If You’re Rich, You Must Have Stolen or Cheated

We drove out of the small lakeside town of Puerto Varas to an elegant boutique hotel called Casa Molino. We were greeted warmly by Angela, who owns the property with her husband Albert. We walked through the glass fronted back wall which looks over the lake, and in the distance a white covered volcano peeked with half of its top covered in clouds.

After a walk down a wooden stairway to the shore of the lake, we repaired to the patio where over Chilean chardonnay we talked about the differences between Chile and the US. Al Cherry has a unique perspective, since he’s a US citzen who grew up here in Chile and spent 20 years in the US as an executive of Reebok. Now he spends his time running this and another hotel, and on the weekends he ferries his horses around to Chilean rodeos, which are horsemanship competitions and very popular.

I commented on the very rutted private road we drove up on our way to the hotel. “A month ago, I had that road graded,” Al told us. “None of the other people on the street were willing to contribute one peso toward the cost. I do it every time, but now, I’m waiting, I’m going to wait and let someone else step up.” This led us to more discussion of the opinion of the rich here in Chile.

“In the US, we might meet a successful guy and all want to ask him about how he did it, and get ideas about how we might also become rich like him. In Latin America, when someone meets a rich guy, their reaction is to want to tear him down. Their perception is that he cheated, or stole, or is corrupt in some way and that’s how he got rich. It’s a totally different way of viewing successful people, and it creates real divisions between classes.”

We talked about the law here that makes voting mandatory, and not voting illegal. That is, unless you’re not registered. “There are two million people here, between the ages of 18 and 25, who will never, ever, register to vote, because of this law. ” I thought about the other innkeeper that I met when I was here in 2005, who told me the same thing. Once, the idea must have been virtuous, making everyone vote, but now it just keeps people from wanting to ever sign up.