Recently, Nikolas Kozloff, author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave, 2006), caught up with Manuel Cabieses, the Director of Punto Final, a Chilean bi-monthly newspaper. Kozloff is currently writing another book, South America´s New Direction, also to be released by Palgrave in 2008. During the one hour interview, Cabieses discussed his own background and opposition to the Pinochet government, Chile´s free trade agreement with the
NK: Could you tell me a bit about your personal background?
MC: I originally worked in an oil company as a young man. We created a union there, and I was responsible for the labor newspaper. Through the paper I got involved in journalism; I never studied journalism in a formal setting.
NK: How did you get involved in politics?
MC: I first got interested in a party which no longer exists in
NK: Could you explain a bit about prison and exile?
MC: (long pause). I was detained 2 days after the coup, in the street.
NK: Nearby to your offices here?
MC: Yes, here in downtown. I was in a car. We were all obliged to get out of the vehicle, and someone in the street recognized me. The dictatorship had issued advisories, warning that certain people should hand themselves over, including me. I was imprisoned a little more than 2 years, in different prisons all over the country. Finally I was expelled along with my family. We went to
NK: How strong are social movements here and to what extent can they push the government to the left?
MC: They´re very weak and atomized. The dictatorship, through repression and imposition of its economic model, were able to fracture social movements, and almost succeeded in liquidating any kind of left political movement. The labor unions today are far fewer in number than in the 1970s. It´s unlikely that we´ll see the emergence of a potent social movement here like in other countries such as
NK: What about students?
MC: The student movement last year was very strong in the sense that there hadn´t been a movement like that for many years. But intrinsically it wasn´t very strong in terms of organization and wasn´t able to mobilize on a national level. This year the student movement hasn´t advanced at all.
NK: What about the Indians?
MC: After the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, the Mapuche Indians have been politically active on a sporadic basis. But, as with other sectors of society, it´s a very atomized movement and there is no national Mapuche organization. The most radicalized Mapuches have been very beaten back and repressed.
NK: Could there be more social conflict here if poverty increases?
MC: Chilean economic development has reached a threshold. The economy was growing at a rate of 6-7%, but last year it went down to 4%. This year it´s hardly expected that it will significantly increase beyond this rate. The dynamism of the neo liberal, export model, seems to have reached a plateau because
NK: Has poverty been reduced?
MC: There has been a reduction in poverty in terms of percentages, but what has advanced more rapidly is extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of a minority. Investors have reaped fabulous profits in the last few years, but meanwhile salaries and pensions have suffered. In this manner, the contradictions between extreme poverty and wealth have been sharpened. At the same time, the political parties have been delegitimized. The same political conditions are being generated here that we observed before the rise of Hugo Chavez in
NK: How does society view Chile´s free trade agreement with the
MC: There are labor sectors who look favorably upon the treaty. They believe what the media has told them, that the prosperity, this dynamic export economy, will filter down from the top towards the bottom. There are sectors of society which are not numerically insignificant, which have benefited in some way from the export model. For example, in terms of credit. Credit cards didn´t exist here before. But today a great many Chileans, even those earning low salaries, have them. We have also seen massification of cell phones. In
NK: What have been the advantages of the model?
MC: There´s been a great modernization, growth in telecommunications, roads, airports, ports, and all sectors linked to export.
NK: Yes, the airport is quite impressive!
MC: If you go out into the countryside, a half hour out of
NK: Is there any chance
MC: No, and in fact every day
NK: How do you see China´s rising presence economically speaking?
NK: What do social movements have to say about China´s rising profile?
MC: Social movements are passive towards these types of issues. There are some labor leaders who are sympathetic towards
NK: How strong is left wing journalism here in
MC: In television there´s nothing, there´s no station that identifies as leftist. There´s a radio station which belongs to the Communist Party, and there´s a few progressive radio stations. In the press there´s only two bi monthlies, El Siglo, of the Communist Party, and Punto Final, both have low circulation. We have no publicity and experience distribution problems. On the internet there´s more diversity but in
MC: (long pause). You say, here?
NK: Yes (laughs). Are you surprised by my question?
NK: How strong is CNN and
MC: Very strong, but amongst the middle and upper middle classes.
NK: Is Telesur (a satellite news station partially funded by
MC: There are some regions of the country, for example in the center, where you can receive Telesur and even Cuban TV. Otherwise however, only people who have access to Direct TV can watch Telesur. You need a long range antenna.
NK: Have you ever had any contact with the U.S. Embassy here while working for Punto Final?
MC: I have never had any contact with them, expect for one time when I applied for a visa to visit
NK: It seems to me that Chile´s relationship with the
MC: I don´t think
NK: You interviewed Chavez, what was your impression and what do you think will happen as far as Chilean Venezuelan relations?
MC: In 1994 I met Chavez in
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave, 2006). He is currently writing another book, South America´s New Direction, also to be released by Palgrave in 2008.
Manuel Cabieses is the Director of Punto Final, a Chilean bi-monthly newspaper.