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Chilean ambassador speaks on international relations

| Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chilean Ambassador to the United States Juan Gabriel Valdés spoke with Kellogg Institute director Paolo Carozza about the evolving relationship between the United States and Chile, and the implications of this change on the respective countries, in a public conversation on Monday evening in the Remick Commons.

Valdés said when he thinks about the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America since the end of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, he sees several countries that have learned to stand on their own.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is to say that Latin America is more independent, more autonomous, and at the same time, much more diverse,” Valdés said.

Democracy in Latin American has progressed remarkably in the face of cultural and societal differences, he said.

“Even if some countries have different goals, while being very diverse, they have become more stable and more democratic, with an enormous increase in participation,” Valdés said.

Until recently, Chile had never conceived of the possibility of relationships with Iran or various Asian countries like those they have today, he said.

“There was an explosion into national relations,” Valdés said. “Embassies were opened, and economic changes developed.”

Valdés said it is not entirely clear whether the improvements in Latin America are a direct result of a withdrawal of American involvement, or if the benefits are simply a result of a region being allowed to develop in a way that posses no threat to national security.

“If somebody would have told me in the ’70s that a Latin American country could decide to experiment without having, as a result, any sort of problem with the United States, I would have been extremely surprised,” he said.

The U.S. is still getting used to the fact Latin American countries have changed, Valdés said, but there has been significant progress under the current administration.

“My impression has been that the Obama administration has been extremely wise, and in some cases even astute, in the way in which they have managed relationships with countries in which the situation was not an easy situation,” Valdés said.

Valdés said Latin American countries such as Chile are now able to choose to be allies with the United States under their own power, and this element of choice strengthens the relationship.

“We have chosen to be friendly with the United States, and that’s an excellent position. It allows us to change the way we look at our relationship,” Valdés said.

Chile and the United States are in similar economic and political positions, and this means there’s a lot both countries can learn through cooperation, he said.

“There is a degree of distrust of the elites in both countries,” Valdés said. “This anti-elite movement is threatening in a very serious way the way we conceive of representative democracy.”

“In Chile, this feeling is especially visible because over the past 50 years we have been able to produce a ruling class,” he said.

Valdés said the income distribution in Chile is one of the worst in Latin America.

“If you listen to economists, they will tell you that they have data that shows that the difference in income is shortening,” Valdés said. “I can tell you that maybe from the point of the data that is true, but from a sociological perspective, it has no meaning whatsoever. If you go to any part in the north of Chile and go into some of the villages, you would see some people are very poor.”

“There is a perception that the society is increasingly different and unjust, and that some ugly faces are showing up in the middle of the debate,” Valdés said. “These are the same faces that we sometimes see in Chile.”

Chile is very much aware that democracy has to be defended, he said.

“If you are lax in the management of your democracy, then phantoms from the past can come back,” Valdés said. “We have a system today that is very much stable, but we know there has to be a consensus to be cautious.”

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