Chilean president Sebastián Piñera appears addicted to movement. The newly elected billionaire is often seen walking full stride, his aides running behind like a harried entourage, as he dashes through lanes of traffic or into the cockpit of his favourite toy – his helicopter.
While past Chilean presidents have used the presidential chopper sparingly, Piñera is likely to change that, given his love of piloting his own helicopters. While security and safety experts question the wisdom of allowing a president to sit at the controls, Piñera spent the weeks before his inauguration flying his own helicopter, dropping friends at ranches, picking them up for tennis matches.
Closer to the ground there are rumours that Piñera may trade in the presidential Peugeot 607 for a car without tinted windows as part of his efforts to provide a sense of openness and transparency in government. Given the minimal security risks in Chile (presidential protection is so relaxed that tourists can enter the palace with a smile and a laminated ID of any provenance), that’s an option that would make many presidents jealous. But for now you can tell when he’s approaching on a Santiago street because a path will be opened up by a pair of hyperactive presidential escorts – Carabineros de Chile, the national police – on Harley-Davidsons.
Eight years ago, the Chilean Air Force purchased a Boeing 737-500 with extra fuel tanks, allowing for fewer stops on international journeys from Santiago, the far-flung capital. As a result of high-profile mechanical breakdowns on the previous presidential plane (an aged Boeing 707 that routinely failed to provide transport that was either secure or reliable), the Chilean government purchased a backup plane in 2008, a Boeing 767-300ER.
The presidential chopper is a zippy Bell 412SP with a top speed of 161mph (259km/hr) and a range of 463 miles (745km).
A black 1967 Ford Futura is often used for parades. Open-topped and shiny, the Futura evokes Kennedy-style government.
For the past four years, the Chilean president’s personal car for daily transport around town has been a tinted-window Peugeot 607, sandwiched between a pair of Hyundai Azeras and followed by a Dodge Durango. All the security cars have the windows half down, eagle-eyed bodyguards scouting the horizon, although guns are never in sight.
President Hugo Chávez has declared an electricity emergency. Venezuela is highly dependent on hydro-electricity and Chávez blames a drought for the blackouts (critics blame under-investment). State electricity workers were called to a prayer session entitled: “Clamour to God for the National Electricity Sector.” Power to the people sounds rather unlikely these days.
Mexico’s sports ministry is hosting its first “Sports Games for Mexicans Abroad” in LA and Houston, for a week starting 29 March. The 12-sport event is designed with 2012 in mind: residents of the US and Canada can earn places to represent Mexico at the London Olympics. The so-called Mexican Games are the latest gambit in an intense battle between neighbouring nations for the loyalty of Mexican-American athletes. The US is likely to select two players of Mexican heritage, previously wooed to play for El Tricolor, at this summer’s football World Cup. It could also be a move to help flatten those taco-filled tummies.
The US is one of the fastest at processing imports and exports (five days to get in, six days to get out). Only Singapore is faster – and costs half as much (around €330 per container each way).
The French embassy bristled when Washington reporters recently picked up on an article in Le Monde claiming Nicolas Sarkozy had soured on the American president he once called “my pal”. An embassy spokesman said Sarkozy’s relations with Barack Obama were “excellent”, followed by defensive, diplomatic language that seemed to confirm one thing: the two men are far from pals.
During his first year in office Obama has been unusually busy with foreign travel and major international meetings that have left him perpetually surrounded by heads of state. But while he can claim some policy gains, he has not made a new cadre of friends.
American foreign policy in the jumbo-jet era can perhaps be best understood as a sequence of high-level friendships. The personal camaraderie between Jimmy Carter and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat offered a foundation for the Camp David Accords. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher steeled one another to battle communists abroad and labour unions at home. Bill Clinton helped establish a post-Cold War order by wooing Germany’s Helmut Kohl (with whom Clinton shared a formidable appetite) and Japan’s Ryutaro Hashimoto (the leaders famously called one another Biru and Roo). When George W Bush needed allies for his Iraq War, he turned to men he had lured into his holiday circuit: Tony Blair, Australia’s John Howard, Spain’s José María Aznar. (All three saw their political careers damaged by the impression that the only possible partnership with an American president was a junior one: Howard was dubbed Bush’s “deputy sheriff” and Blair his “poodle”.)
Yet while Obama has focused his charisma on broad groups and institutions – such as the Muslim world and the International Olympic Committee, with mixed results – he is stingier among peers. On his first European trip as president last spring, he avoided appearing too intimate with Sarkozy or Gordon Brown, each desperate to borrow Obama’s popularity with their home electorates.
Political calculations aside, it is not clear if Obama wants to be friends with any of these people. He has held one state dinner, for Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, and rarely interacts with foreign leaders outside of telephone calls, summit meetings, Oval Office sessions and joint press conferences. He shows little interest in finding places where he can catch colleagues unguarded or off-script. Obama has yet to host a foreign leader outside of Washington – Clinton once brought Kohl to Milwaukee for a sausage lunch – and has not invited any to relax with him at the presidential retreat Camp David.
Personal distance appears to be Obama’s mien: he does not socialise much with American politicians either, and his closest friends and advisers are old allies from Chicago. But standing alone in the global arena may suit his interests. The White House’s most surprisingly fruitful diplomatic relationship is with the Kremlin, even as it seems unlikely that Obama will ever invite Dmitry Medvedev to hit the beach in Honolulu. He has yet to find an overarching theme to his foreign policy, other than a high realism based on a willingness to deal with anyone if the conditions are right. It is almost precisely the opposite of the personality-intensive diplomacy of Bush, who constantly invited foreign leaders to his Texas ranch – and even massaged Angela Merkel’s shoulders – but was unable to build lasting diplomatic coalitions. Instead, Obama’s cool, rational approach could leave America with many allies and its president with no friends.
If you want to buy land in Latin America, Guatemala is quickest at registering land ownership. It still takes three weeks, but that’s far better than Puerto Rico, where you’d be in limbo for over six months.
Q&A - Richard H Solomon
President US Institute of Peace
Richard H Solomon has published a series of books on national negotiating styles, exploring major diplomatic powers (Russia, Japan, Germany) and Muslim countries (Iran, Pakistan, Egypt). Now the former assistant secretary of state is looking in the mirror, as co-author of American Negotiating behavior: Wheeler-Dealers, Legal Eagles, Bullies and Preachers.
Why the interest in national negotiating styles?
I worked for Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council staff for five years. It struck me how he was startled that, as he negotiated with Zhou Enlai and Mao and the others, they were not acting as communists. They were Chinese, they drew on their experience as negotiators differently from the Europeans and the Soviets.
Why then include the US?
One of the things people are blind to is they think they’re normal and everyone else is different. Sun Tzu said, “If you know yourself as well as your enemy you’ll be successful in your endeavours.”
So how do you gain distance?
You need someone from another culture to look at what’s different. We had workshops: we turned to 50 foreign diplomats, allies and adversaries, to tell us how they thought Americans negotiate.
What did you learn?
Because of the weight of our position in international affairs, our resources, our power position, our diplomats don’t do the kind of trade-off negotiating we typically associate with diplomacy. Eighty to 90 per cent of the negotiating for American diplomats goes on within their government.
Are your old State Department colleagues happy that you’re publishing all this?
It’s not giving away a deep, dark secret. Since we’re training our diplomats in how other countries negotiate, it’s levelling the playing field.