A Conversation With Sebastián Piñera

Thursday, September 27, 2018
Carlos Jasso/Reuters
Sebastian Piñera

President, Republic of Chile

Fareed Zakaria

Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN

President Sebastián Piñera discusses the challenges and opportunities facing Chile, as well as the country's plan for sustainable development.

PIÑERA: Good afternoon.

ZAKARIA: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. I am Fareed Zakaria. For some reason I was told that I should say I’m a member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is true. And so I can tell you that Richard Haass is doing a very good job. (Laughter.) Maybe that’s why they wanted me to say that.

I am going to turn my phone off. I hope everybody else will do the same.

We have a great opportunity to have a genuine conversation with a(n) absolutely fascinating head of state. Chile has had very few democratically elected heads of state since the 1970s. Mr. Piñera is rare in having done it twice. This is his second bite at the apple. It never happens in the United States, so—(laughter)—let me ask—let me ask you, Mr. President, first, what is it like to come into the same job the second time? Do you think you’ve learned something this time around that makes it different? What mistake will you not make that you made the first time around?

PIÑERA: Well, many, many mistakes, but I—don’t ask me to be explicit about these because there are some senators of the opposition right here—(laughter)—and they will take advantage of it.

No, but really, of course you learn a lot. The best university to be—to be a good president is the White House or our Moneda. And the best experience to be a good president is when you have already been a president. So I will learn a lot.

In our first term, ten days before we took office Chile was hit by the worst—by the fifth-worse earthquake in the known history of mankind, which destroyed one-third of our economy. And that was a tremendous challenge during our first year of government. And therefore, we had to deal with that. And at the same time, we had a very ambitious government program to recover our capacity to grow, to create jobs, to improve wages, and to create opportunities. And therefore, we had to harmonize those two main challenges.

I think that it was a good result because we were able to rebuild our country in a very short period of time. This is a very well-known experience, which is taught now in many universities. And, at the same time, honor our commitments in terms of growth, employment, security, and many other things.

The second time we—of course, it’s never easy to govern a country. And the second time, the main problem that we are facing is that we inherited a very weak economy which had lost its capacity to grow, and we inherited also a very significant fiscal deficit and a—and a public debt that had doubled in four years. That’s why we lost part of our credit rating.

ZAKARIA: Can I just interrupt to point out that when Chile worries about its fiscal debt and deficit, you have gone up to the monumental level of thirty percent of GDP—(laughter)—which is something every Western country would look at—

PIÑERA: Well, we are talking about civilized standards, not U.S. standard. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: But keep going.

PIÑERA: And don’t—tomorrow I have a meeting with President Trump so don’t repeat it. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: He likes you very much. (Laughter.) And I have to—I have to ask you to expand on that smile. Do you—what are your—what are your reactions to President Trump in your dealings with him?

PIÑERA: Well, I have many disagreements with President Trump. First of all, I do believe in free trade and I think what is happening now is really jeopardizing the capacity of the whole world to grow. I remember what happened after the Great Depression of 1929, which was the worst possible reaction that the world had, and that’s why it was much deeper and much longer than what it should have been.

I also have some differences in terms of migration policy. But he’s the president of the United States and we are a very small country. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: Tell us about a country very close to Chile which you have had long dealings with. I remember in the 1970s and ’80s people from Chile were fleeing to Venezuela, which was then the richest country in Latin America, and now you have this extraordinary reality of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Venezuela. What is going to happen to that country? Is it in freefall?

PIÑERA: It is. Look, but Chile was the poorest Spanish colony in Latin America, and now it’s the country with the highest per capita income and is the country with the best perspective of becoming a developed country. Venezuela, by the ’90s, was the country with the highest per capita income—the richest country in the world. Actually, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and it was the richest country, and many people were going there because of economic opportunities, also because of political risk. We are very grateful with Venezuela because when we lost our democracy they were very generous in terms of receiving Chilean people looking for better opportunities. But what is happening with Venezuela today is a tragedy.

First of all, Venezuela is a dictatorship. It’s not a democratic regime. They don’t have real freedom. They don’t have—they don’t have separation of powers. They don’t respect human rights. They don’t respect freedom of expression. They have hundreds of political prisoners. And that’s not a democracy. But that’s not the only problem. They also are going through a very deep economic and social problem. GNP of Venezuela today is one-half of what it was at its best times.


PIÑERA: And at the same time, they are leading—they are going through a huge humanitarian problem. The richest country in Latin America has a good proportion of their population literally starving or dying because of lack of medication. So it’s a tragedy that could have been avoided, and so you have to put the blame on the people that are conducting a country like Venezuela to this situation.

And I really ask, how can a man or a president be so ambitious, so insensible, that he is willing to produce all this suffering and pain to its own people just because he wants to stick to power? It’s something which is really unacceptable.

ZAKARIA: Is there any prospect that Maduro will be gone, say, a year from now?

PIÑERA: Well, there are many ideas. Some people have been talking about a military option. I don’t agree with that. I think that—you know how it starts. You never know how it ends—how many people will die, what will be the consequence. Remember that they—this is not Panama. I think that when Panama was invaded, it was invaded by more than twenty-seven thousand Marines and it was a very small country. The—Venezuela is a huge country. Therefore, I think that that is too costly.

