World Statesman interviews Eduardo Frei, President of Chile
Military rule ended in 1990,
but civil/military tensions have continued. How
do you see the relationship between the civilian government and the military
developing in coming years?
Relations between the government and the military will continue to develop,
as they have done since the restoration of democracy, within the framework
of the constitution and the law. Within this framework, we will continue
to move forward towards a national defence policy. There certainly have
been tensions, but these are only natural in a long transitional process.
It was obvious, for example, that an action such as the imprisonment of
ex-general Manual Contreras, who led the military government's intelligence
services for a number of years, would revive tensions. We have resolved
these tensions in accordance with our legislation, as it corresponds to the
constitution, and we will continue to do so.
To what extent do the activities of human rights organisations influence
your dealings with the military?
As I have said, relations with the military operate within the framework
of the functions and faculties established by the constitution and by the
legal system. Unresolved problems, such as that of missing prisoners of
the old regime, are more national issues rather than the concern of single
pressure groups. My government has tackled these problems by proposing to
parliament a combination of legal initiatives. We expect these laws to be
passed eventually, thus taking a substantial step towards reconciliation
in our country.
What level of threat do the various militant left
None. The political environment is not conducive to their development, and
a number of leftist groups, of which the largest and oldest is the Socialist
Party, belong to the Consensus of Political Parties for Democracy and are
a part of government. All the groups and parties which take part in politics
in accordance with democratic rules have complete freedom to act and do
not represent any threat to the government. However, any extremist group,
be it left- or right-wing, which acts outside of the constitution, will
be confronted with the full force of the law.
The economy has performed strongly in recent years. Why?
There are a range of factors which make up the modern basis for economic
development in Chile. Among these factors, the country's potential for natural
resources stands out. Chile currently possesses around 25 per cent of the
world's copper reserves, and its 5,000km of coastline has allowed us to
establish the country as the world's fourth-largest fishing nation. We have
1.6 million hectares of cultivated forest, plus 7.5 million hectares of
natural forests and a reforestation rate of 60,000 hectares a year. This
has enabled us to establish Chile as one of the main producers of cellulose
and paper in Latin America. Finally, our geographical position provides
optimum conditions for fruit and vegetable cultivation and cereal production.
We also enjoy benefits of access for our products to the northern hemisphere.
Beyond these factors, our current economic development can be explained
by two components which are of fundamental importance. On the one hand,
there is the presence of a powerful managerial class which is responsible
and modern and which has participated fully in the economic changes seen
here, and in Chile's entry into the international market. On the other hand,
there is the consolidation of peace and social democracy in our country.
The political, economic and social stability of recent years has been our
principal guarantee of sustained development demonstrated, for example,
in falling inflation, historically, and even internationally, low unemployment,
responsible management of external finances and progress based on prudent
and gradualist policies. This is precisely the framework which has enabled
Chile to present itself to the rest of the world as a stable economy with
plenty of opportunities for future development.
Chile was one of the few countries in Latin
America to escape the Mexican peso crash. Why?
I should point out first that we have followed with particular concern the
diverse effects of the economic situation in Mexico. We believe that we
cannot ignore its lessons. Nevertheless, the Chilean economy is currently
very strong, and this has allowed it to withstand external pressures. The
following characteristics in particular stand out:
Another important factor is the deepening financial and commercial integration
with the rest of the world.
- the significant increase in the country's saving capacity;
- a sustained macroeconomic balance;
- increased productivity;
- and controlled inflation.
Chile enjoys co-operation agreements with several
countries in the region. How important are those regional trading links?
The Chilean economy has opened up to the rest of the world through reductions
in customs laws, equal tariffs and the elimination of non-tariff measures.
This situation, plus our current economic development, has increased the
importance of Chile's relationship with foreign markets. Chile's links with
other South American countries will remain important. Together, Mercosur
and the Andean Pact countries represent 20.1 per cent of Chile's foreign
trade and make up 17.4 per cent of our exports. I want to emphasise that,
although large markets absorb our exports, mainly of raw materials, South
Americans are the principal consumers of Chile's high-aggregate products.
Our ties with other Latin American countries are strengthened by the growing
investment of Chilean capital in the region; 84.5 per cent of Chilean capital
investment abroad is concentrated in Latin America. According to figures
from our Committee for Foreign Investment, up to August 1995 investment
in Chile by other countries has also been significant (Argentina US$2,400
million; Peru US$581 million; Brazil US$185 million; Bolivia US$137 million).
The fact that our country has established itself as a forerunner in
the principles of open markets - as much on a global as on a regional level
- must also be taken into account. These principles, which have guided our
foreign economic policy, are:
Within this framework, Chile, along with other countries in the area, has
implemented a series of important agreements, among them with Mexico, the
Andean Pact countries and central America. In addition, our negotiations
with Mercosur are already far advanced. These aim to secure a new type of
relationship built on the basis of an association which, without leading
to our incorporation into the group, boosts the process of economic integration
in the region.
- the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade;
- the implementation of the GATT-OMC trade and investment agreements;
- guaranteed free-market access;
- and the promotion of political harmonisation.
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