Chilean ambassador talks politics at Elliott School event

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Chilean Ambassador to the U.S. José Mario Goñi spoke openly about his country’s upcoming presidential elections and discussed the recent social and economic development in his country at an event Tuesday in the Elliott School.

Goñi said that the three main candidates – Sebastián Piñera, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Marco Enríquez-Ominami – all plan to focus on eliminating social inequalities like the current president Michelle Bachelet, a factor that will make for a close election.

“It’s the most competitive election in many, many, many years,” Goñi said. “It’s impossible to say who’s going to win.”

He said that the election – scheduled for Dec. 13th – will most likely result in a runoff, which has already been scheduled for Jan. 17, 2010.

“This election is different from the others,” he said, “If you compare the agendas of the three main candidates you can observe they’re very similar.”

He added that despite the growth of Chile’s economy and the decreasing poverty level, the new president will still have to continue finding new ways to help bolster the economy and decrease social inequality.

“The Chilean population is wealthier than 30 years ago but there is still a large gap between the rich and the poor,” Goñi said. “We have to invest more in education, research, and resources.”

Goñi also said health care, technology, energy and a biased press are areas of the country that need improvement.

Despite Chile’s somewhat tumultuous past, Goñi touted the country’s recent changes to social and economic policies and its blossoming relationship with the U.S.

“Chile has one of the most dynamic economies. The causes of this are foreign trade, our open economy, and our competitiveness in the private sector,” said Goñi.

The country has had one of the fastest growing GDPs over the last two decades, Goñi said, adding that the increase in foreign trade, especially with the U.S., has been the largest contributor to Chile’s economic growth.

“I can tell you the relationship we have with the United States is the best we’ve had in our history,” Goñi said.

He also broke down the government’s social agenda into four categories – enforcing non-discriminatory laws, reducing poverty, preserving the financial stability of individual citizens, and focusing on the environment.

Senior George Leyh said the event was interesting, but he wished Goñi had delved deeper into the topics he spoke about.

“It was interesting, but fairly basic,” said senior George Leyh. “I would’ve liked him to go into more depth.”

Cynthia McClintock, a political science professor at GW and the coordinator of the event, appreciated Goñi’s honesty.

“It is unusual for an ambassador to talk so candidly about an upcoming election,” she said.

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