Chilean pesos. Photo credit: speakinglatino.com on Flickr

Carlos Slim the Mexican telecommunications king tops the Forbes 2012 rich list beating Bill Gates among others with an estimated fortune of $69B USD. The list also identifies 5 billionaires from Chile in industries ranging from mining, paper, retail, investments and forestry.

Name Net worth Source of wealth Chile ranking World ranking
Iris Fontbona $18.4B Mining #1 #32
Iris Fontbona

Almost inevitably the richest person in Chile made their fortune principally in the mining sector. Iris Fontbona, widow of Croatian born Andrónico Luksic, nows heads the Luksic family and their associated holdings. These include the copper mining giant Antofogfasta PLC, and several businesses run under the auspices of conglomerate Quiñenco; Banco de Chile (59%), the second largest banking group in Chile, beverage market leader behind the popular Cristal beer, CCU (66.1%), and metal supplier Madeco (54.4%). Son Andrónico Luksic Craig is currently Vice President of Banco de Chile, In addition, the Luksic Group own a stake in the Croatian holiday resort chain Plava Laguna. In the 2011 Chilean telethon (in aid of children with disabilities), Fontbona donated 1500, 000, 000 Chilean Pesos (approximately £2M).

Name Net worth Source of wealth Chile ranking World ranking
 The Matte family $10.2B Paper  #2 #86
The Matte sibs

Three siblings, Eliodoro, Patricia and Bernardo Matte Larrain form a powerful and influential Chilean family. Owner of family-run Empresas CMPC (Companía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones) Eliodoro transformed the tiny CMPC into a global force, after taking over the company from his father Eliodoro Matte Ossa in 1976 and by introducing practices of international expansion in South America and Mexico. His father gained special attention during Allende’s government when he tried unsuccessfully to nationalise the holding. In 2011 sales exceeded more than $4.2B USD.

The family rose to power in the 19th century when Javier Matte Ossa, of Catalan origin, and his wife opened a textile store in Santiago. The siblings have also made their fortune by participating in other companies, coming from strategic sectors, such us mining, banking and construction.

Name Net worth Source of Wealth
Chile ranking
World ranking
Horst Paulmann $9.3B Retail  #3 #98
Horst Paulmann

Born in Germany in 1936 and holding dual Chilean nationality, Horst Paulmann and family has amassed a large fortune in the retail sector in Chile and throughout Latin America. Under the Cencosud consortium, the Paulmann family dominates the Chilean retail market through supermarket brands like Paris, Jumbo, Santa Isabel and Easy. Paulmann has, however, courted controversy after federal inspectors investigated Cencosud on suspicion of fraud. To add fuel to the fire of controversy surrounding the retail magnate a recent article from Chilean newspaper El Mostrador suggested that Horst’s father Karl Werner Paulmann had close ties to the SA and SS in Nazi Germany.

Name Net worth Source of Wealth
Chile ranking
World ranking
 Sebastian Piñera $2.4B Investments #4 #521
Pinera and Bachelet

Current Chilean President, Sebastian Piñera’s net worth is estimated at $2.4B USD or approximately £1.5B. The son of the Chilean ambassador to the UN, Piñera went on to gain a PhD in economics from Harvard. He is also responsible for introducing credit cards into the country, from which he made the majority of his wealth, along with investment stakes in the nation’s largest airline LAN Chile. Although Piñera sold his shares in several companes including LAN, the TV channel Chilevision, the football team Colo-Colo and also Quiñenco after becoming President in 2010, since this time opinion polls have shown him to be one of the most unpopular of all Chilean Presidents, despite a recent bounce back. No stranger to controversy, the billionare was the subject of the so-called Piñeragate affair, in which it is alleged that he attempted to discredit his party political rival Evelyn Matthei by setting her up on a tv show to be cornered by a journalist sympathetic to Piñera. The conversation between Piñera and friend Pedro Pablo Díaz, where the plot was hatched was recorded and is transcribed here (in Spanish).

Name Net worth Source of wealth
Chile ranking
World ranking
Roberto Angelini Rossi $1.2B Mining, Forestry  #5 #1015

  

Roberto Rossi

Nephew of the billionaire Anacleto Angelini Fabri (of Italian descent) who at the time of his death (2007) was the richest man in Chile, Roberto Angelini Rossi is head of Antarchile, whose investments lie chiefly in forestry (60.1%), fuel (28.5%) and fishing (3.8%). The Angelini fortune was originally made in the last century in northern Chile, in fishing and fishmeal production. Consolidaton took place when the energy company Copec was acquired and the forestry business Arauco formed. The Angelini family was then  established as one of the most powerful in Chile.

So is the presence of billionaires good news for Chile? Well, certainly there is an argument for increased job creation, which will in turn allow government to increase its revenues from income tax and taxes on spending as the employed become consumers. Yet the argument is slightly weaker for the industries that are highlighted here, as it’s hard for one to imagine supermarkets, for example, or petrol filing stations not springing up in any modern environment. That is, many small or co-operative outlets would surely thrive equally well and be employers of many, as would state run enterprises. Although history has certainly shown that publicly run endeavours such as mining usually fare worse than their private counterparts, perhaps dues to share-holder expectation and the threat of competition. The latter force of course not holding in the case of monopolies that dominate markets and control prices pretty much as they see fit. The argument for true wealth creation is better applied to innovative enterprises such as computing and technology. Bill Gates, for example, has generated billions in taxes by creating international products that although were born from need, were not as likely to be developed in the absence of individual entrepreneurship, as say energy or food businesses. In any event, with large earnings such as those identified above, governments and potentially the populace can benefit through taxation. Chile has a relatively low basic rate of corporation tax (comparison of OECD countries in the figure below) at 17%, which while not raking in as much cash as say France manage to, does have the benefit of encouraging local start-ups and foreign investment. It will, however, limit the size of the state coffers. 

Source: OECD data

It can, and has before, been argued that concentration of wealth in the top percentiles of a nation will over time have a beneficial effect on the economy as a whole through a ‘trickle down’ process. There may be some evidence for this effect if one compares Chile’s economic progress with poorer neighbours Perú or Bolivia and yet there have been some worrying signs of increased inequality in Chile recently, with the gap between rich and poor widening. Having said that, it is true that many wealthy people in Chile regularly donate to charities and worthy causes. For example, as we saw above, Iris Fontbona recently donated about £2M to a national charity, £2M that would otherwise have not been received. An alternative view though is that as a percentage of overall worth (0.016%) it really doesn’t constitute a true redistribution of wealth. Within this model, then, wealth will continue to remain within a select few families, generation after generation.

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