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Chile Aims To Focus Summit On Its Brighter Side

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among those joining a business conference Friday where 300 executives are formally seeking joint ventures with the same goals.

International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde framed their challenges starkly at last week's Davos Conference, saying the world's top executives agree that "severe income disparity" poses the greatest risk to the global economy in the decade ahead. "Excessive inequality is corrosive to growth; it is corrosive to society," she warned.

Other countries, however, can take many positive lessons from Chile.

The world's top copper producer is seen as probably the best managed economy in Latin America because of its strong growth, prudent fiscal and macroeconomic policies and strong institutions that make it an investor's paradise.

But critics say policies launched under former dictator Augusto Pinochet that privatized much of the country are still blocking urgent social reform and fostering social exclusion and inequality.

Pinera's government has been hit by wide protests demanding improvements in education, housing and health care and the protection of the environment from business interests. So while the country is expanding quickly, Chileans are asking for reforms to a system that they say still fails many.

Some of Chile's contradictions are in plain sight. Slum dwellers living in wooden shacks with zinc roofs at Campamento Juan Pablo II have a perfect view of elegant mansions, soaring skyscrapers and luxury car dealerships, just across a wide avenue in Las Condes, one of Santiago's wealthiest neighborhoods.

"The social gap is huge. The millionaires are right there next to us and we're stuck here living in this shantytown. The rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer," said Raul Sanchez, 51, who earns poverty-level wages watching over cars at nearby parking lots.

No one can deny that President Sebastian Pinera has tried to fight poverty by encouraging job creation and giving cash handouts to the poorest of the poor.

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