Chilean president Michelle Bachelet on Thursday reshuffled her cabinet by naming new Foreign Affairs and Defence ministers as well as a new government spokesperson. This is the eighth reshuffle since taking office in 2006 and marks the beginning of a tough electoral and financial year.
Defence minister Jose Goñi was replaced by Francisco Vidal ministerial cabinet secretary and government spokesperson, while Foreign Affairs minister Alejandro Foxley will abandon government to address a “long delayed personal project”. The post goes to Mariano Fernández, currently ambassador in Washington and former Deputy Foreign Affairs minister.
Mr. Goñi will take Mr. Fernández post in Washington and Lower House member Carolina Tohá becomes government spokesperson.
“The truth is that times ahead are tough and we have to face the crisis and its impact on Chile successfully, honouring our promises to the Chileans. I’m convinced we will reach the bicentenary (2010) with a more fair and developed country that protects all its citizens”, said Ms. Bachelet following the unexpected ministerial renewal announcement.
The Chilean president praised the outgoing ministers describing Foxley (who is rated as the most popular minister of the cabinet) as a very “good, efficient, honest and generous” and thanked Mr. Goñi for having implemented reforms in the Armed Forces and helped set up the South American Defence Council.
Mr. Foxley apparently will be the campaign manager for former president Eduardo Frei who is running as the ruling coalition’s consensus candidate in next December presidential election.
The new Foreign Affairs minister is a solicitor with a long diplomatic career having been posted in the US, UK, Spain, Italy, EU, Brussels and while exiled during Pinochet dictatorship worked as a journalist in Germany.
Ms Bachelet also had kind words for the new Defence minister, her former spokesperson, “a convinced and dedicated defender of the (ruling coalition) Concertacion and government’s performance, for which he has been many times unfairly criticized”.
Carolina Tohá as an elected member of Congress faces a strange situation since under the Chilean Constitution elected officials can’t hold ministerial posts, unless they explicitly resign or are ousted. Hers would be the first such case.
Analysts believe there could be further ministerial changes ahead since the ruling coalition, after twenty years in office (following the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship) is facing a formidable challenge in conservative presidential hopeful Sebastián Piñera, one of the country’s richest businessmen.
With the disappearance of the Pinochet figure, the conservatives have become politically more palatable for the whole spectrum and Piñera has proved to be a good campaigner and leads comfortably in vote intention public opinion polls.
Furthermore as in the rest of the world, the global crisis is already having an impact in Chilean exports and assets with the collapse of the international price of copper, the country’s main commodity.
Although Chile has done a good management of the economy and set aside much of the windfall earnings from copper for the leaner years, the economy is technically in recession and is not expected to expand this year.