Chile: President Piñera's Unsold Shares in LAN Airlines

Chilean president Sebastián Piñera made a campaign promise to sell all of his LAN Airlines shares by the time he took office on March 11, 2010. Almost two weeks after his inauguration (see video in Spanish of a debate where he made the promise), Piñera still holds 11.3% of the shares at LAN. Chilean journalists, bloggers, and social media users have widely discussed the issue online, keeping a watchful eye on any move that could signal the final sale of Piñera’s remaining shares in the company.

Radio Tierra [es], an Internet and AM frequency citizen radio, characterizes the issue as a conflict of interest. They report on what the government’s spokeswoman used as an explanation for Piñera's failure to sell by the promised deadline. However, the staff at Radio Tierra [es] wonders if there is another -business-related reason for the delay.

El conflicto de intereses entre el dinero y la política no quedó resuelto antes del 11 de marzo como lo prometió el Presidente Sebastián Piñera durante su campaña. De acuerdo a la vocera del nuevo Ejecutivo, Ena von Baer, el terremoto “ha variado” el rumbo fijado y el mandatario venderá sus acciones en LAN “lo antes posible”. […]

Tras el terremoto las acciones que le restaban por vender bajaron debido a la caída de la bolsas chilenas, por lo que ya instalado como máxima autoridad del país resulta inevitable preguntar ¿si acaso está esperando un mejor precio?

The conflict of interest between money and politics was not resolved before March 11 as President Sebastián Piñera promised during his campaign. According to the new executive’s spokeswoman, Ena von Baer, the earthquake “has altered” the path which was previously set, and the president will sell his shares in LAN “as soon as possible” […]

After the earthquake, the value of the remaining shares decreased because of a crash in the Chilean stock market, which makes it inevitable to ask now that he is already in office, is he waiting for a better price?

The online newspaper El Mostrador [es] has been recognized [es] for its investigative reporting on the issue. They’ve created a Facebook application and a blog or website widget which counts how many days have passed since Piñera has been in office without selling the remaining shares. It is called “Piñerómetro” which could be translated as “Piñerameter.” The application includes a Facebook page where users can post comments.

Facebook user Pepe Saavedra [es] wrote:

Los compromisos son para cumplirlos. Cuando no se cumplen se tiene que asumir las consecuencias, que en este caso son en contra de todos los ciudadanos de un país, que se traduce en una sola palabra: MENTIR

Commitments are meant to be kept. When they are not kept one has to assume the consequences, which in this case goes against all the citizens of a country, which translates into one word: LIES

Carlos Armando Vera Salazar [es] also commented on the application's Facebook page:

Pero que esperaban?? Que de un día para otro se olvidara que es un empresario y que lo mueve el fin del lucro.Hay mucha gente ingenua en Chile,principalmente los que votaron por él.

But what were you expecting? That from one day to the next he would forget he is a businessman motivated by money? There are a lot of naïve people in Chile, mainly those that voted for him.
Piñera waves to the crowd on March 11, the day he took office. Image uploaded by Flickr user Globovisión and used under a Creative Commons license

Piñera waves to the crowd on March 11, the day he took office. Image uploaded by Flickr user Globovisión and used under a Creative Commons license

El Mostrador reports [es] that an executive from the stock brokerage firm Celfin told them directly that one of the reasons the final transaction had not been completed was, as many had speculated, because of the drop in the price after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

Daniel Hojman [es], agreed that the shares’ fluctuating prices could be a reason for the delay, but he argues that Piñera’s actions should not surprise anyone; politicians act in questionable ways to obtain success. Hojman concludes that this event reminds the media and the general public that they are responsible for monitoring their leaders.

No se trata de un hecho aislado. Es uno más en la trayectoria del propio presidente y un adenda a una larga lista de ejemplos similares que involucran a altos líderes políticos de todo el espectro. […] A pesar que los políticos son los únicos que se ponen las reglas a sí mismos, en definitiva, los medios y los ciudadanos comunes y corrientes son los únicos con la capacidad de monitorear y validar los liderazgos apropiados.

