SANTIAGO, Chile – Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has announced his candidacy for the presidency after being away from the nation’s top political office since 2014 and will be considered the favorite to emerge victorious in his center-right coalition’s primaries.
Piñera, the billionaire businessman who led Chile from 2010 to 2014 on behalf of the center-right National Renewal (and the center-right to right-wing Alliance for Chile coalition), left office with very low approval numbers.
When he left the Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, he said that he would not be seeking a return to the presidency in the near future (and he did not seek another term in 2014 as immediate re-election is barred by the Chilean Constitution).
With the electoral campaign season right around the corner, however, Piñera’s name had been thrown around as a possible candidate for the November 2017 election given his standing as the most prominent politician of the center-right.
Furthermore, the largest coalition on the other end of the political spectrum, the center-left to left-wing New Majority, will very likely present Ricardo Lagos as its candidate. Lagos, of the center-left Party of Democracy (PPD), is also a former president (2000-2006) and highly respected political figure
Thus, the conservative Alliance for Chile coalition, now known by the name of Chile Vamos (Let’s Go, Chile), needs a strong candidate and Piñera seems to be the name most analysts had mentioned as the strongest conservative candidate in spite of his generally negative administration.
Despite his earlier statements of not wanting a return to the presidency, Piñera had not ruled out his candidacy in recent months despite requests for clarification by journalists and political allies.
This week, however, he finally put the rumors to rest and confirmed that he is seeking a return to the Moneda.
“Today, I announce my decision to present my candidacy for the President of the Republic of Chile,” the 67-year-old Piñera said at a large event in Santiago that attended by several hundred people including his party colleagues and supporters.
As expected, Piñera railed against the New Majority and offered Chileans the proverbial political ultimatum: “I am convinced that Chile has two roads in front of it. One option is to continue on the wrong path that the current government is leading while the other option is to correct the errors, recover the course and find ourselves back on the path to unity and progress.”
Piñera, who lost in his bid for the presidency in the 2005 election but emerged victorious in 2010, will see his campaign clouded by allegations of illegal enrichment linked to his holding company.
The Public Ministry is current conducting the investigation into wrongdoing after news emerged in late 2016 that Bancard, his financial firm worth some $400 million that currently counts his son Sebastian Piñera Morel as one of its top directors, invested in a Peruvian fishing business which benefited from a maritime decision in an international case involving the two nations.
The digital Chilean daily ‘El Mostrador’ presented evidence late last year that Piñera invested in Empresa Pesquera Exalmar S.A., one of the largest fishing companies of Peru, in the middle of his presidential term and amidst the case presented by Peru against Chile at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that sought to redefine maritime borders on historical grounds.
“In coarse terms, this means that the part of Chile that was lost to the hands of Peru in this case was won by the former president through his company’s foreign investment in Peru,” the article in ‘El Mostrador’ read.
In 2008, after years of political wrangling, Peru filed a case at the ICJ regarding its maritime border dispute with Chile. Peru claimed that there was never an officially signed treaty that determined where one nation’s sea territory begins and ends. The Chileans, however, said the exact opposite, claiming that a duo of treaties signed in 1952 and 1954 between them and Peru (and Ecuador) clearly defined the lines as they stood.
Overall, nearly 38,000 square kilometers (14,700 square miles) of lucrative ocean territory was at stake and the ICJ delivered its verdict in January of 2014, the final and definitive judgment concerning the dispute.
Peru seemingly came out the winner, gaining a large chunk of the disputed territory (some 21,000 sq. km. of the aforementioned 38,000 sq. km.) even though they did not get everything they wanted, including a section of the maritime territory that remained in the hands of Chile that is more valuable in terms of containing high-yield fishing waters.
Regardless, Peru gained a large amount of exploitable maritime territory at the end of the contentious and heated case and Piñera invested in the harvesting being carried out in that territory through the Peruvian fishery, of which he still owns 9.10 percent today as a shareholder.
During the case at the ICJ, Piñera stayed silent about his investment interests north of the border but repeatedly and emphatically stated that he was enthusiastic about a positive outcome for Chile in the case that was a “noble national cause.”
Upon learning the decision of the ICJ, Piñera said that he lamented the decision but added that “keeping calm is the best defense possible,” a statement that perhaps now has a new meaning given the revelations concerning his monetary interests in the disputed territory.
For his part, Piñera denied any wrongdoing and said that he has “detached himself from the management and administration” of Bancard. This is despite the fact that his son sits on the board of directors and that he still owns shares. Still, he says that there is no conflict of interest issue at hand because he is not making any more “investment decisions” at Bancard and that the case is politically motivated.
The notion that Piñera invested in the Peruvian companies that would be operating in the areas lost by Chile (without disclosing any information to the public or to the various state ministries and political leaders with which he met as part of analyzing the ICJ case) will surely be scrutinized by both his political opposition and the public as the electoral season intensifies throughout the coming months.