But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to explore all other means. For instance, yesterday we signed, together with other countries like Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Canada—we submit to the International Criminal Court a presentation because we think that there are a huge and terrible thing happening in Venezuela with respect to crimes against humanity, and therefore, we submit this to the attorney(s) of the International Criminal Court so they can—they can investigate this.

We don’t—we didn't recognize the last elections in Venezuela and, therefore, we will not recognize the new government because we don’t think it’s a real democratic government, and I think all the standards in terms of transparency, access to press, and equality of opportunity were not fulfilled in the last election.

So we think that this is not a democratic government and, therefore, we will not recognize it. And we are working in the Lima Group in many different area(s) within the international law. One thing that we are doing is that we are pushing a lot President Maduro to open a humanitarian channel because we are willing—all the countries are willing to go there with food and medication in order to save lives. But President Maduro wouldn’t accept that there is a humanitarian crisis and, therefore, he wouldn’t let us do that. We are putting a lot of pressure on that. I was very—I was very glad because today there was a declaration of the U.N. in that same direction.

On the other hand, we will do what the U.S., Canada, and the European Union have already done in terms of putting all kind(s) of restriction(s) to the highest member of the government in order to freeze their assets and not allow them to move freely within Latin America. And there are other things that we will discuss very soon within the Lima Group with all the other presidents because we are fully committed to help the Venezuelan people to recover what is—what belongs to them—their freedom, their democracy, respect for human rights, and the—their ability to progress, to overcome this dramatic situation that is affecting the Venezuelan people because of the government. I put all the blame in the government, which is really conducting Venezuela to a real tragedy and we will not stay indifferent or passive with respect to this.

ZAKARIA: To what extent is the government of Venezuela influenced, controlled by Cuba and Russia? What are the role—what is the role of Cuba and Russia in this?

PIÑERA: Well, I think that Cuba has a huge influence in Venezuela. They have more than sixty thousand people there and they control the—all the intelligence units and many of the security units, and, therefore, I think that without the support of Cuba, probably things would evolve in a different way.

But probably Maduro is thinking that he can stay in power for sixty years, following the example of the Castro brothers. I remember that one time we created CELAC, which was the—an organization that was able to convoke all the Latin Americans and Caribbean countries—thirty-three countries—and when we had to decide who was going to preside that, it was, first, Chavez; second, Chile; and then Castro. That was the agreement.

You ask me, why Cuba and Venezuela? No, the real question is why was Chile there? Because we was—we were in a huge minority at that time. And I received therefore for the presidency of CELAC from Chavez, and I had to exercise as president for one year. I had to turn it back to Castro. And I remember I told him, look, Castro—or Raul—the presidency is for one year, not for sixty year(s). (Laughter.) And he remembered this. When we went to Cuba and I had to turn it—when he had to turn the presidency to Costa Rica, he remembered that, saying that he was honoring his word of turning the presidency of CELAC to Costa Rica. I said, why don’t you do the same with the Cuban people?

ZAKARIA: What about Russia? Does Russia have a role, particularly on the oil front?

PIÑERA: I will say that China has a very important role in the oil field because China has lent a lot of money to Venezuela and they have been paying back with oil. Venezuela was producing at a point in time four million barrels of oil per day, and today they are producing 1.3 (million)—and half of that is going to China. So China is lending money to Venezuela and is being paid back with oil. And right now they have reached another agreement that really will commit more percentage of the Venezuelan oil in paying that foreign debt to China. So China is playing a very critical role in terms of oil in the Venezuelan case.

But, of course, I think that every effort that we have tried to make through the United Nations, we know that it won’t work because there are two countries in the Security Council that have veto power and they will protect Venezuela, which are Russia and China.

ZAKARIA: What about the role of China in Latin America more generally? China is now the largest trading partner for, I think, almost every Latin American country. Is there a—is there a danger there because China is itself not a particularly free-trade-oriented country? It’s fairly mercantilist. It tries to buy influence. What is your experience and what are your thoughts?

PIÑERA: I remember last year in Davos there were two speeches. One speech was delivered by president of the United States and the other by the president of China. One was defending free trade. The other was defending protectionism. Who was who? (Laughter.) The other way around on this thing.

So China has been a very open economy in terms of trade. And you can prove that by what percentage of their GNP is being traded internationally, much more than the U.S. China has become the largest partner of Latin America and by far the largest trade partner of Chile, and for a long period of time. We have a free trade agreement with China; and therefore, China is very active in terms of trade.

And we were discussing with President this TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, initiative, which was a very hard deal to get. And finally, we reached an agreement and President Trump dropped that agreement. And therefore, we continued, there was twelve countries, the United States decided to drop out and the other eleven countries have decided to continue. And we have TPP agreement with eleven countries, and China will probably be part of that group.

So to some extent, I don’t know whether China is very aggressive in terms of becoming a very important trade partner of the world or the U.S. is voluntarily retiring and is leaving all the space to China.

Now, China is also investing a lot of money everywhere, particularly in land, and that’s something which is also happening in Latin America. Not so much in Chile, in Chile we have a very important, significant trade relationship with China. Actually, they represent by far our largest trade partner, more than twenty-five percent of our trade is with China. The second is the U.S. and then the European Union. But they are also investing a lot of money in Latin America and that is something different because that gives you more power, more influence.

