by Brendan Smith
Chile made the headlines last month when it elected a new president, billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, on January 17, ending over 20 years of rule by center-left governments. Less publicized outside of the country was the fact that the country's current president, Michelle Bachelet, recently signed a series of agreements with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of wealthy industrialized democracies, that will result in Chile becoming the first South American country to join that rarefied institution.
For Chile, which began membership negotiations in 2007 along with Estonia, Israel, Slovenia and Russia and is likely to be joined by those countries as a member, joining the OECD is the culmination of years of fast economic growth and strenuous efforts aimed at becoming a developed country. The organization was founded in 1948 to help organize European reconstruction, but it has since grown to become a forum for discussion, coordination and cooperation among countries that have "made it" to developed country status. Joining the organization was a cause for celebration in countries like South Korea and Mexico.
Like the G8 and now the G20, the OECD is often criticized for its exclusive nature and its inability to act swiftly on important issues. But Chile's excitement about joining the OECD shows that membership in these institutions remains an important symbol of progress for many countries. Symbols may not mean much in practical terms, but they can be important motivators for countries trying to climb the ladder.