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SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile’s Sebastián Piñera experienced international diplomacy for the first time since the president-elect was voted into office when he attended the Rio Group Summit in the Mexican resort town of Cancún along with 25 leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Piñera, a billionaire business mogul who became the first conservative to win a democratic election in Chile in 50 years, was invited by Michelle Bachelet, the country’s outgoing president who is on pace to leave office as the nation’s most popular leader in its history.
He said his goal is to meet with the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador “to deepen the bilateral agenda and discuss the big objectives of the Rio Group, such as promoting democracy and the rule of law.”
But Piñera also could be broached about many topics that he will have to face when he takes office on March 11.
First, there is his country’s maritime border dispute with Peru that’s being handled by the International Court of Justice. Peru claims the boundary was never created between the nations. Chile, however, claims they clearly were established by the treaties of 1952 and 1954.
Secondly, he’ll have to deal with the Bolivians, who are demanding access to the Pacific Ocean via the territories it lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific from 1879-84.
But the biggest issue Piñera may have to face regards his country’s relationship with Venezuela and President Hugo Chávez, who already told Piñera to “not meddle with us” after the Chilean was critical of Venezuela’s democracy.
Chávez said he thinks a man as rich as Piñera, whose worth is estimated at US$1.2 billion, may be inconvenienced by being president.
At the Rio Summit, Chávez said he plans to propose the creation of a regional body to replace the OAS (Organization of American States) that won’t include the United States and Canada as members.
Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla and Uruguay’s José Mujica also are presidents-elect attending the summit.
Gonzalo Serrano, a professor at the Chilean university Andrés Bello who specializes in international issues, said he doesn’t envision Chávez and Piñera using Cancún as the setting to discuss their philosophical differences. Serrano, however, noted Piñera must choose his words carefully to representatives from Peru and Bolivia because of the disputes among the countries.
“The fragility of the relations with Peru and the unpredictability of the ruling (by the International Court of Justice) force Piñera to be more cautious in his opinion about Bolivia,” Serrano wrote in an editorial published in the Chilean newspaper La Segunda.