So what will happen? Who knows? But I think that, to some extent, when the U.S. is dropping out of the Paris Agreement, it’s dropping out of the TPP agreement, well, they are leaving space for other countries.

ZAKARIA: What do you think happens to the role of human rights and democracy with that circumstance? Because in Latin America right now, there are dangers to democracy and human rights.

PIÑERA: Well, democracy and freedom is always at danger because it has huge and very powerful enemies, so we never should take it for granted. It’s like air. When you have air, you don’t miss it and so you don’t defend it. When you don’t have air, then you realize how valuable it is. But many times with democracy, when we have it, we don’t defend it enough, and when we lose it, it’s very hard to recover it.

So we see there are many problems of democracy and not the typical or traditional problems. They are, for instance, populism, altruism, demagoguery, are very tough and powerful enemies of democracy. And we have seen that in Venezuela, in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Ecuador, in Bolivia, in many Latin American countries. That’s why I think we think that we should stress the pillars of real democracy, which are, basically, to have a real democracy means—I mean, look, democracy is like love. It’s very difficult define love, but you realize immediately when you are in love and when you are not in love. The same thing happens with democracy.

When you—when I arrived at my first time—not my first time, but to Venezuela, immediately I realized I was not in a democratic country just by looking at the faces of the people. So I would say that there are many dangers and risks and threats to democracy in Latin America and of different—of different nature. So I would say that we have to emphasize that real democracy means that you, first of all, that you have separation of power, that you respect the rule of law, that you respect the opposition, that you have freedom of expression, that you have—you don’t have political prisoners, and many other things.

And, for instance, in countries like Venezuela, you realize immediately—and it’s not the only country, by the way, because what is happening in Nicaragua where more than four-hundred-and-fifty people have been killed by state agents, or what is happening in Cuba for the last sixty years, or what is happening—or what was happening in Ecuador in terms of how they were capturing the whole civil society, are very worrying and threatening trends.

ZAKARIA: You mentioned you’ve come into a period of slow growth in Chile. For many people who used to study Chile, it seemed a very strange country. When you looked at its economic profile, it looked like an East Asian country that just happened to be in Latina America. It was growing at rates that were much more like South Korea, Taiwan, and the Asian Tigers. But then it stopped, and it seemed as though it was going to enter into the classic middle-income trap where you get to a certain point and then it becomes much harder. How is Chile going to get out of the middle-income trap?

PIÑERA: With a good president. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: And what is that good president going to do to make it happen?

PIÑERA: No, look, it’s true that the—that the middle-income trap exists. Look, how many countries have been able to do the transition from underdevelopment to development in the last sixty years? You can count them with the fingers of one hand.

ZAKARIA: That’s right.

PIÑERA: Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and maybe a few others.


PIÑERA: None of them is in Latin America, and Latin America has always had it all. We have a huge continent with a vast territory, generous natural resources. We don’t—we have not had the kind of wars that almost destroyed Europe last century or the kind of ethnic or religious conflicts that are so powerful in East Asia or in the Middle East. And despite that, we are still underdeveloped, not because of God’s will or fatality of destinies, because we haven’t been able to do what we have to do.

In the—in the last century, the pillars of development were to have a very stable democratic system, to have a free and open economy, to have a macroeconomic responsibility. That is not enough; it’s necessary, but it’s not enough. We still have to build or reinforce the main pillars of the picture. We have to improve in a Copernican way the quality of education. With this quality of education, Latin America, we’re going nowhere.

Yesterday I met with the president of the World Bank. And he’s making public today or tomorrow a ranking of the (product of ?) education in countries, and Latin America will not perform well. We know that. Probably Chile will be in the top position within Latin America, but not in the top position within the world. And without quality of education, this new society of knowledge and information that force technological innovation that is already taking place, we will have a very hard time to be able to take advantage of that. And you know that the society of knowledge and information is very generous with those countries that want to invest, but it’s indifferent or even cruel with those countries that will turn their back to that revolution. That’s one thing.

Second, we have to invest much more in science and technology. We’re investing too little, less than half of one percent of our GNP, on average, in Latin America. We need to promote and not—and not weaken the innovation and entrepreneurship capacity of the—of the—of the—of our entrepreneurism and people. And normally, the state is doing just the opposite, putting all kinds of problems, bureaucracy, and restrictions.

And on top of that, we need to modernize our state, which is too old, was created in the nineteenth century. It was repaired in the twentieth century. It’s not prepared to face all the challenges that we have now.

And fortunately, we have very good allies. One is the technological revolution that will allow us to make our state much more transparent. I also have said that there is no better police than streetlights and no better disinfectant than sunlight, so transparency is a key aspect because people don’t perform or behave the same way when they are under the sunlight with respect to when they are in the dark tunnel. And so transparency is a very good way to make sure that you have less corruption and more efficiency because people will be aware what the—what the—what the authorities that they have elected with their votes are doing and what is being done with the resources that they finance with their taxes. That’s one very important thing.

