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What to do when your country tears apart

By Laura Haime
Published: March 2010

Only weeks after an 8.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Chile, the Chilean government experienced a political shift as the new president was sworn in on March 11.

Sebastian Piñera, a center-right billionaire, was the first non center-left candidate elected since 1990, when the country transitioned back to democracy at the end of the Augusto Pinochet regime.

The previous center-left rule consolidated the country’s status as the most developed country in Latin America.

The earthquake that struck Chile on February 27 is causing Chileans to bite their fingernails as they wait and see whether or not this was a bad time to welcome a new form of government.

“We will not be the government of the earthquake; we will be the government of reconstruction, Piñera said recently.

Political conflicts have been temporarily put aside in order to come together as a nation and overcome this disaster.

“Most do not want the topic to be politicized, a resident of Santiago, Camilo Navarro said. “We all have to be on the same side, supporter or opponent. We are all Chileans.

Meanwhile, Chile’s Interior Minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, updated the known death and damage toll on Tuesday; 200 people previously listed as missing have been added to the count of 500 known dead.

The earthquake was not as financially damaging as the earthquake in Haiti, but it will still put a dent in the government’s budget. Hinzpeter estimated that damages would cost the country $30 billion, while the country’s insurance only covers roughly $6.5 billion.

“In economic terms, this is the worst catastrophe Chile has suffered, Hinzpeter said.

Similarly to the Bonus Army that asked Washington for an advance on their veteran’s bonus during the Great Depression, 4.2 million disadvantaged citizens demanded the $80 bonus that Piñera promised them during his campaign last year.

Hinzpeter believes that the best way to produce more money is by increasing taxes on mining operations. The new conservative government, however, rejected the idea of a higher tax burden on the country’s crucial mining sector.

Although he dismissed the proposal of a tax increase, Chileans hope that Pinera, a Harvard-trained economist, can use his business acumen to help one of Latin America’s most stable economies rebound from the devastating earthquake.

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