Mexican writer and diplomat Carlos Fuentes said: “To create you must be aware of traditions, but to maintain traditions you must create something new”. There is a foreign policy tradition in Chile whereby the outgoing President invites the President-elect to his international engagements, so that he has the opportunity to meet his future peers. According to what was stated by the participants in their face-to-face meeting last Monday, President Sebastián Piñera would have invited President-elect Gabriel Boric to participate in the Pacific Alliance and Prosur meetings to be held consecutively in Colombia on 26 and 27 January. However, the President-elect declined the invitation. Why?
Firstly, it is not a question of participating in a protocolary change of command or a meeting of the OAS, but of organisations whose legitimacy is questioned due to the ideological alignment that marked their origin. The Prosur alliance emerged in 2019 as a foreign policy coordination body between leaders of the same political persuasion, mainly to address the situation in Venezuela. For its part, the Pacific Alliance emerged in 2011 among countries that had Free Trade Agreements with each other, as a counterweight to Mercosur, which has more protectionist policies. Despite their great differences, both organisations were promoted and founded by Sebastián Piñera and both have an ideological vision of what regionalism in Latin America should be. A vision that is not shared by Gabriel Boric.
Secondly, participating in these summits obliged the President-elect to establish a position on a complex issue in advance, while not attending does not mean a rupture. The President-elect will take a position on both organisations in due course and possibly participate in some of their summits in the future. However, going at this time, as president-elect, obliged him to take a position before taking office and without having made public the designation of the person who will head the Foreign Ministry. It is not the best scenario for his international debut. Although during the tour the president-elect could have tried to act with a parallel agenda and bet on participating only in a summit or promoting bilateral meetings with other heads of state, this would be a complex gamble. Foreign policy decisions are not only about what to do, but also about when and where to do it.
Chile’s full incorporation into the Pacific Alliance and Prosur meant a break in the region’s foreign policy strategy, causing internal and external tensions. These are organisations that did not generate consensus, but rather divergence. Much is said about the need for a state perspective in foreign policy. However, having a state perspective does not mean automatic and unthinking continuity. It is therefore valid that on this occasion the president-elect has decided not to participate in these summits. The process that is beginning must be approached step by step, slowly but surely.
Chile’s foreign policy needs to be rethought with a view to this new century and this implies a long-term vision. We need more (and better) regional and multilateral cooperation to face the great global challenges of the 21st century, such as the climate crisis, migration or pandemics. There are no individual solutions to these challenges. This implies instances of plural and inclusive cooperation, built on shared needs, beyond circumstantial affinities and leaving no one behind.