And at the same time, I think the transparency—the technological tools that we have now will allow us to modernize our state. For instance, our goal is that before we end our government, we will go from fifty to eighty percent in terms of how—what percentage of the procedures that our people have to live with the state will be—they will be able to do it with the comfort of the personal phone or computers, without having to move and lose times and resource, for the people and also for the state. So I think that the technology is a huge ally and a very good friend on this fourth challenge, which is to modernize our state.

ZAKARIA: I have to ask you before I open it up just one more question about you and President Trump. Do you find that—you’re a billionaire who went into politics. He says he’s a billionaire, who went into politics. (Laughter.) Do you—do you find some common bond?

PIÑERA: I find that my wife is prettier. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: All right. On that—on that note, I—let me open it up to questions.

PIÑERA: Look, tomorrow I will meet with President Trump, hmm? (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: You’re a good—a good politician.

PIÑERA: So I think that, look—look, I think that in our country they have this bias or prejudice that you cannot come from the entrepreneurial world to politics. I have had three main vocation in my life. First, I was an academic. I studied a Ph.D. in economics and I taught in many universities. Then I became an entrepreneur, starting from zero. And, thanks to God, I was pretty successful in terms of creating new companies that were very successful.

But, when we’ve recover our democracy, I remember that day crystal clear: October the 5th, 1988, when we have a plebiscite, and we decided that we were going to get rid of the military government, and we were going to recover democracy, which is the natural way of life for the Chilean people. That day, I decided that my real vocation was public service, and a few months after that I run for the Senate. I was elected senator representing the region of Santiago, which represent more than forty percent of the population of Chile. And then I ran for presidency. I lost in a very close race Michelle Bachelet the first time. I insisted, and I ran against President Frei at that time, and I was elected president.

In Chile you cannot be reelected immediately, but you can be reelected in a—not in a consecutive way, but you have to wait four years, as many times as you can and you—and you want. So I—this is my second term as president, with more experience, with more gray hair. (Laughter.) But, you know, that, how do you say, eternal snow only live in the highest summits. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: Gustavo?

PIÑERA: You are very young, Fareed. Don’t worry; someday, you will have my hair too.

ZAKARIA: And your wisdom as a result. (Laughter.)

If you can identify yourself. I should mention this meeting is on the record and—

Q: Gustavo Cisneros, Cisneros Grupo.

Mr. President, how are you, sir? From Sun Valley to here. You gave a fantastic speech in Sun Valley.

I wanted to thank you personally as a Venezuelan and as a citizen of Latin America for your leadership in all you have done for Venezuela daily, for the prisoners—political prisoners, and especially with this gigantic disorder and dictatorship that we have in Venezuela. So thank you very, very much. We have noted all your help.

Just a point of information, sir. It’s not very well known, but Citgo here in the United States, the oil company, it’s owned here, a majority, by Rosneft, the oil company. The oil that comes to Citgo is from Venezuela and now is—so it’s Russia-owned right now. Russia has recently entered Venezuela, has many concessions. They have bought the refinery in Cuba. And they have told privately—well, privately, what they have told Castro: don’t worry, if something happens we are committed to supplying the oil. The gentleman who runs Rosneft is a—I call him Cubano because he was trained in Cuba. He ran Mozambique and Asian operations for the KGB. And then that’s where Putin picked him up and put him to work in Rosneft. So there’s a gigantic—and this guy goes continually. This is something that is well known by the United States. So I just wanted to let you know that.

And thank you.

ZAKARIA: So the question just, I suppose, becomes, with all this external support—

PIÑERA: No, but one thing. I’m aware that Russia has bought many initiatives in the oil, but they are just doing that. I will say that China has already been active in the oil industry for many, many years, basically lending money and buying the oil. But, of course, I think that that’s why I mentioned that there are two countries that probably will veto any kind of agreement in the Security Council, which is Russia and China, because they are supporting Venezuela.

ZAKARIA: But will that keep Venezuela afloat, I guess is the question?

PIÑERA: I don’t think so because, look, the oil production, I mean, so it is going down every day. And it will take a lot of time and investment in order to recover that. And they are losing the most important assets that a country has, which is human capital. In the last ten years, 2.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, have left the country. And they are lost and they have lost.

For instance, Chile has a special policy in terms of visas for the Venezuelans. We call it the demographic visa, which is basically we are providing the Venezuelans special treatment in terms of participating, the access to visas, and their hope to be able to come to Chile. And they—we are receiving hundreds, thousands of Venezuelan people. But we are very not surprised because we knew that, but what kind of people are coming to Chile? People with very high levels of education—engineers, doctors. And, look, if they are here, welcome. But what is happening in Venezuela? Because they are losing their human capital. And that’s why the Venezuelan economy will not recover in the short term.

I think that—by the way, Maduro is part of the problem and will never be part of the solution. And I think that Venezuela will not improve and will not recover while Maduro stays as president. And I’m also very confident that if something happened in Venezuela and the Venezuelan people are able to unite and to get rid of this dictatorship and recover their democracy and freedom and rule of law, I’m sure that many Venezuelans will come back to Venezuela. And so it sort of has a very brilliant prospective recovery, but that will happen after Maduro’s ousted of power. And nobody knows when that will happen.


Q: OK. Good remarks. I’m Dick Huber from—

PIÑERA: Oh, Dick Huber, you were my boss. (Laughter.)

