Bridging the Academic-Policymaker Gap in Chile: A Conversation with Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz

Munoz May 6th talk photo credit Ollie
Photo Courtesy of Oliver Kaplan from May 6th talk by Minister Muñoz at DU

By Oliver Kaplan for Denver Dialogues

Co-published at LAC Perspectivas

May 6, 2016

Discussions on bridging the academic-policymaker gap in international relations usually focus on politics in the U.S. I recently had the chance to get a perspective on the relationship between academics and policymakers in a country other than the U.S. from Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heraldo Muñoz. I spoke with Minister Muñoz when he came to Denver last week to inaugurate the Josef Korbel School’s Latin America Center suite in the new Anna and John J. Sié International Relations Complex building.

A consummate practitioner-scholar, Muñoz is a Korbel School alumnus (MA 1976, PhD 1979) and has held many policy positions throughout his distinguished career, including Undersecretary General of the United Nations Development Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Chilean Ambassador for the United Nations. Remarkably he is also the author or editor of over 12 books, including his memoir, The Dictator’s Shadow.

I asked Muñoz about his thoughts on going from academia to policymaking and the role of research in foreign policy decision-making in Chile. Here are his responses:

Kaplan: As both a scholar and a policymaker, do you view your two roles as separate, or do you work to integrate those two sides? 

Muñoz: It would be difficult to separate the intellectual side from the policymaking side. So, whenever I need to make a foreign policy decision, there’s always the intellectual reflection that accompanies it. It allows you to see the nuances, analyze and separate the essential [information] from the marginal, and know how policymaking works.

Kaplan: Are there any specific things you learned during your doctoral education at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies that prepared you for your career as a practitioner?

Muñoz: First, there are the analytical skills that you develop over time. Second, the theoretical background is important because you can make connections among things that may be separate and integrate them into a systemic perspective. Plus, in some classes you deepen your knowledge on a region. I took classes on China, Japan, and International Political Economy. I didn’t take many classes on Latin America, actually, because I thought I had to take advantage of Korbel for other dimensions.

Kaplan: In your role as foreign minister and in other policy posts, does academic research play a role in your decision-making? How do you incorporate research findings?

 Muñoz: Absolutely. To confront specific issues, I always demand research. What has been done in the past? What is the background and what are the options? Research is fundamental in policymaking and sometimes I get frustrated because what I receive is of low quality. So, I have strengthened strategic policy planning within the Foreign Ministry. One of the goals in the second stage of our [Michelle Bachelet’s] government is a new law to modernize the Foreign Ministry to improve strategic policy planning and do more research. Research is vital for issues such as relations with neighbors, climate change, and detailed trade issues, and to understand the past policies and positions of other countries. If you don’t have research, you make mistakes.

Kaplan: Are there any areas where you feel research is lacking and could improve policymaking in Chile or for Inter-American affairs?

Muñoz: Developing countries have less knowledge and technical capacity, but there are areas where we are very strong—Oceans Policy and the Laws of the Sea, for example, are issues that Chile has worked on for a long time. But we are weaker on new issues, such as cyber terrorism, where our capacity is not the same as a global power, so we need the cooperation of other countries that have that expertise.

Kaplan: What is the academic-policymaker gap like in Chile today? How does it compare to that in the U.S.? Are there efforts to “bridge the gap” and improve dialogue? 

Muñoz: In Chile there’s a good dialogue. There’s been an observation that academia has lost scholars to the foreign policy arena, so there’s been a shift, and many have become ambassadors and policymakers. Part of the reason is that, during the [Pinochet] dictatorship we [pro-democracy figures] were in academia and not in government. So, when the democratic government came in [in 1989] there was a need for policymakers, and a lot of us in academia went over to the government. That has an advantage: many of us policymakers understand policymaking very well, so there’s not much of a gap. But there’s always a difference of perspective, an asymmetry in information, and the “you stand where you sit” dictum still applies. All that aside, there’s a good dialogue.

Kaplan: Has your career as a practitioner made you re-think any issues or ideas you learned about in academia?

Muñoz: Absolutely. Some theories and perspectives now seem very naive and abstract and have nothing to do with reality. You put your theories to the test when you are a policymaker. If I had to choose contending theories to international relations, we policymakers become more realpolitik, and realist theories come to rule. So my views of theories have changed.

