Chile’s foreign policy issues under the Bachelet government

Transcript of talk between Dr Jospeh S. Tulchin (JT) and Ambassador Alberto Labbe (AL)

JT: I’m delighted today to be talking to Ambassador Alberto Labbe. He is Director General of Foreign Policy in the Bachelet government of Chile, which is the analogue position of Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the United States.

Mr Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us on World Review. Now, let’s talk about Chile’s foreign policy under the Bachelet government, with Minister Heraldo Munoz, Foreign Minister. What are the general outlines of the government’s foreign policy?

AL: Thank you, Dr Tulchin. Well, the main lines are the lines of continuity and the policy of consensus. After all, you need to remember that Minister Munoz and President Bachelet were previously engaged in the formulation of these lines.

Now there is a second element, which I would describe as a new ‘body language’ concerning particularly the countries on the Atlantic coast of South America. These elements of continuity and of new signals point to our desire to be a factor of unity within our region, and to continue to display all the lines of work that we have been displaying in the past in order to foster better relations with Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and of course the Middle East.

JT: Does the government see Chile’s role in the Pacific as crucial to its foreign policy?

AL: Absolutely. It is not only crucial but very important in what we are now calling the ‘Private-Public Alliance’ in order to foster growth in Chile.

The Chilean participation in the Pacific Alliance will continue to be enthusiastic, proactive and absolutely key. So we will continue there.

The president has participated in the summits of the Alliance. The minister has participated at the most recent meeting which took place here in San Diego, and ministers were participating in the fringe meetings at the General Assembly in New York. So that is exactly 100 per cent, not only continuation but also improving, and deepening and widening the scope of activities of the Pacific Alliance.

JT: Now, very controversial in Europe and the United States has been the rise of new regional organisations in Latin America. I’ll just mention two: UNASUR which is the Union of South American States, and CELAC which is a newer organisation that brings together countries in all of Latin America and the Caribbean but explicitly excludes the United States and Canada.

Minister Munoz in a public statement referred to CELAC as creating a Latin American space. What does he mean by that?

AL: Well, CELAC is not only Latin American, but it includes the Caribbean as well, and this is very important. It is a space for political consultation. It is a space where we can discuss, from our perspective of Latin American developing countries, certain lines of work where we can find an easier understanding and consensus.

Let me point, for instance, to a very significant statement by the heads of state and government of CELAC regarding nuclear disarmament. As you will understand it will be much easier to reach consensus among us, all of us being member states of the Tlatelolco Treaty of Nuclear Disarmament than with the United States, which is having some difficulties in that area – although we are very cognisant of the proud speech of President Obama regarding the mission of our world without nuclear weapons. So, you see CELAC is a space for political debate.

UNASUR is something different. UNASUR is a well-founded international organisation which includes a treaty, includes a democratic charter, includes the creation of several councils on committees on dealing, for instance, with infrastructure on drug trafficking, with defence, with public health. And we continue to find ways of integration and cooperation between our countries in very specific areas.

So I realise that we have been very inventive in the matter of creating groupings and different associations – we had Mercosur, we had the Andean Pact – but all these are working for the same purpose. UNASUR is enjoying a greater degree of political momentum, I would say.

JT: Last year (2013), our mutual friend Alberto van Klaveren brought to a successful conclusion the international mediation of the maritime dispute with Peru in The Hague. I personally feel it was a great triumph for Chile, and I wonder what your opinion might be – if you would share your opinion with us – about the possibility of a similar or analogous resolution of the dispute with Bolivia.

AL: Well, that is a difficult question. It will depend on Bolivia.

First of all, we need to point out that this administration wants to work with Bolivia in important matters of common interest. We are Latin American countries, we are developing countries, we are neighbouring countries. We want more integration, more integration, we want deep and really creative relationship with Bolivia. But Bolivia chose to bring their maritime aspirations to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and they sued us.

By doing so, they created a political atmosphere under which it will be more difficult to cooperate in the traditional way with Bolivia. We expect this case to be taken very seriously by the International Court of Justice, and we will be presenting our own arguments.

The guise of the demand of Bolivia is that we should negotiate with them, but with the predetermined outcome that we should give to them a piece of Chilean territory for them to have a sovereign access to the Pacific ocean.

They do have access to the Pacific ocean, economic access, trade access through Chilean ports, through Chilean facilities and through Chilean infrastructure - out of the 1904 Treaty which ended the Pacific War between Chile and Bolivia, and a myriad of treaties and agreements, some of them bilateral, some of them multilateral, some of them written. But they want sovereign access.

And they have sued us in order to get from us, via the courts, the promise to enter into negotiations. Very curious negotiations, because they are talking about negotiations with a predetermined outcome. So it is not where we negotiate in order to see if we can reach an agreement. They want us to negotiate in terms of a predetermined outcome related to their desire to have sovereign port into the sea.

Now we expect the court to reach a decision in favour of terms to us, saying this is not acceptable. Because if they follow the Bolivian line of argument, then the whole system, the whole regime of borders in the world would be in danger.

You could not enter into any kind of bilateral negotiations, if by doing so you would be deemed or obliged to have a certain result.

JT: I can see the Chilean position has been made very clear, and the Bolivian position, which is not my place to represent, we should simply point out to the viewers that there is another point of view, and we will hear about that from the International Court of Justice, I’m sure.

Mr Ambassador, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you spending it with us and World Review, and we look forward perhaps to another conversation.

(photo credit:dpa)