Q: That was not easy. (Laughter.)

PIÑERA: A long time ago.

Q: A long time ago, but good to see you back in the saddle. I’m with InVina Wine Group in Chile.

And a conversation that we’ve had over the years, Sebastián, is demographics. And with the 2017 census that’s just out, we see that the fertility rate has collapsed; I mean, it’s 1.3. And the aging population is one problem, but a problem we see in the field is people, workers. And it’s a—it’s an increasing challenge. Fortunately, the Venezuelans are coming in, and we just hired an accountant which we were very happy to get. And the rather unusual wave of immigration from Haiti—and again, we’re glad to see them, too. But could you comment on the whole demographic problem and the immigration, and particularly this, what, a couple hundred thousand Haitians, I guess, have come in now? Thanks.

ZAKARIA: And by the way, this is again a place where Chile looks like an East Asian country because, of course, the birthrate has also collapsed in South Korea and Singapore.

Q: Right. Oh, yes.

PIÑERA: Well, first of all, it’s true, we have a big problem because two things have happened simultaneously in Chile. One, fertility rates going down dramatically. We are below our replacement rate, way below. And at the same time, our life expectancy is going up and up. Our life expectancy right now is higher than the one in the U.S., it’s more than eighty-one years. And therefore, people, the population is aging very rapidly.

And we take into account what will happen in the future in terms of how many active and passive. I mean, right now, very soon it will be fifty-fifty working people and retired people. And how will we deal with that? It’s not only a question of pensions, it’s a question of health, it’s a question of how to integrate this aging population.

Today, my wife gave a speech at a conference at the United States because she’s helping me very much on this. In the first comments, she helps us in terms of trying to create a more healthy culture, promoting better health, more exercise, better food. Now she’s helping us in terms of how to deal with this huge challenge that we’re facing in terms of aging population.

The second thing is that we went from four-hundred-thousand to 1.1 million immigrants in four years, and most of them were from Haiti. And they were—of course, it’s very different, the kind of immigration that we’re receiving from Haiti. We’re receiving people with very low levels of education, basically escaping from poverty. From Venezuela, we’re receiving people with a very high level of education, basically escaping from dictatorship, which is a very different reason and very different people.

So we are open to immigration. What we are doing now, we have started with a new policy on immigration. Basically we say, OK, welcome those people that are coming legally, respecting our laws, to integrate with society, to contribute to our economic development, but not those people that are coming to commit crimes, which we suffer a lot because of that. And so we are putting better controls, but keeping what has been tradition in Chile that we are open to receive. And therefore, immigration is part of the—of our solution in terms of how to deal—

ZAKARIA: Are there efforts to try to get people to have more children? And are they succeeding? Because they’re trying in Europe, they are—

PIÑERA: No, we have asked our members of congress to take care of that or that problem. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: Singlehandedly? That’s impressive. (Laughter.)

PIÑERA: No, no, I mean—but, of course, the people from Haiti—well, first, you know, one people come and then the whole family comes and they have very large families. But now to be very honest, immigration from Haiti has stopped because, basically, they were not respecting our laws in terms of how to get a visa. And there were a lot of human trafficking, and many of them were really exploited. I mean, they promise them things which were never—were not possible to fulfill. But we’re receiving a lot of people from—who are from the neighbor countries, from Peru, from Bolivia, and also from Colombia, and from Venezuela.

But to get to the point, I think that we will need to prepare ourselves, because there are so many challenges—aging population, climate change. Chile is very vulnerable to climate change. Actually, of the seven—of the nine main concerns that the United States has identified to declare a country vulnerable with respect to climate change, Chile has almost all of them. And therefore, that’s another thing.

The third thing, of course, is the challenges or the opportunities of the industrial—the fourth industrial revolution and what has happened. We are now starting our public auction to go from 4G to 5G in terms of telecommunications because that’s key. And we are doing that almost simultaneously with the most developed countries in order not to give advantage in that area. And also, we are trying to promote a huge restructuring and modernization of the state and of the private sector in terms of introducing technology and promoting that and incentivizing that with many, many different political policies. Because we are aware that technology is our best friend in order to face these huge challenges.

Now, how it will—how we’ll—how will we be able to do this? Of course, it’s not easy. And we are also—for instance, Chile was very poor in terms of old energy, fossil energy. We didn’t have gas, we didn’t have oil, we didn’t have too much—how do you say carbon—coal. But we’re extremely rich in terms of the new energy. Chile has twenty-five percent of the active volcanoes in the world, and that’s a huge potential for geothermal energy. We have the Desert of Atacama with the highest radiance in the world, so it’s the most—it’s the best place in the world to generate electric power using solar power. We have huge and magnificent conditions in terms of wind energy. And we’re investing in that a huge amount of money and not only building plants, but also trying to be at the state-of-the-art of the technologies. And we hope that Chile will become an exporter of energy, which was unthinkable five years ago.

So we, of course, we have big challenges. At the same time, we have huge opportunities. And we have to deal, we have to make to be very smart. Because, look, what has happened with Latin America? As I was telling you before, we have had two hundred years of independence. That’s the average in Latin America. None of the Latin American countries have been able to get rid of underdevelopment and to defeat poverty.

