The presidential candidate is set upon Latin American union. His signature mission is a single passport for the region. Though some are unsure of him and do not agree with his programme, he has arguments to defend the plans which are being proposed if he gets into office.
Interview by Marcella Via
Photos: Marcos Ortiz Finch
The leader of the Progressive Party is entering the presidential race for the third time with alternative proposals.
Determined to succeed, in his career as Member of Parliament, Ominami was the first in Chile’s history to broach controversial issues such as abortion and same His plan to transform the face of Chile continues with the November 19 elections. One of his goals in realigning the country to the left is to bring down fees for state-run universities.
Ominami tells The Prisma he is not afraid of Piñera’s right and wants to raise the living standards of Chile’s majority by increasing taxes on the very wealthy in the well-to-do districts.
You describe yourself as a man of the left, however some people on the left do not see you as such.
I know where my heart lies: in social justice, in Chile, in more state involvement and in a competitive and transparent market.
What do you think makes yours different from other leftist movements?
What makes me different from the conservative left is I am not afraid of the market. I like the market and competition. But not in health or education. Neoliberalism’s challenge is to achieve the greatest happiness at the lowest cost. Therefore, for me, being on the left as president means constructing paths that lead to prosperity with a right to work and leisure and with the state in charge of the conditions for this.
What is your economic stance regarding Chile?
As for the economy, I believe the market is a tool. Chile is to the right of the United States. Chile is the North Korea of capitalism. We must realign ourselves.
We have the most expensive state-run universities in the world and the socialists have been in power! The United States has a more left-wing model than Chile.
It has free ‘colleges’ and there is public transport. Chile has no free universities at all.
Education represents the first stage towards achieving happiness and education in Chile depends on your parents’ means. This is not what a left-wing country is about. It is a basic requirement that education be free and accessible to all.
Chile has two economies: the Chile of the well-to-do districts and the Chile of the majority. What I propose is the following: Chile’s entire success has depended on external demand. There is no internal growth because of small but important issues: engineering associated with the copper or salmon industries exists, but there are not enough start-ups or investment in knowledge.
I propose collecting more taxes to ensure more rights for people and more quality free state-run universities whilst at the same time lowering taxes for businesses but raising them for the very wealthy and those who speculate with their money.
Many countries condemn what is happening in Venezuela. What is your stance vis-a-vis Maduro?
All those countries are hypocrites. Why don’t they condemn China? Chile should be with Venezuela, stand close by and not leave it to fend for itself. My foreign minister is going to be in Venezuela working to help in whatever way the Venezuelan government and people are prepared to allow it.
The Bolivarian doctrine is uniting countries in Latin America. Do you think this is good for the region?
I grew up on a continent where the passport is the same for everyone, the borders are open, there is a shared labour policy and shared central banks … good and bad things. But I grew up with the idea that one country’s problem is every country’s problem. I believe in a single passport for South America.
I do not like the single currency because I worry about the loss of monetary policy as a tool which is sometimes very important in difficult times. Part of Europe’s problem is down to the loss of countries’ monetary independence. I believe in moving towards Latin American unity. And in that Chavez was a role model.
The conflict with Bolivia – people seem divided as regards giving it sovereign access to the sea.
No one can give Bolivia sovereign access to the sea via treaties. I propose a three-way agreement: between Peru, Chile and Bolivia, as the 1929 treaty states. I would add that a macro region has to be created – a solution must be found for all three parties.
You spent very many years devoting yourself to cinema. Why did you decide to go into politics?
Destiny. But it was the other way around for me. I did all I could to stay out of politics. All my family members are political leaders, rebels and exiles. I held out a long time – until I was 32. I entered politics late. I got offers. So I am not holding back any longer: I am here now.
Many countries in the region are concerned about Trump’s immigration policies. If you were president, how would you respond to these policies?
By doing the exact opposite. With a policy that respects international treaties and sees immigration as an advantage.
By empathizing with my fellow countrymen who have misgivings about him, by explaining that immigrants pay taxes and consume which can be an advantage in a country that is facing a demographic challenge.
Us Chileans have a demographic problem and an economic one as well as problems regarding the country’s internal growth, productivity and competitiveness. Immigration, if it is properly planned, can be a good thing.
Which countries in the region should Chile have free trade with?
I believe in free trade, but it has to be reciprocal. What cannot happen is for other countries to have it easy in Chile as regards selling their products whilst Chile has to accept a less advantageous situation in these countries. Alongside this, the state has to invest its savings in infrastructure to produce conditions whereby internal growth is promoted because there is not enough of it now.
Right-wing governments are gaining a foothold in Latin America. What makes you think you’ll win?
In Chile, I am the most prepared, the freest and the least afraid of Piñera. We’re losing, but we make up 40% of the popuation. Lula is going to win again in Brazil, Cristina Fernandez won in Argentina and Cartes is sunk in Uruguay. But Pablo Kuczynski is being hijacked by Keiko Fujimori in Peru, Peña Nieto is praying for the day to end in Mexico and no one knows what will happen with Trump’s government in the US. What kind of right is okay for here? Temer now only boasts 4% popularity in Brazil. What kind of right is successful? They have no plan. Is Rajoy okay? Is Teresa May okay? Who is okay? It is very difficult. I am talking about a process of change, not of a mere change of power. In 4 years you cannot do everything that is needed, you can only set a different course.
In Chile, no government has solved the Mapuche conflict. What is your stance on this?
I propose autonomy for the Mapuche. They too deserve their own independence.
The number of immigrants from the rest of Latin America in Chile has grown in recent years. What are your proposals regarding the arrival of foreigners?
Foreigners who apply for permission to enter Chile in their own country will get the red carpet treatment. Foreigners who fraudulently come as tourists hoping to stay will be deported.
But maybe it is difficult for them to get papers, especially while there are internal conflicts.
Of course, there are special cases. I am talking about the basic case of those who come from countries where there is the rule of law and who come as tourists. I want them to tell the truth. The Chilean consulate has its doors open. I cannot close the borders, I will keep them open as they are already. But those who lie to this state will be removed.
Do you want to develop a support system for these special cases to assimilate?
Yes, in accordance with international treaties. It cannot be that entire families remain on the border locked up in one room with their children for 6 months. That’s prison. My entire policy is geared towards proactive planning.
Wherever someone is from if they set foot in Chile they will enjoy all the guarantees mandated by international treaties: human dignity, quick response times and fast repatriation. Chile will have to have a proactive policy. I was a migrant myself. What I cannot encourage however is for migrants to flout the legal process.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)