Saturday, November 15, 2008

As a Memoirist, a Chilean Diplomat Takes Off the White Gloves

Chilean diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, an Allende supporter, now Chile’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Mr. Muñoz wanted to examine the question of whether Chile’s free-market economic miracle was really the fruit of the Pinochet period — as General Pinochet’s die-hard supporters still claim — or whether it might have occurred without such a brutally anti-Socialist regime.

Worthy of exploration and examination, the question can not be answered with a slam-dunk assertion that of course Pinochet's rule brought prosperity to Chile.

Although General Pinochet unleashed free-market policies inspired by the “Chicago boys,” young Chilean disciples of Milton Friedman and other economists of the Chicago School, the dictator was forced to retrench and even to nationalize much of the banking sector with a $7 billion bailout in the early 1980s.

An objective argument against Pinochet's being the launcher of an economic miracle.

It was only after the defeat of General Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite and the establishment of democracy that the real economic boom occurred, Mr. Muñoz argues in the book, with the poverty level in Chile dropping to 13.7 percent in 2007 from 40 percent in 1990.

40% poverty rate hardly qualifies as an economic miracle.

But Patricio Navia, who teaches Latin American studies at New York University, says the book underplays the extent to which modern Chile is a creature of what Pinochet wrought. “Chile today is much more what Pinochet had in mind than what Allende had in mind,” he said, referring to Salvador Allende, the Socialist president of Chile who was overthrown in the 1973 coup.

Paul E. Sigmund, a professor emeritus at Princeton and an expert on Chilean politics, said the book’s greatest value lay in its detailed descriptions of the policy fights of the Pinochet era. “He is a remarkable combination of political activist and political observer,” Mr. Sigmund said of the ambassador.

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Heraldo Muñoz.

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