This is not an isolated event. It is one more in the trajectory of the president and an addition to a long list of similar examples that include high-ranking political leaders representing the entire political spectrum. […] Even though politicians are the only ones that set rules for themselves, in conclusion, the media and the common citizens are the only ones with the capacity to monitor and validate appropriate leadership.
LAN Airlines. Photo uploaded by Flickr user jmiguel.rodriguez and used under a Creative Commons license.

LAN Airlines. Photo uploaded by Flickr user jmiguel.rodriguez and used under a Creative Commons license.

On his blog Mauricio Rojas Gómez [es] argues that this issue is important, and that it could affect the president’s credibility:

Aunque parezca menor, no es un tema sin importancia cuando se trata de la probidad y transparencia de un jefe de Estado. […] Estamos frente a uno de esos escenarios donde algo no necesariamente es ilegal, pero sí afecta la legitimidad del discurso del gobernante.

Although it might seem like a minor issue, it’s not an unimportant issue when it is about the probity and transparency of a head of State […] We are facing one of those scenarios where something is not necessarily illegal, but it affects the legitimacy of the president’s discourse.

José Zalaquett [es] also sees transparency as the main problem in the controversy.

La crítica tiene base porque él mismo tomó ese compromiso y no se divisan motivos razonables para que dilate su cumplimiento.

Sin embargo, más importante aún, es que se entregue información pública que demuestre que él no mantendrá algún tipo de interés en LAN, pese a la venta. […] Se trata solamente de transparentar los detalles de las operaciones de venta.

The criticism has weight because he took on the commitment himself and there are no reasonable motives for the delay in following through with the promise.

Nevertheless, even more important, information should be made public showing that he will not keep any kind of interest in LAN despite the sale […] It is only about making the details of the sales transactions transparent.

Despite the widespread criticism, some of Piñera’s supporters have defended him citing envy from the part of his critics as the reason why they continue to pay attention to the issue. In an article published by El Vacanudo [es], a citizen newspaper, user Juan spoke up to stand by the new president:

Por favor, dejen al Presidente tranquilo. Más parece envidia y claro resentimiento cuando opinan de los bienes de Piñera. […] Entonces en la lógica de los bienes, deberíamos pedirles a todos quienes trabajan en el servicio público que se desprendan de todos sus recursos materiales ( constructoras, oficinas contables, corretaje de propiedades, empresas de asesorías, centros médicos). Me parece absurdo

El Presidente de Chile es Sebastián Piñera y me importan un comino sus bienes, solo quiero que tenga éxito y que chilito se recupere lo antes posible. Así, mis hijos cosecharán los frutos. Al final del periodo lo evaluaremos en las urnas.

Please, leave the President alone. I think envy and a clear resentment accompany the opinions about Piñera’s assets […] So following the logic of these assets, we should ask all those who work in public service to get rid of all their material resources (construction companies, accounting firms, real estate businesses, consulting firms, medical centers). I think it is absurd.

The president of Chile is Sebastián Piñera and I don’t care the least bit about his assets, I just want him to be successful so that Chile can recuperate as soon as possible. That way, my children will reap the fruits. At the end of the term, we will evaluate him in the voting booths.

Whether the most important issue is transparency or keeping campaign promises, many Chileans seem to agree on one thing: they want Sebastián Piñera to sell the remaining shares to avoid the potential conflicts of interest that could arise while he is in office. This tweet by political scientists and blogger Patricio Navia was widely re-tweeted by Chileans, showing they want a president, not a businessman, to govern their country:

Piñera tiene tremendo flanco abierto. Si no vende ya, se pasará 4 años a la defensiva. Una tontería. Hay que ser o
presidente o accionista

Piñera has a huge open flank. If he doesn't sell now, he will spend 4 years on the defensive. It is dumb. You have to be either a president or a shareholder

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