By Rebecca Walker
President Obama will touch down in Chile on March 21 to commence the second leg of his Latin American trip. Inevitably, this segment of Obama’s journey will suffer in relative importance by being compared to his earlier visit to Brazil, where he is scheduled to spend two full days as opposed to the shortened one-day agenda that is planned for Chile. This is namely because, as their respective press secretaries will tell you, if asked, the U.S. and Chile already have a strong bond which is rooted in democratic ideals, and a tenacious belief in the rewards of free enterprise. The visit will provide Obama with the platform to use glowing rhetoric to celebrate a hemispheric ally without making too many demands and requests by either side.
Though mutual praise will be a clear message of the visit, it will underscore several other important issues. Chile is currently pursuing expanded energy options to cater to the expected exponential increase in energy consumption in the coming decades. It has already drafted plans—pending President Sebastián Piñera’s approval of the program—of utilizing Patagonia’s rich hydroelectric resources while supplementing it with a coal-fired alternative. Both of these options are receiving domestic criticism, while the third proposition—nuclear energy—is being met with monumental disgruntlement around the world. Especially in the wake of the fearsome impact that the natural disasters have had on Japan’s nuclear reactors—an event to which Chile is also highly vulnerable due to the tectonic nature of its geology. However, the latter of the energy options seems to be the frontrunner, as the international market has welcomed Chile’s bid with sale offers from France and Russia. As this is a market the U.S. considers to be both competitive and economically viable for its own manufacturers, Obama will undoubtedly address the issue during his visit either publically or privately. Whether he will sign a nuclear acquisition agreement—which arguably might be the economic route—or tout U.S. expertise with possible assistance in energy diversification—the environmentalist avenue—might actually turn out to be the highlight of the Santiago stopover.
Despite the appearance that this trip is, in a sense, a reward to Chile for its democratic progress and stability, Obama’s presence is not necessarily universally welcomed by the host country. Protests and demonstrations are being planned in anticipation of the U.S President’s arrival. According to Radio Cadena Agramonet; the National Teachers Association, student groups, and human rights groups are planning to organize themselves on Sunday to vocalize their opposition to the visit. The protesters are rallying against what they consider suffocating U.S intervention in international affairs, the opposition to the presumed signing of the proposed nuclear energy agreement, the continued imprisonment of the Cuban Five, and an objection to what the dissenters consider to be unwarranted spotlighting on Chile being a democratic model. However, despite the sobering presence of the protesters, it is expected that Obama’s visit to Chile will be conducted without disruption and will overwhelmingly receive positive reviews in the press.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Rebecca Walker