Update on Chilean Politics. February 2000.

Patricio Navia


Lagos appointed sixteen ministers and 28 undersecretaries as he prepares to take office on March 11, 2000.  There will be 5 women ministers and 13 in total, a record high for Chile. The average age of the cabinet members is 47, the youngest since the return of democracy in 1990.  In appointing his cabinet (which does not require Senate confirmation), the president-elect made true three campaign promises: younger appointees, fewer ministries and more women in high posts. Lagos will send legislation to Congress to permanently reduce the number of ministries from 21 to 16.


Lagos retained two of Frei’s current ministers: José Miguel Insulza and José A. Gómez. Insulza will change the Ministry of the Presidency (post he took after being the Minister of Foreign Affairs) for the Ministry of Interior, the top cabinet post. Gómez (45) will stay as Minister of Justice, position he holds since December 1999.


Lagos also named 3 former ministers of the Frei administration: Soledad Alvear, Adriana del Piano and Alvaro García.  Alvear (49) was the Minister of Women Affairs (90-94) and Minister of Justice (94-99). She resigned after the December 12, 1999 first round presidential election to become Lagos’s campaign manager. Alvear played a key role in securing a victory in the January 16 run-off as she successfully focused on increasing Lagos’ support among women and centrist voters. Expected to ask for the Ministry of Interior, Alvear showed some risk-aversion when requesting to be appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Though she speaks no English and has no experience in international affairs, Alvear sought to avoid daily politicking and save herself for the 2005 elections. Foreign Affairs is seen as a ‘safe’ cabinet post, but the never ending Pinochet legal battles in London and the perceived excessive pressure Alvear placed on Lagos to get the Foreign Affairs appointment might derail her presidential ambitions. Having resented Alvear’s pressure, Lagos named as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs his friend and associate Heraldo Muñoz. 


Alvaro García (44), former Minister of Economics (1994-98), will be Minister of the Presidency.  Widely perceived as a consensus builder and a non-confrontational technocrat, García will have to direct the government’s legislative agenda and coordinate the actions of the rest of the cabinet.  Del Piano (52), the former Minister of Patrimony, will now head the Women’s Ministry.


The so-called La Moneda will be composed of Socialist Insulza in Interior, PPD’s García in Presidency and Christian Democrat Claudio Huepe in the Government Secretariat. Although Huepe (61) served as Frei’s Undersecretary in that ministry, his appointment surprised many. Concertación loyalists widely believe that the government has failed to properly communicate its success and achievements and expected Lagos would name a top communication strategist to that post. Huepe’s selection is explained by Lagos’s effort to tighten the support of the three large Concertación parties: Christian Democrats, Socialists and PPD. Huepe has promise he will implement a good communication strategy to reflect the upbeat feelings prevalent in the rejuvenated Concertación.


Insulza will likely emerge as the most powerful minister. He is expected to subdue García and Huepe, and extend his influence well beyond the Ministry of the Interior. And because Alvear chose to keep a post with little political exposure, Insulza could position himself as an acting Prime Minister of a sort. Conflicts between Insulza and other ministries are likely to originate the first tensions in the cabinet. Most likely, a show of force between Insulza and the economic team might provide fertile ground for tensions inside Lagos’ sweet sixteen. Tensions between an overly powerful Insulza and Lagos himself could also bring an end to the skyrocketing career of this socialist minister who led the defense of General Pinochet from his post in Foreign Affairs in October of 1998.


Nicolás Eyzaguirre  (47) and José de Gregorio will be the Ministers of Finance and Economics respectively. Eyzaguirre is a Harvard trained economist who worked for ECLA in the 80s and joined Chile’s Central Bank when it was first made autonomous in 1990.  Eyzaguirre eventually became head of the research division of the Central Bank.  Currently, he serves as IMF Executive Director for Southern Cone and Andean Countries. A long time friend and associate of Lagos, the appointment of this social democratic PPD member was widely expected.


De Gregorio (40) holds a Ph.D. from MIT. A member of the CIEPLAN generation (led in the 1980s by Finance Minister Alejandro Foxley—90-94), he worked for the IMF and the Finance Ministry before he joined the University of Chile as professor of Economics in 1997. Author of many academic articles and a columnist for Que Pasa weekly magazine, De Gregorio was a visiting professor at UCLA at the time of his appointment. Lagos beefed up Economics by merging into it the ministries of Mining and Energy. This tri-minister should be called Minister of Production since he will supervise the undersecretaries of Fishing, Mining and Energy.


Mario Fernández (52) will become the Minister of Defense.  A Christian Democrat, he is an academic expert on military issues and served as Undersecretary of War during the Frei government. He is expected to push for the modernization of the Armed Forces, as the Pinochet affair will remain under direct control from La Moneda.


Socialist strategist Ricardo Solari (52) is the Minister of Labor. An economist by training, Solari is more of a political broker expert in difficult negotiations. He served as Undersecretary of the Presidency during the Aylwin government.


In the so-called social sector, Lagos appointed Carlos Cruz (48) to Transportation and Public Works. During Lagos tenure in Public Works, Cruz was the head of the private concession program for highways and roads. A member of the PPD, Cruz is close to Lagos and is expected to undertake an aggressive infrastructure development program.


Claudio Orrego (33) and Mariana Aylwin (50), both Christian Democrats, will head Housing and Education respectively. Socialist Michelle Bachelet will be the Minister of Health and Radical Social Democratic Jaime Campos (46) will go to Agriculture.


Christian Democratic Alejandra Krauss (41) will be the Minister of Planning. Although Planning should have been merged into Economics, it was left on its own so that Lagos could comply with his campaign promise of appointing five women to the cabinet.


In total, Christian Democrats have 7 ministries (including Foreign Affairs, Economics, Government Secretariat and Defense), the Socialists kept 4 (Interior, Health, Public Works and Labor), the PPD kept 3 (Finance, Presidency, Women) and the Radical Social Democrats kept 2 (Justice and Agriculture).