Chile's ambassador to Washington, Genaro Arriagada, returns home next week to lead the presidential campaign of Ricardo Lagos after a stay just short of a year. Lagos is the candidate of the government coalition known as Concertacion, a broad center-left grouping.
Arriagada is an academician and a seasoned politician who was a key figure in the ouster of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet. Arriagada was coordinator of the campaign that led to the plebiscite in 1988 and the democratic election the following year that sealed Pinochet's defeat.
The ambassador has directed two other successful presidential campaigns, including that of incumbent Eduardo Frei in 1994. Concertacion is a broad coalition grouping Arriagada's Christian Democratic Party, Lagos's Socialist Party, the Popular Party for Democracy and the Radical Party.
Arriagada said he leaves Washington with "mixed feelings" because his tenure here was so brief.
But he said his departure comes on a high note because of Chile's "outstanding" relations with the United States and growing links between the militaries of both countries after years of distrust.
He insisted, however, that his new job is a great opportunity, not only because he was asked to run the campaign of a candidate from another party, but also because politics is in his blood.
"It is a terrible thing," he chuckled, "but being the leader of this campaign is the most important thing for a politician."
In Chile, the job is not that of a campaign manager, but more that of a strategist and actor who oils the wheels for the race and fine-tunes the relations among people working on the campaign, parties and constituents. Lagos is the front-runner, which makes Arriagada's "invitation more generous and very prudent," the ambassador said.
The author of several books on politics and society, Arriagada is also one of Chile's leading experts on the military and he has served as president of the Christian Democratic Party and its secretary general. He has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a student at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Chile's ambassador to London, Mario Artaza, has been named as his successor and awaits agrement from the U.S. government.
Arriagada's time here has been short but intense, climaxing with the international controversy over the Spanish demand for Pinochet's extradition from Britain, in which the United States has supported the formal Chilean position seeking to block the extradition.
"If the United States does not accept the creation of an international criminal court, why should they support the pretentions of a Spanish judge to extradite Pinochet?" he asked.
Beefing Up the Economy
Brazil's new ambassador here, Rubens Barbosa, arrived as President Fernando Henrique Cardoso reshuffled his cabinet and swore in new members in his drive to promote economic reforms.
Brazil exports 19 percent of its products to the United States, which has investments totaling $36 billion in the South American country. At a lunch with Washington Post reporters and editors, Barbosa said there has to be a trade agreement with the United States by 2001. Finished goods, which make up 60 percent of Brazilian exports to the United States, are penalized with taxes and quotas, he said. Because of such penalties, Brazil is losing about $4 billion to $6 billion annually in the United States and $3 billion to $5 billion in Europe, he said.
Brazil, which 111 years ago was a country of 13 million, two thirds of them slaves with no capital or education and ruled by a minority elite, has swollen to 160 million. The imbalance in incomes will last for generations, Barbosa acknowledged, but he complimented World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn for focusing on social implications of reforms expected by financial institutions that tend to look at the world in terms of budget deficits and fiscal density.
Every year, Brazil has to create 1.5 million new jobs, he said, to keep up, which is impossible with its low growth rate.
He acknowledged inhuman conditions in Brazilian jails, as documented by Amnesty International last month. The report listed extrajudicial executions, beatings and human rights abuses by state police based on investigations in 33 prisons.
The Rev. Francisco Reardon, who visits prisons in the Sao Paulo area, said dozens of prisoners suffer from tuberculosis and only a fraction are treated. Barbosa said the government, which in the past denied such allegations, has changed and is now open to dealing with nongovernmental groups.
"Our judicial system needs to be changed, it is too slow in trying human rights abuses. We are open to suggestions from NGOs who have shown a genuine interest and we are open to financial support," Barbosa said.
He cited the lack of resources and overpopulation as reasons for poor prison conditions. "People are talking about privatization to increase efficiency. We now have a secretary for human rights who is talking to churches and NGOs," he said. "We know our limitations, no resources, the legal system needs updating. But the political will is there."