Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Cabinet Changes in Chile: Piñera Reshuffles the Deck

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 20, 2011

by Roque Planas for Americas Society / Council of the Americas, July 19th, 2011.

Facing student protests, striking copper miners, and an ongoing energy controversy, Piñera shuffled his cabinet on Monday for the second time this year. Piñera ordered eight cabinet changes in all, but all but two ministers will trade places with others. The two new additions—Senators Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick—both hail from the Independent Democratic Union, the more conservative party in Piñera’s two-party coalition. With the cabinet shuffle, Piñera hopes to address the social unrest that has pushed his approval rating down to 31 percent June from its peak of 63 percent in October, following the rescue of the 33 trapped miners.

Education Minister Joaquín Lavín’s move to the Ministry of Social Planning aims to defuse a standoff with tens of thousands of student protesters that has dragged on since April. Lavín’s approval rating plummeted by 24 points to 46 percent, according to Adimark, and Chileans now rate education as the area the Piñera administration’s weakest spot. Piñera proposed a $4 billion investment to finance scholarships and other investments in education, but students protesters rejected Piñera’s plan out of hand for opening the door to allowing for-profit schools, which is currently prohibited by law. Lavín’s departure from the Education Ministry pleased student protesters, who continue to occupy at least 100 hundred high schools and universities.

Meanwhile, Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Goldborne traded places with Public Works Minister Hernán de Solminihac in a move that some saw as a reward for Goldborne. Public confidence in Goldborne soared last year because of the role he played in rescuing the 33 trapped miners. His move to the Public Works Ministry comes just days after state copper company CODELCO went on a 24-hour strike—the union’s first in two decades. By moving to Public Works, Goldborne takes on a position of equal or greater importance—the ministry leads reconstruction from the 2010 earthquake—while avoiding politically painful confrontation with the copper miners’ union, reports the Financial Times. He also avoids continuing to associate himself with the controversial HydroAysén dam project, which Piñera approved despite large-scale environmental protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets. (A Chilean court halted construction of the $3.5 billion project on June 20, after opponents filed an injunction.) Goldborne is also widely viewed as a leading conservative possibility for the 2014 presidential elections, in which Piñera will have to sit out due to a constitutional prohibition on consecutive reelection. In a column for La Tercera, political scientist Patricio Navia referred to Golborne’s move as “the official beginning of his presidential run.”  (continue reading… )

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