Displaying economic success is particularly important to Chile, which is eager to be seen as a developed nation. Chile's business elites take particular pride in the country's membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The country's economy is expected to grow around 4.8 percent in 2013, outpacing every other country in the region but Peru, according to the United Nations.
Chile's strong standing has helped it weather the world economic crisis and withstand the contagion in the Euro zone, where the economy contracted by 0.5 percent last year. Along with mining, Chile enjoys strong consumer demand and profits from exports of salmon, forestry, wine and fruit. During a recent visit to Santiago, International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde praised Chile for being one of the fastest growing economies in South America and keeping unemployment at historically low levels while controlling inflation below a target 3 percent.
"Chile has been a successful country and there are many reasons why Chileans should be proud, but the country remains largely unequal despite progress," said Patricio Navia, a Chilean political scientist who teaches at New York University.
"Precisely because it has grown so much, one wonders why the government hasn't been able to do more to fight inequality."
Far from the summit's headquarters in a heavily guarded conference center in the Andean foothills, protesters were preparing to take the streets for a "people's summit" on Friday.
Students are demanding an end to the decentralization of education in Chile, which has created a system of failing public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and pricey student loans.
Mapuche Indians are demanding autonomy and a return of their ancestral territory in Chile's Patagonia region, where timber companies, foreign corporations and wealthy individuals control most of the land. Environmentalists are demanding an end to the privatization of Chile's water, another legacy of the Pinochet era.
The most common complaint of the protesters is that wealth and power has been concentrated in very few hands.
"The biggest problem in Chile is that the differences between the haves and the have-nots are very dramatic," Navia said. "So you are not likely to see poverty as you see in other countries, but you will see that wealth and income in Chile are very unequally distributed."
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao
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