SANTIAGO – Chile celebrated 200 years of independence in 2010. Only 20 of the 198 countries on Earth have reached that age. Therefore, it has been, for Chileans, a time of assessment and of asking ourselves a very simple, yet profound, question: have we done things right or wrong?
If we compare ourselves to the rest of Latin America, the truth is that we have done things very well, especially in the last 25 years, during which we went from being one of the poorest countries on the continent to having the highest per capita income in the region. Yet if we compare ourselves to the more exclusive group of developed countries, the truth is that we still have much to learn from them.
The great goal, the grand mission, the overarching challenge of our generation, the Bicentennial Generation, is just one: for Chile to be the first country in Latin America to be able to say, before the end of this decade, with pride and humility, that it has overcome poverty and become a developed country with real opportunities for material and spiritual advancement for all its children.
Of course, this is a dream that has been extraordinarily elusive in our first 200 years of independence. So why should now be different?
First of all, unlike any time in the past, this goal has become fully attainable, and is, as a result, a moral imperative. Chile currently has a per capita GDP of $15,000, after adjusting for purchasing power. We have set the goal of growing at an average of 6% annually, in order to attain, by 2018, the per capita GDP now enjoyed by European countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic.
We are also working on doubling the job-creation rate of recent years, with the aim of adding one million jobs in the period 2010-2014. All indicators demonstrate that we are on the right path. Despite the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami of last February, Chile’s economy is already growing at close to 6%, and we have created nearly 300,000 new jobs in the first nine months of my administration – the highest in our country’s history.
Secondly, these goals are attainable because the world has changed. The Iron Curtain, which for decades irreconcilably divided the East from the West, is gone. And globalization and new technologies have torn down the wall that for centuries separated the rich and prosperous countries of the North from the poor and underdeveloped countries of the South.
Yet a third wall remains, less visible than the others but just as harmful, if not more so. This wall has been with us always, separating rusting spirits who live in nostalgia, fear the future, and believe that only the past was better, from youthful, creative, and entrepreneurial spirits who fearlessly embrace the future and believe that the best is always yet to come.
This wall kept Chile and Latin America from joining the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, which is why we remain underdeveloped to this day. But we need this wall to tumble if we do not want to miss today’s revolution, which is delivering societies based on knowledge, technology, and information. This revolution will be tremendously generous to those countries that embrace it – and utterly indifferent, even cruel, to those that ignore it or let it pass by.
How will Chile breach this wall? First, by strengthening the three basic pillars without which development cannot germinate or opportunities flourish: a stable, vital, and participatory political democracy; a social market economy that is free, competitive, and open to the world; and a strong state that is effective in the fight against poverty and in promoting greater equality of opportunities.
Yet not even this will suffice if we are to build on rock and not on sand. In this twenty-first century, emerging countries like Chile must invest in the pillars of modern society. I mean developing our human capital, which is our greatest resource; encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, which are the only truly eternal resources we have on hand; investing in science and technology, which will open up unsuspected opportunities in the future; and promoting more dynamic and flexible markets and societies that will put us ahead, and at the helm, of change, rather than always lagging behind and trying to comprehend and adapt to change.
Those are the pillars that our administration is emphasizing. As Chile deepens its integration with the world, we are also moving forward with structural reforms through which we will be able to improve substantially the quality of education received by millions of our children and youths; retrain three-quarters of Chilean workers over the next four years; grant universal access to broadband Internet service; double our investment in science and technology; promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the public and private sectors; and reduce the time needed to start up a company to one day – and the cost to zero.
These are some of the many measures that form the goals – and foundation – of my administration. They are grand, noble, and ambitious goals, but fully attainable for today’s Chile, the Bicentennial Chile, a Chile now viewing the twenty-first century with more optimism and enthusiasm than ever before.