And we—our main commitment with the Chilean people when we ran for president was, before the end of the next decade, Chile will be the first, hopefully not the only one, country able to defeat poverty and to overcome underdevelopment.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask that lady at the back there, yeah.

Q: Mr. President, I’m Sharon Nazarian. I represent a Jewish-American organization, a hundred years old, called the Anti-Defamation League.

We’re in touch with the Jewish community of Chile on a weekly basis. And we hear reports that they that they are living under great hostility due to the Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups in Chile that have, both online and in reality, created a very hostile environment for the Jews of Chile. I wanted to ask you, what steps are you taking to protect your Jewish citizens?

PIÑERA: Well, first of all, it’s true that the largest Palestinian community outside Palestine is in Chile. We have almost—it’s true in the Middle East countries—we have more than four-hundred-thousand Palestinians. And we have only twenty-thousand Jewish people in Chile. But those two communities were an example for many, many years. I mean, the relationship between the two was very peaceful, very respectful.

In the last year, it’s true that some tensions have emerged between those two communities. Of course, we will protect because Chile is a—is a tolerant country and we have full respect for different religions or ethnic origins. And we are promoting a law which is called to prevent ethnic hate, ethnic hate or violence, we are promoting that.

But really, besides some fears, nothing real has happened. In some areas—let me tell you a very—(inaudible). Some very significant and import professors, Jewish professors, were not allowed to give a conference in some universities. That’s true. But that’s something which is new in Chile. We don’t agree with that at all and we will combat that with all the tools of the law. So I can guarantee you that Chile has a very tolerant and very pluralist approach to people that have come to Chile.

You know, the Palestinians came to Chile during the Turkish empire. Most of them are Christians and they were very badly treated by the—by the Ottomans. The Jewish community has come to Chile, I mean, since the beginning. But I’m fully aware that we will not allow anything that will jeopardize or put at risk the right of all the communities in Chile, including the Jewish community, to live in peace, to have the protection of the law, and to be respected.

ZAKARIA: Ma’am, in the second row. Yeah.

Q: Lucy Komisar, I’m a journalist.

You spoke regarding Venezuela about the concern of the Lima Group, the need to deal with the problem of food and medication, lack of food and medication, the need to save lives. At the same time, the U.S. government sanctions is directly aimed at preventing food and medication from going into Chile. And people in the government and the supporters of this policy are—

PIÑERA: You said going into Chile?

ZAKARIA: You mean into Venezuela.

Q: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Going into Venezuela.

PIÑERA: Because I wasn’t aware of that.

Q: OK. No, no, no. Sorry.

PIÑERA: If that was true, I would let it known to President Trump tomorrow.

Q: No, Chile is doing very well. Chile does very well. But going into—sorry—going into Venezuela, which is quite against what you and the Lima Group are concerned about. And beyond that, there are people now, people in government, supporters of that policy, talking about maybe we should invade Venezuela. Well, in Chile at a certain time, the seventies, things were really, I would think, a lot worse. People were being thrown out of airplanes, people were being arrested—

ZAKARIA: Ma’am, what is your question?

Q: —they were being tortured. So do you think that the answer to the problem in Chile at that time—

ZAKARIA: I think he’s already—

Q: —should have been an American invasion?

ZAKARIA: Ma’am, he already answered the question by—

Q: And does that give you any—

ZAKARIA: Excuse me, ma’am. No, you can’t—you can’t monopolize this.

Q: Will you stop? You are in charge of the whole thing and I’m asking a question—

ZAKARIA: No. You’re not asking a question, you’re making a speech.

Q: —which is not in your line. I’m asking, do you think—

ZAKARIA: Can somebody take the mic away please right now.

Q: —that American—do you support an American—

ZAKARIA: You are not allowed to grandstand, you are not allowed to filibuster. All right. We’re not going to go through this, ma’am. You do not get a chance to do this. Can you give the mic away?

Pam, turn the mic off, please. Yeah. Thank you.

Q: Fareed, I know what your line is. It’s basically support the American line.

ZAKARIA: All right. All right. All right.

Q: You should, therefore, allow me to ask my question.

ZAKARIA: All right.

PIÑERA: No, let me—let me answer you because the question was longer than the answer.

ZAKARIA: All right, let me—let me—let me just interrupt for one second. The president already came out against an invasion. The question you are being asked is, are you finding it difficult for sanctions to get through? And let me ask what it seemed was a substantive question here, which was—

Q: (Off mic)—what happened—

PIÑERA: Look, look, I listened to you. Let me answer, please.

First of all, I do not support any kind of military solution in the case of Venezuela. And I’ve said it before; maybe you didn’t pay attention.

Second, it is true that in a given point in time in Chile, we had a huge and very serious problem of human rights. That’s true. Hopefully, we were able to overcome that period and recover with democracy and our respect for human rights and civic friendship within the Chilean people.

Third, we in the Lima Group have already organized to come to Venezuela with a huge and significant humanitarian aid because we think it’s our duty and because the Venezuelans need it. We have not been able to do so, not because we are not willing to do so, because the Venezuelan or the Maduro government wouldn’t allow us to do that. And therefore, the main problem of why humanitarian help is not getting to Venezuela is because of President Maduro and his government, because there are many countries that are willing and ready to do so.

