George W. Bush likes Jose Piƒ±era. A Harvard-trained economist, Mr. Piƒ±era was labor minister of Chile in the 1980s and lately he’s been a top spokesperson for the president’s plan to privatize Social Security. Not only does he agree with the Bush plan — indeed, he was an adviser to Bush on Social Security as early as 1997 — his style reflects that of the president too. Piƒ±era, who was dubbed “Jose the Evangelist” by the Chilean magazine Capital, considers his work on privatization to be his “mission, a calling, a moral cause.” When he talks about retirement security, he combines the themes of “values and savings” and talks to workers about “hopes and aspirations for their children and grandchildren.” Sound familiar? It gets better. According to Piƒ±era, privatization requires “moral courage” and can eventually “deliver freedom and democracy.” However, the people of Chile probably disagree.
Mr. Piƒ±era’s record in Chile is nothing to be proud of — he left Harvard to work for the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled by murder and intimidation for 25 years after ousting the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende in 1973. Nonetheless, Piƒ±era “says he has no doubt that coming back home to work for the dictatorship was the right thing to do.” (He probably wasn’t reading the latest White House talking points on that one.)
What else would the White House prefer to keep quiet about the Chilean experience in the 1980s? How about the fact that the Pinochet regime and the Bush administration share a disturbing tolerance for torture. Considering that the Chilean National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture concluded last year that more than 28,000 Chileans were subjected to state-sponsored torture during the Pinochet regime, one has to wonder: Do George and Jose agree on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib?
Obviously President Bush and Mr. Piƒ±era prefer not to discuss such subjects publicly and they would probably argue that crimes of the past have nothing to do with the future of Social Security in the United States. But what they won’t tell you, and many Americans may be interested to know, is that shortly after releasing the torture report, the Chilean government began contributing approximately $190 per month to the private savings accounts held by victims of Pinochet’s torture campaign. That’s not exactly what President Bush has in mind when he talks about personal accounts!
– Jeremy Sturchio