Latin Americans usually complain that the United States sees itself as the center of the universe, and the local media here usually treats it that way. We saw and heard more about the Obama family’s new dog 5,000 miles away than what was going on just around the corner. Did we really need all those articles about the virtues of the Portuguese water dog, or how the presidential pet had become a “national controversy” in the United States?
Yes, we heard about this and more. But apart from the dog, it has been interesting in this way: The local media reports on Obama calling for more regulation, more corporate responsibility and more ethics, inadvertently reflecting our own defects here. You can’t touch credit cards, corporate bonuses, or banks in Chile. And forget about any government meddling in this market economy, one of the most open and unfettered in the world, crisis or no crisis.
To see the giant that has always imposed its economic policies on the little countries down here turn around and do the opposite of what it has always said should be done, is a bit disconcerting in a country that has obeyed all the rules to the last letter. This mild shake-up of economic dogma will do good around here, when the role of the State in the economy is likely to become a central issue of the presidential campaigns this year.
Chileans seem to like Obama. He got a lot of applause when he announced the closure of the Guantanamo prison, lifted some restrictions on Cuba, spoke at Trinidad and Tobago about building a new relationship with Latin America based on mutual respect, and set a date for ending military operations in Iraq (but got no praise for reorienting efforts towards Afghanistan, however). And when he called torture by its name, it really hit home, after years of hearing some Chileans minimize the acts of torture that ocurred here calling them “illegitimate pressure” (by the way, “waterboarding” is known here as “the submarine”).
Even the suspicious left believes he is an authentically well-intentioned man who may earnestly want to do things differently. If he can actually pull it off is a different story. But for now, he’s winning Chileans over, and on top of that — say many women — the man is sexy.