Op-Ed: South American neighbors Chile and Peru have both failed to equitably distribute their new-found wealth. Leaders must offer more than hollow promises, or unrest like the protests over Chilean education and Peruvian mining is bound to intensify.
SANTIAGO – Chile and Peru have many differences, but they share the same primary sources of wealth: land, as in the minerals it contains, and sea. Over the past couple of years both countries have been able to reach high levels of growth and stability thanks to good public policy and rising costs for their raw materials. But as has historically been the case, both countries continue to come up short when it comes to equitably distributing their earnings. Concentration of wealth is in fact increasing – proof of just how little attention Chile and Peru have paid to this legacy of inequality.
This mix of growth, on the one hand, and increasing concentration of wealth on the other, has given rise to escalating frustrations among Chile and Peru's poor and even middle-class citizens. Of particular concern are the blatant inequalities that exist between rich and poor when it comes to accessing quality education and health services. The recent student movement in Chile and uproar in certain Andean communities over mining projects in Peru are unequivocal signs of this unease.
In earlier times, political promises to resolve the problems would have been enough to ease tensions. But that is no longer the case. In Chile, and even more so in Peru, the political party system is weak and politics focus too much on the personal characteristics of party leaders rather than good policy.
As some political leaders start to resemble reality television stars, it grows ever clearer that leadership needs to be about more than just flashy images and sound bites.
That is particularly important because we are living in an age in which a number of new sources of tension are being added to the usual political debate. The recent discovery of a gold vein just outside of Santiago, underneath a glacier that provides a large amount of the Chilean capital's water, is only one example. The major hydraulic engineering project that is supposed to channel water from the Amazon to Lima is another.
Finding a way to align the interests of businesses, citizens, the economy and the environment requires not only great technical capacity, but also the ability to find a common vision for the long-term. Chile and Peru desperately need leaders with a political vision that goes well beyond a daily popularity contest.
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