Sebastiàn Piñera: his son's taste in music might also become a problem.

On Sunday night, Chili elected a new president, with outgoing socialist leader Michelle Bachelet passing the flame to right-wing teeth-baring Sebastiàn Piñera, a controversial new influence over the Latin American country due to an extremely wealthy bank account and paradoxal views on Augusto Pinochet, the former tyran accused of genocide and providing shelter to Nazi war criminals.

Piñera is a bundle of contradictions, from his Berlusconian input on the economy to his self-proclaimed « humanist » conservatism, that he seems to wish closer to Helmut Kohl’s than Silvio’s. However, his own fortune being estimated by Forbes to be of approximatively 860 million euro, the 60 year old football club owner and Harvard graduate paints a picture of himself ranging from affectionate grandfather to greedy businessman with a shady historical conscience.

On many social and civil rights issues, Piñera proves to be more open-minded than many conservatives on the northern hemisphere, especially concerning gay rights – he was the first political leader to give civil and administrative recognition to homosexual couples. The « humanist » has also tried to take a stand regarding the complexity of Chili’s past by declaring that no previous employee of the Pinochet administration would ever have a seat in his government – whilst adding that « working under Pinochet does not constitute a sin ». A hasty addition to a political discourse trying to bring about cambio (change) and disruption from previous governments, socialist and conservatives alike, when it is no secret that his brother, José, was Minister of Labour under Pinochet and has made a name changing the retirement system from repartition to unabashed capitalization.

So who is really Piñera, and does he personify a strange and potentially harmful change for South America ? Supported by similar-minded parties National Renovation (sic) and Independant Democratic Union, Piñera is a nice-looking facade for a business-oriented neo-conservatist right-wing ideology modeled after its northern american twin, and will benefit from an interest economic growth in 2010 and 2011, evaluated at 4.5%, that will definitely help bringing about the cambio Piñera is so fond of. This change will however not be mild in any way – the free trade market wished by Piñera and on which he built his own wealth under the dictatorship (by introducing the concept of credit cards to Chili) is one that is radically different from the economy based on socialist platforms that has been implemented by successive governments ever since the fall of Pinochet.

What Piñera is sure to bring to the plate is a renewal of left-wing forces that will no longer take their leadership and popularity for granted. Does that mean the era of whispering Pinochet’s name in-between corridors and purging the governmental apparatus of any former Pinochet members? Is Piñera helping Chili get out of the guilt of the tortured and murdered? Although he committed himself to the condemnation of human rights violations and subsequent ICT convictions, undermining the very nature of those used as tools in the dictatorship might send the wrong message, that of trying to wipe Chili’s historical slate clean. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.