And finally, the question was, is it difficult to get—to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela? Yes, yes, very difficult for a very simple reason: They wouldn’t let us do that. Who? The Maduro regime.

ZAKARIA: But let me ask a question that grows out of that, which seems to me an important one, which is the United States says it is targeting sanctions at Maduro and the people around him. I think the question implied that these sanctions are also hurting ordinary Venezuelans. Is that the case? Do you support these sanctions, or should they be more specifically targeted at the—

PIÑERA: Well, I’ve read and I have analyzed the sanctions that have been imposed by the U.S., Canada, the European Union. They are very targeted to the key—Caracas, how do you say that?

ZAKARIA: The hierarchy of the government, yeah.

PIÑERA: The high-ranking officials of the Maduro government. We will never do anything that will hurt the Venezuelan people. And therefore, I don’t—I don’t agree with your main thesis that the U.S. is trying to hurt the Venezuelan people. I don’t think so. I come to the U.S., I don’t think they would do that, something like that.

But what I can tell you is what we are doing. We have asked President Maduro many, many times to open the Venezuelan gates in order to be able to go there with medicines, food, and everything which is needed because we are fully aware of the tragedy that is being suffered by the Venezuelan people.

ZAKARIA: More questions?


Q: Thank you. Shannon O’Neil from the Council on Foreign Relations.

And I was thinking about your comment when you president of CELAC and you felt a bit the odd man out where you were pro-market, pro-free trade, fairly friendly to the United States, thinking about the world, and many of your colleagues were more inwardly looking, state-led types of economies. And since that moment, now that you’re back in office, there are many new people in office all around Latin America, some coming in, so we have new presidents in Mexico, in Colombia, a new president in Peru, we will soon have a new president in Brazil—we’ll see who that person is. Could you talk a little bit about the complexion of the leadership in Latin America, the direction that leadership is going, if it’s cohesive, or if you see some cohesion? And if so, what kind of role could you, as a group, play on a world stage? What are the issues?

PIÑERA: Well, it’s true. In remember in our first government, most countries in Latin America were supporting the Chavez regime at that time—Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and many others. The situation has changed, and you can see that just by observing who are members of the Lima Group or who have signed yesterday this request to the International Criminal Court with the signatures of Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, and Canada.

Now, of course, there are different—this is changing so rapidly and could change again, because you mentioned there are many elections coming, and we will have a new president in Mexico, a couple of months from now we will have a new president in Brazil. By the way, the president in Brazil takes office on January 1 and I think that’s a human rights attempt to all the other presidents because we have to be there. (Laugher.) It’s on January 1 at nine a.m. (Laughter.) And nobody has said anything about it. We will put a complaint to the—

ZAKARIA: We’ve all been focused on who might become president.

PIÑERA: We don’t know who will become president in Brazil. In Mexico, of course, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, I think that he has changed a lot. Some people think that power is like a violin. You take it with the left hand, but you play it with the right hand. (Laughter.) So what will Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador do in Mexico? I have been able to talk to him many, many times and I think that he has become a much more reasonable man, from my point of view. And all his public declarations are moving in that direction.

Who will win in Brazil? I think the two options that are the most likely right now are Bolsonaro and Haddad. That’s what the people—I had a meeting the day before yesterday with Fernando Enrique Cardoso, eighty-seven years old. He’s better than all of us. And I asked him how he was able to achieve that. And he said, look, very simply, I’m married to a forty-year woman. (Laughter.) It’s true.

ZAKARIA: All right. More questions? (Laughter.)

PIÑERA: Finally, finally, finally, look, we had three models in Latin America until very recently. One was the ALBA countries, you know that, the kind of democracy, their approach to development. It was a disaster from our point of view. And then there was the Pacific Alliance, which basically were committed—were fully committed with democracy, free, open, competitive, integrated economy, and rule of law, and all those things. And those countries are the ones that have the best performance by far in the last year. And then you have countries in the middle, like Brazil and Venezuela. So there were three different models. It doesn’t mean that they were all—I mean, they were working and producing very different results.

What will happen in the future? Because right now, most countries are not supporting Venezuela. On the contrary, we are fully committed with trying to get rid of that dictatorship within the international and legal framework and help the Venezuelan people to recover their freedom, democracy, and rule of law, and respect for human rights.

So it is very, very important who will win in Brazil because Brazil is, by far, the largest country in Latin America. And we have two extreme options right now. One is to the extreme right and the other one is rather to the left. So the approach or the policy that they might follow will be very different depending on who is going to win, we don’t know.

So I would say that it’s very difficult to reach agreement, but within the Pacific Alliance it was very—when I went to the UNASUR meetings, summits, one speech after the other, one hour with Chavez, one hour with Morales, and putting all the blame in the imperialism and the United States and the empire and not a piece of blame on themselves.

In the Pacific Alliance, it’s very different. It’s much more pragmatic. That’s why in seven years we were able to create the most successful integration effort in Latin America ever. We have had so many integration efforts in Latin America—ALADI, CAN, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, El Pacto Andino, so many. This was the most successful one. In two years, we had liberated ninety-six percent of our trade without any tariff. We were homogenizing all the regulations in order to facilitate trade. We were helping each other to go to the open market, especially to the Pacific market. And we were able to promote freedom of movement, of goods, services, capital, and people. It was very successful. Now we have to face new challenges, of course, because we cannot rely on what we have already done. But in that era, it was very each to reach agreements and I hope that that will continue so.

