was brought to the surface backed by rousing orchestral music – drew cheers and even a few tears among those who had gathered to hear "el Presidente" speak.

"Our immediate reaction once we knew the seriousness of [the disaster] was that we would search for [each miner] as if they were our son," the Chilean leader said in a speech that drew heavily from the English language briefing he gave reporters after the last man was pulled out alive. "We would do whatever was necessary to find them and rescue them because 33 lives were at stake."

The subtext of the speech was clear: Chile is a dependable, organised and efficient Latin American nation – exactly they kind of country you can do business with.

The visit to Britain, which included talks with the Prime Minister and the Queen (both of whom were given souvenir rocks from the San Jose mine), is part of a week-long trip to Europe that was organised before the 33 miners became trapped. Today he will fly to France and Germany for more of the same.

But it is hardly surprising that the Chilean delegation, which includes 25 of the country's top business leaders, intends to cash in on the huge boost to Chile's reputation by the rescue.

As the euphoria over the successful rescue dies down Mr Pinera knows he has just three and a half years to deliver on the election promises that persuaded Chile to vote for its first centre-right president since the military dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Under Chile's constitution presidents can only serve a single four-year term, and Mr Pinera's first seven months in office has been dominated by an earthquake that laid waste to vast swathes of central Chile and the San Jose mining rescue.

After an economic boom throughout the 1990s, hailed as "the Chilean miracle", the country's growth last year had slowed to a little over 2.8 per cent – a figure which has risen to 7per cent since Mr Pinera took over.

"While the world was accelerating," Mr Pinera told investors, "Chile was slowing down. We want to change that story."

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