Chilean economic officials resign in blow to center-left coalition

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 31, 2017 12:51 PM

By Gram Slattery

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes and two other major economic officials resigned on Thursday, in a blow to President Michelle Bachelet's center-left coalition just months before presidential and parliamentary elections.

Valdes, an economist who has led the finance ministry for the past two years, said at a press conference that some members of the government did not share his sense of urgency to promote economic growth in the country.

Earlier this week, he criticized a controversial decision by the government to reject a $2.5 billion copper and iron project on environmental grounds, a decision that was backed by Bachelet.

"To advance sustainably toward greater growth requires discipline and the conviction of the government to open spaces so that the private sector can roll out its initiatives with clear rules," Valdes said at a press conference in Santiago.

"But I believe I wasn't able to make everybody share this conviction."

Bachelet announced the resignations of Economy Minister Luis Felipe Cespedes and Finance Subsecretary Alejandro Micco shortly after Valdes resigned. She said that Valdes will be replaced by Nicolas Eyzaguirre, an economist who is currently in charge of legislative affairs for the president, while Cespedes will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, the president of Banco del Estado de Chile [BAESC.UL].

Bachelet did not give a reason for the resignations.

Eyzaguirre and Rodriguez served under Ricardo Lagos, a moderate former president of Chile who held office from 2000 to 2006.

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Valdes' resignation, ahead of the November presidential and parliamentary elections, was seen by some as a blow to the center-left and its presidential candidate Alejandro Guillier, a senator who is most closely tied to Bachelet's coalition.

Bachelet, who is unpopular due to a weak economy and a string of corruption scandals, has faced criticism that her government is poorly organized and lacks unity.

Former Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire, currently leads the presidential polls.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Paul Simao and Phil Berlowitz)