Kaplan: I can see that, but you also speak frequently about the importance of multilateralism, and have even written a book on the subject—A Solitary War. How do you square that?

Muñoz: Well, I am a multilateralist, and even within that one has to be a realist (but not realpolitik). You combine values and norms with interests. Policymaking is all about balance—balancing values and concrete, cold, national interests. It’s nothing about idealism. You strike that balance case by case.

Kaplan: Do you have any particular insight about how you strike the balance between values and interests?

Muñoz: Yes, there are some core general principles. One is the respect of human rights, which cannot be impeded by the principle of non-interventions and sovereign rights of the nation-state. I was one of the main promoters of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at the UN as ambassador. When a country cannot or is unwilling to protect their population, there are steps to follow, which is the more pragmatic dimension of it. This is clear for cases of genocide or crimes of war. But, in the end, it’s case-by-case and for other issues there are many shades of grey. Then it’s about your interests and how much you can do to alter a given reality since, even if you have the right values, if you simply can’t do much or can’t control the situation, then you have to be cautious.

Kaplan: You started out as a pro-democracy activist, and I’ve heard you mention “human rights” numerous times during your visit as a key part of your worldview and of Chile’s foreign policy. Does that have origins in Chile’s period of dictatorship?

Muñoz: Much of the strong commitment to human rights is rooted in our past: the thousands that were disappeared, executed, or assassinated, hundreds of thousands exiled, and tens of thousands tortured marked my generation. So, we are sensitive to human rights and play a part in promoting them. But even before the dictatorship we were a rare case of democracy. So, upon the restoration of our democracy, we regained our history with a strong mark on human rights. The two things come together—both the dictatorship and the long prior history as a democratic society. And, today, there are new [rights] issues and challenges that come to the fore. Now we are working on the link between human rights and business, a new area that goes beyond the social responsibility of private companies and the UN Guiding Principles. In Chile, we are working on a national plan of action on business and human rights.

Dr. Oliver Kaplan (PhD Stanford University) is Associate Director of the Human Trafficking Center and Korbel Latin America Center. Dr. Kaplan is an Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and is also Affiliate of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy.



Return to the Impossible Game in Latin America?

Anúncio dos critérios de outorgas de radiodifusão AM para FM- 24/11/2015 - BSB

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer

By: Aaron Schneider and Rafael R. Ioris

Brazil risks returning Latin America to the days before democratic elections were an acceptable way to debate political platforms and manage the smooth succession of governments. For decades, observers of countries in the region described politics as an “impossible game” – the phrase Argentine scholar Guillermo O’Donnell used to describe his own country. In highly unequal societies, parties on the Left have an electoral majority in their core constituency of working class and poor voters. Unable to win open elections, the Right comes to power through coups, by removing rivals using dubious legal mechanisms, or holding elections that exclude the Left. Subsequent governments lack mandates and face rising opposition, but when elections are once again called, the Left wins, starting the cycle again. In recent years, traditionally oligarchic countries have slipped into this trap, as in the 2009 Honduras coup and the 2012 Paraguayan legislative coup. The removal of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) would mark a dangerous confirmation that such democratic reversals are once again acceptable.

The truth is that none of this is necessary. Parties with clearly Right-wing agendas won free and fair elections last year in Argentina as well as 2010 in Chile, and parties to the Right of the PT governed Brazil before 2003. Though the region remains highly unequal and the Left retains much of its base, macroeconomic downturn and the organizational exhaustion of multiple mandates open electoral room for the Right. In Brazil, it would have appeared that such a shift was beginning at least as far back as 2013, as Rousseff reacted poorly to protests targeting World Cup expenditures and government missteps in reviving a slowing economy. Yet, the Right could not capitalize, and she won reelection a year later.

The losing candidate of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Senator Aécio Neves, refused to accept the loss and called for Rousseff’s removal. To fan the flames of street protests, an oligopolistic media controlled by conservative family empires has maintained a steady media barrage of scandal and innuendo. Ample fuel for such attacks exists in corruption reaching the apex of the political establishment, including top members of the PT, but the resulting erosion of political discourse has shocked observers with levels of polarization tinged with racism and classism long-thought surpassed in Brazilian civil society.

