SANTIAGO – Members of the youth wing of Chile’s Communist Party gathered on Monday outside the World Bank Group’s office in Santiago to deliver a protest note accusing the financial institution of meddling in the nation’s politics and recent presidential election.
The Communist Youth of Chile demonstrators said the bank had deliberately manipulated data to adversely affect the country’s competiveness ranking and turn public opinion against outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s administration and her center-left New Majority coalition.
They said President-elect Sebastian Piñera, a conservative billionaire, had used the World Bank’s data during the campaign to bolster his argument that Bachelet’s reforms had weakened the nation’s economy.
Piñera, leader of the center-right Chile Vamos coalition, won Chile’s Dec. 17 presidential runoff with 54.6 percent of the vote, beating out New Majority hopeful Alejandro Guillier, who received 45.4 percent of the ballots.
“For four years, the World Bank has declared war on the reforms constructed with Michelle Bachelet,” one activist told reporters.
After taking office as president for a second time in 2014, Bachelet signed into law a tax overhaul aimed at reducing inequality and also spearheaded educational reforms designed, among other things, to increase access to higher education.
The protesters said the World Bank had acted as a “tool of the neoliberal model to perpetuate the concentration of wealth” and recalled that the Washington-based financial institution had been a main source of financing for late strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 right-wing dictatorship.
World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer acknowledged in remarks to the Wall Street Journal last Friday that the institution in recent years had repeatedly altered the methodology it uses in ranking the ease of doing business in countries around the world.
Those rankings appear in an annual report known as “Doing Business.”
He said Chile was one of the countries adversely affected and that the World Bank would redo the rankings over at least the last four years to eliminate the effect of the methodology changes.
The Journal noted in the article that Bachelet and Piñera have alternated as Chile’s president from 2006 to the present and that “under Ms. Bachelet, Chile’s ranking consistently deteriorated, while it consistently climbed under Mr. Piñera.”
“I want to make a personal apology to Chile, and to any other country where we conveyed the wrong impression,” Romer was quoted as saying in the article. “Based on the things we were measuring before (her current term in office began in 2014), business conditions did not get worse in Chile under the Bachelet administration.”
Chile’s government has slammed the World Bank’s recent practices as an “immoral act” that “harms the credibility of an institution that must have the confidence of the international community.” It also has called for a thorough investigation.
Piñera, for his part, said Monday that the data manipulation was “absolutely unacceptable.”