Politically and economically, Chile has been championed as a beacon of stability and consistency in a traditionally turbulent continent. The temptation for other countries to turn towards Chile’s model in hopes of long-term success is obvious. While from the outside the model might seem easy to implement, countries considering this route should be warned that aspects of this inherently Chilean model may be lost in translation. This is especially true in Argentina, where the historical precedents are deep and far-reaching, and thus may hinder the success of such a model. Despite its ups and downs, Argentina should continue to chart its own course as it has been doing with increasing success for the past few decades. The Chilean model, with its economic and political rigidity, narrow-minded provincialism and seemingly short-term mindset would be an inappropriate and possibly detrimental path for Argentina.
Chile’s economy was at one point the most successful in all of Latin America, based primarily on export-led growth under Pinochet. However, since the 1999 economic downturn, Chile’s economic growth has been inconsistent and has lagged behind that of many of its neighbors. Especially when compared with Argentina, Chile has a surprisingly low percentage of its economy invested in research and development. The proportion of its economy devoted to globally oriented ventures, particularly concerning the high technology sector, is disturbingly low compared to regional counterparts such as Brazil and Argentina. Despite Chile’s advancements in the free trade arena, the government is still heavily involved in trade, certain industries (specifically copper), and the future direction of the economy. Following the dramatic privatization across virtually all sectors of Argentina’s economy in the 90’s, nearly nothing remains under the government’s control. Socio-economically, the two countries are again dissimilar: Chile’s glaring stratification contrast Argentina’s blurred social spectrum. Chile’s economic policies exacerbate this divide and maintain the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons of society. Argentina’s vocal voting populace would not stand for such exclusive policy.
Additionally, Chile’s political history could not be further removed from Argentina’s. The long-standing authoritarian dictatorship of Pinochet bestowed a sense of order and legitimacy on the Chilean political system. On the contrary, Argentina’s frequent fluctuations between military and civilian rule throughout the 20th century resulted in a system perceived as volatile and untrustworthy. Chile’s system may be more secure, but Argentina’s passionate voting population is quick to seek change and hold the government to its promises. Chile’s cumbersome party coalitions and antiquated voting system foster a sense of apathy and stagnation, especially with younger (and generally non-participating) voters. The diverse representation afforded to Argentines is something that they do not take for granted; the multi-party system allows for greater accountability and more easily accommodates changes in the will of the people.
Another factor hindering the transference of the Chilean model to Argentina is Chile’s entrenched provincialism. Despite its attempts to globalize its economy through free trade agreements, Chile has isolated itself from much of the southern cone and has neglected to sow the seeds of long-term relationships. Chile plays out its foreign policy in a game theory fashion, carefully measuring its own actions against those of its trading partners. Argentina takes a broader approach to such issues, favoring neutrality while simultaneously keeping a firm finger on the pulse of the region. Argentina, under Kirchner, recognizes more the importance of the long-term, concerning regional relationships, economic investment and ultimately sustainability. Chile’s perceives the need to cater to its trading partners policies, whereas in the recent past Argentina has never allowed itself to sacrifice its ideologies in the name of global status. As examples, Argentina has disregarded IMF advice, defaulted on its loans and consciously disassociated itself from American influence, all of Chile would never consider.
Chile’s political and economic rigidity, coupled with its tendency towards provincialism dims the country’s long-term prospects. Most Argentines would view these policies as a step backwards, or at least one to the side. While the Chilean model might seem stable, its main fault lies in its resounding inflexibility and fear of risk taking. The aforementioned fluctuations stand testament to the Argentine ability to bounce back from disaster and throw economic caution to the wind. This is not to say that Argentina operates with reckless abandon; far from it, the country’s policymakers embrace both traditional and unconventional policies as the situation requires.
Perhaps a more light-hearted reason Argentina could never adopt the Chilean model is rooted in the country’s phobia of commitment. The mere thought of having to tie itself down to any political and economic model, and particularly one as rigid as Chile’s, is so un-Argentine that doing so would probably send shivers down its Andean backbone and would surely boost Fernet sales across the nation. Argentina is too free-spirited and experimental to be locked into the slow and steady Chilean policy, no matter how safe it may seem. The untamable quality that exemplifies Argentina is indeed a force to be reckoned with, and Chile’s model is no match. On the other hand, this fear of commitment has proved to be one of Argentina’s strength, as its willingness to divorce itself form failed policies has resulted in the flexibility to change its course when the tides turn.
Even if Chile’s policies were a sound plan for Argentina, the country’s fierce sense of national pride would prevent it from adopting any wholly foreign model. If the model was tailored to Argentina’s needs, what would remain would be a skeleton framework lacking in the distinctly Chilean elements of provincialism and rigidity. Adopting the Chilean model would mean abandoning fundamental progressive ideals and would mean exhuming the Argentine foreign policy mindset from 20 or 30 years ago. Suffice to say, adopting the Chilean model would not be in Argentina’s best long-run interests. Argentina is well on its way to becoming a southern cone leader, and is likely to be more capable of standing up to the task than Chile. Argentina’s commitment to the region commands the respect of not only its regional counterparts, but of global powerhouses and developing nations alike.