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Secrets of Power: The Lesson of Five Chilean Presidents

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I started my career as a journalist when the President of the chilean Senate Gabriel Valdes placed the presidential sash on President Aylwin in March 1990. Next to him was Pinochet, who handed over power after losing the 1988 referendum, an historical episode that ended his dictatorship, which extended from the 1973 military coup.

I was a young journalist at Caras magazine, which had been founded almost two years previously. I reported this historical moment in Congress in Valparaiso surrounded by thousands of correspondents from around the world, which I am sure I will see few times in my life, with the knowledge that a new stage in the history of Chile was opening up; an extraordinary moment both as a citizen and as a journalist.

The cover of Caras that fortnight said it all: he appeared smiling, wearing the sash, waving from the presidential car, under the title "It was superb".

Throughout these years, I have seen these sashes being passed on a further five times, almost all of these occasions having taken place in Congress, and I have never stopped feeling the pace and the weight of history, and how, as a presidential country like ours, decisions, good and bad, of those Presidents (Aylwin, Frei, Lagos, Piñera) and President Bachelet, have changed the country, and indeed themselves.

During these years I have been able to interview them, talk to them at different times, analyse situations, making the most of the unusual journalistic privilege to ask and query people without anaesthesia, on almost any subject.

I've seen them in complex moments; at the highest honour of the presidential tours, during their speeches, some in their homes. But I was always going over the idea of asking about the greater picture, to go beyond the circumstances and the superficial. How much and how does a man or woman change after being in La Moneda? How do they learn the art of making decisions that affect millions of people? What were the hardest moments and how do they live through them? Who did they trust and how did they learn to distinguish future loyalties and betrayals?

Journalistic curiosity and interest in seeking answers to these questions drove me for several years (between 2011 and March 2014, to be precise) to perform a series of interviews with those who exercised the most power in Chile since the return to democracy. They shape this book, "Yo President/a", which could be written thanks to an exceptional situation of having all five Presidents present at the same time, and whom also had to lead during such a relevant and unique time in Chile's history.

All of them, each with their own personalities and diverse political origins, were part of an enormous task: first, to lead the country on the path of total democratic recovery. Along with this mission, which caused a fair few tense moments, recounted in the pages of my book, the country leaders worked in recent years to make Chile spearhead development rankings in Latin America: dramatically reducing poverty, maintaining sustained economic growth in the region, resolving border disputes with neighbouring countries, facing severe global economic crises, creating health care and pension reforms, improving access to education and attempting to combat inequality. Even in recent years, with almost full employment and the highest levels of prosperity in the history of Chile, they face movements led by empowered citizens wary of the development model, with young people on the streets directly criticizing and challenging as never before the Chilean road to democracy.

Young people for whom today's Chile, which is a democratic state, with a GDP per capita close to the so-called developed countries, is as natural as the air they breathe. It is the air that allows them to not just ask, but demand, to go beyond the "extent possible", a phrase coined by President Aylwin that marked not only his government but the entire generation of the transition process.

That very youth which was neither fully adult, or protagonist, neither for the Golpe or the plebiscite; while those who were thinking about how to fight their elders for a space in their parties (still being considered as "young talent" at an age the others had already served as ministers several times) were "waking up to" twenty year olds in jeans and no tie, that had gone directly from the streets to the Parliament.

And so, in addition to my interest and journalistic curiosity, this was my key motivation to continue with this project: the will to help build bridges between the protagonist generations in the Chile we know today, with young people who were born in democracy. That youth still wrinkle free and fearless, with more interest in the XXI century than in the twentieth century, but for whom it is important to understand that past: they can certainly question it, but with an understanding of the contexts in which they operated, which are very different from the current ones.

When the Bicentennial occurred in 2010, there was also a memorable and historical image: that of the five Presidents together, which appears on the cover of my book.

Perhaps one of the essential elements that aided the achievements of our country can be summarized by the fact that, despite the great differences between one another, they have respect for each other and certain continuities have helped that a revolution does not start in Chile with each new term in office. There is a republican respect for them and what they stand for.

The respect they feel for each other and that the citizenship also feels is not as common in other countries, where internal conflict is the norm. In Chile, they walk the streets, attend State meetings if requested, and are part of the national heritage. A feeling so precious and rare, we Chileans must take care of.

Fine my book on Amazon, here.