The judiciary, led by investigative judges granted significant autonomy in the Brazilian system, has done an impressive job revealing the extent of kickbacks, especially in the few large construction companies that dominate governmental contracts. Seemingly untouchable CEOs and top politicians have gone to jail, an image never seen before in Brazil, and all too rarely seen in supposedly mature democracies. Yet, the judicial branch has largely failed to maintain its image of probity – leaking evidence intentionally, using indefinite imprisonment to extract confessions and plea bargains, failing to act on (and hiding) evidence of corruption among opposition leaders, and perhaps too aggressively targeting PT leaders, for example staging a heavily armed, press-filled detention of PT-icon and former president (2003-2010) Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva.

The people of Brazil know that high level corruption is rooted in a form of capitalism dominated by oligopolistic companies in close relationship with politicians competing in an electoral system that privileges massive spending. Yet, while corruption among the elite is rampant, it could not be used as the legal justification for expelling President Rousseff. She is practically unique among the political class – there are no corruption charges against her. Instead, the Right has seized on accounting mechanisms she used to pad her year-end accounts, breaking a fiscal responsibility law that sets rigid targets for deficits.

Jurists debate whether accounting tricks are grounds for impeachment; political scientists note that the process is political, not legal. Congressional deputies seem to recognize the political character of the exercise. In the actual vote to advance the impeachment process, they hardly referenced the charges, casting their vote instead for god, family, and even the memory of the officer who had tortured Rousseff when she was jailed during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime. The legal justification for the impeachment is weak, but the politics are clear. The Right was unable to dislodge the Workers’ Party from power, even with the economy in freefall, a weak presidential candidate, and the Workers’ Party seemingly without a project to renew its mandate and get back on track.

According to legal rules, the Senate will soon vote to initiate impeachment deliberations that can last up to six months. During this period, Rousseff will exit the presidency and the Vice President Michel Temer of the catch-all Party of Brazilian Democracy (PMDB) will take over. If the Senate votes by a two-thirds margin to impeach Rousseff, Temer will serve out the rest of her term until 2018 or until early elections are called. He and his allies will claim a mandate based on the fiscal malfeasance of Rousseff and the corruption revealed by the judicial investigations.

Yet, Temer and his allies have more on their mind than anti-corruption and fiscal probity. They would have to, as Temer signed off on some of the same fiscal maneuvers that supposedly make Rousseff impeachable. Further, he has serious accusations of corruption under investigation in the Federal Supreme Court, as do many others, including Temer’s party-ally and leader of the impeachment process in the Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who is under investigation for such acts as embezzlement and hiding illegal monies in Swiss bank accounts.

The real intentions of Temer and his allies were announced in a PMDB document entitled “Bridge to the Future.” In it, they promise to cut spending, target social programs, liberalize labor markets, and limit pension benefits. To build the legislative coalition to implement these policies, Temer appears poised to bring key opposition figures into his government, namely the candidates Rousseff defeated in elections in 2010 and 2014. Meanwhile, the judicial branch has continued with its apparently laser-like focus on finding corruption within the Workers’ Party, especially a charge that will stick to Lula, the still-popular PT ex-President who has indicated plans to run in 2018 and in the event of early elections.

In short, Brazil appears on the cusp of a Right-wing governing agenda that lost in the polls, imposed after a legal artifice removes a president, and to be ratified in elections in which the main Left-wing candidate is excluded. In the short term, this gambit may succeed. There appears to be little chance of Rousseff holding her office, Temer already appears to have the legislative majority he would need to push through his program, and most observers doubt the PT could win the next election.

In the medium term, Brazilian democracy will suffer. An impeachment-imposed Temer government would lack a mandate, and a Right elected in truncated elections would appear to embrace their inability to come to power through normal electoral means. Bad for Brazilian democracy, it could be even worse for Latin America, confirming the pattern revealed in Honduras and Paraguay of a conservative backlash willing to use any artifice to remove Left governments and limit elections to acceptable alternatives. The hemisphere will have witnessed the political elite of the largest country in the region racing to replay the impossible game. It is a game that nobody can win.

Aaron Schneider is Leo Block Chair of International Studies and Director of the Latin America Center, University of Denver,

Rafael R. Ioris is an Affiliate of the Latin America Center and Assistant Professor of History, University of Denver,