In the UNASUR, it was impossible. For instance, UNASUR doesn’t work now. We have—we don’t have a—there is no government in UNASUR for the last two, three years because everything has to be agreed unanimously and that’s impossible in the actual framework. So it’s very difficult to reach agreement within Latin America, but it’s very easy to reach agreement with likeminded countries like those that are part of the Pacific Alliance.

ZAKARIA: I saw an announcement somewhere that pointed out that if you look at Latin America and you put a line through it, all the countries that face the Pacific were growing at twice the pace as the ones that faced the Atlantic.

PIÑERA: Actually, those that are facing the Atlantic are not growing, are going backwards.

ZAKARIA: We’ll take more questions. Just to be clear, you know, my point is simply you have to ask a question. This is not a forum for you to give a speech, it’s a forum for the president to give a speech.

Q: Ivan Royedo (ph).

Mr. President, I have a question about a neighbor to your—to your—to your side, Bolivia, if you could comment on your expectations for Monday’s International Court of Justice ruling on the maritime issue between Bolivia and Chile. Thank you.

PIÑERA: Well, you know that we have a treaty with Bolivia that was signed in 1904, twenty years after all the hostility has ceased, because we had a war with Bolivia in the nineteenth century, Bolivia and Peru. And that treaty was freely signed and agreed and it’s fully in place. And therefore, we hope that country will honor and respect those treaties that they have signed.

And in that treaty, it’s very clear—and this is recognized by Bolivia—that all the limits, problems were solved. So you start reopening things that happened one hundred years ago, one hundred and thirty years, imagine what would happen in Europe? What would happen in America, in North America, if Mexico starts trying to recover California, Texas, Nevada, Oregon? (Laughter.) So basically, I think that the international court will respect and honor those treaties that were signed and in full effect.

Now, what Bolivia is pretending is that—because we have had many conversations with them, that that has created some rights for Bolivia and some obligations for Chile. We don’t agree with that. But our position is based, in part, we will always be open to have an honest and in-good-faith conversation with Bolivia.

For instance, Bolivia has eternal access to the Pacific Ocean through any Chilean port, and they use it. More than eighty percent of Bolivian trade, even though they have many other alternatives, is going out through Chilean ports. It means that we are offering them the best conditions. And at the same time, we are willing to keep talking about that and trying to solve problems, but we are not willing to sacrifice our sovereignty. And no country can be asked to do that on a voluntary basis.

ZAKARIA: I think we have time for one more question.

Sir, there.

Q: Lester Wigler, Morgan Stanley.

Some observers have said that because of the increasing China influence in Latin America, the fact that a lot of this is provided through debt that’s given to the Latin American countries, there’s a potential for undue influence by China in the region. Could you share your view on whether or not that’s accurate?

PIÑERA: Well, of course, the Chinese influence in Latin America and all over the world is increasing. In the case of Latin America, the most important tool up to now has been trade, then investment, direct investment, rather than loans. If you take into account, I mean, what is the percent? Roughly, China represents one-quarter of our trade. It doesn’t represent one-quarter of our foreign direct investment. And it doesn’t represent one-quarter of our foreign debt.

But, of course, they are increasing their influence in Latin America and all over the world. China is becoming a world power and probably, if things keep going like they have been in the last year, very soon the Chinese economy, and not too far from now, will be larger than the U.S. economy. Now we have the start of war.

And basically what I think is that President Trump thinks that trade is not fair and, therefore, he’s imposing tariffs on the Chinese. They say, look, we are the other world power, we will not accept this and we will not give up. And therefore, if they impose tariffs on us, we’ll do the same thing. And we are willing to take all the costs and wait all the time necessary, but we will not give up. And therefore, the prospects are not good.

I had a chance to talk to a very important woman, which is in charge of one of the largest international agencies. And she said that things will get worse for a long period of time in terms of this trade war before they get better. And that will have a tremendous influence. Chile is suffering from that. We have—we have seen how this tariff war has worsened our terms of trade. The price of copper has come down significantly the last four months. The price of oil—we are an exporter of copper and an importer of oil—has gone up.

And my impression is that this—that it will take time for the Americans and the Chinese to reach an agreement and restore free trade, which is good for both countries, for the world. And I think that we are going through a very dangerous path. And we have already experienced that, because the main—the main reaction of the country when the rate repression happened was to try to protect the entire GNP. And by doing that, all of them, they just worsened the crisis. And something like that is happening now.

So I hope that just as the U.S. was able to reach an agreement with the European Union, I hope that that will happen with the Chinese. But as we see the position of both countries right now, they are very, very stubborn in keeping with their strategic thinking that the other will have to give up. And I think that in this case, none of them will give back in the short term.

Q: You’re meeting with Mr. Trump tomorrow, Mr. President, so maybe you could share that. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: Well, we’ve given you many things to talk to President Trump about. But mostly, we thank you a great deal. You have a busy schedule and you’re very kind to take the time to talk to us. (Applause.)

PIÑERA: Fareed, thank you very much.


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