Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Ask For Wisdom From Chile! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

The news is Chile is about to join the club of rich nations, and it has been invited to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development [OECD] which brings together 30 affluent nations. Chile will be the first Latin American country to join this organization, and the first country to join in a generation, transforming Chile from a developing country into a developed country.

There have been many international successes during the seventies and eighties, particularly in Asia, with tiger economies such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore joining the list [of rich countries], and of course there is China which has become an economic superpower. However Latin America is a region that has been out of mind, this may be due to its geographical distance or its turbulent history, which some [people] are still bogged down by.

The question is; how did this happen?

For Chile is connected in one’s mind wit tales of unrest and bloody violence such as the death of its socialist president [Salvador] Allende in the seventies during the height of the Cold War, as well as General [Augusto] Pinochet’s coup which plunged the country into long years of dictatorship. Pinochet was pursued during the last days of his life whilst he was on his sickbed for ordering the death and torture of dissidents [whilst he was in power].

The figures speak for themselves, Chile is a medium-sized country with a population of 17 million, and its economy – according to published international statistics – is also medium-sized in line with its population. Chile’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP] stood at 169 billion dollars in 2008, and the country has purchasing power of 245 billion dollars, with an average GDP per capita of 15,000 dollars. Chile’s exports amount to around 60 billion dollars a year. In 2008 the government budget was 44 billion dollars, with the country utilizing 35 billion dollars.

However what qualifies Chile to join the OECD is not just these [economic] figures, for there has been a genuine change in people’s lives and standard of living in Chile and this is the real test of progress. The percentage of citizens living below the poverty line has decreased from 45 percent during Pinochet’s rule to 18 percent today, and Chile’s annual growth rate was the highest in Latin America, particularly following the end of the Pinochet era and the emergence of a stable democracy governed by a coalition of [political] parties in the nineties. The middle class is expanding and there is a continual improvement in the standard of living, with unemployment rates today standing at less than 9 percent.

Chile’s economic map reflects similar [economic] diversity as seen in developed countries, with the manufacturing industry contributing to more than 50 percent of the country’s GDP, whilst a quarter of its workforce is employed in this sector. 13 percent of Chile’s workforce is employed in the agricultural industry, and the rest work in the services industry. The paradox is that despite the hateful practices of the infamous dictator General Pinochet which made him an international pariah threatened with [international] prosecution during his final days, he also instituted economic reforms that led to the current [economic] developments, including privatization and market freedom. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the public should not remain hostages of the past, but should [instead] look to and build for the future, building upon the useful practices of the past.

So from Latin America to the Arab world there is a question that requires answering; if there is a possibility of starting from anew and overcoming poor circumstances and dictatorship [like Chile], then what is the problem of this region [the Arab world] that is preceded by south-east Asia, and today countries from regions that have experienced unrest such as Chile in Latin America?

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

More Posts