AP Interview: Chile president to ask for CIA files

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 6:01 PM

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Tuesday that he'll accept President Barack Obama's invitation to formally request classified U.S. intelligence documents that may identify Chilean agents responsible for more than 1,200 human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship.

Pinera made this pledge - his most specific yet on Chile's unresolved human rights cases - during an interview with The Associated Press in which he described Obama's visit as a validation of his country's regional leadership and rejected complaints that it was short on concrete results.

Chile and the U.S. signed eight accords ahead of Obama's brief visit, which Pinera said shows the countries are working together as equals, a reflection of how far the region has come since President John F. Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress aid program for Latin America in 1961.

Such handouts are not only impossible now given the U.S. budget woes, but out of place in today's world, Pinera said.

"The United States used to set the rules of the road and sign the checks. What President Obama proposed to us yesterday was something Chile has been assuming for a long time now - a different relationship, to move from handouts to collaboration, from an unequal vertical relationship to a relationship of equals, horizontal," Pinera said while sitting in the Blue Room of the presidential palace, an elegant chamber just outside his private office.

In his first year since bringing the Chilean right wing back into the palace, Pinera has helped the nation recover from a devastating earthquake, managed a booming economy and led the dramatic rescue of 33 miners trapped deep underground. The president said Obama's visit also shows Chile can now do more beyond its borders, such as encouraging free trade, help for Haiti and new relationships in Latin America.

"It's not a coincidence" that Obama chose to visit Brazil and Chile during his first trip to South America, Pinera said. "It's a recognition of what the Chileans have achieved" with openness, democracy and strong institutions - a theme Obama touched on repeatedly during his address to the region.

Asked if he is ready to personally assume a regional leadership role now that Brazil's charismatic Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is out of office and Argentine power broker Nestor Kirchner has died, Pinera insisted that modern leaders work in teams.

"I'm absolutely ready to collaborate with my presidential colleagues in Latin America," he said, reflecting the business sense that helped him become a billionaire by introducing credit cards to Chile and building the region's biggest airline. Leaders need to lead, but also delegate, he said.

Chile's center-left opposition, political analysts and leftist leaders including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez said Obama's visit was short on results.

But Pinera rejected that criticism as based on a false and tired premise: that the United States should bring millions in handouts to lesser nations.

"The language of the 21st century isn't the language of the welfare states, but of collaboration among equals," he said. "Together we'll decide what to do to benefit both our countries."

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