Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

Since the effects on exports to the U.S. appear to be minimal, I haven’t felt as guilty as I probably should about having a laugh or two over the strike at Chile’s Port of San Antonio.

Is it still over, by the way? Last I checked it was. I’ll try to remember to check again toward the end of this column.

That’s the first source of amusement: the strikers’ wishy-washiness. Showing up for a day’s work and then calling it quits again.

Maybe taking 22 days off made them realize how much more fun it is not to work than to work. Can’t argue with them there.

Then of course there’s the subject of the strike: back pay for lunch breaks. With my pidgin Spanish, I haven’t been able to follow the story closely in the Chilean press. I can’t weigh in on how justified the strikers’ complaints were.

But regardless of that, you have to admit it makes for some funny hypothetical headlines. “Striking … over lunch.” “Police unleash water cannons on protestors shouting, ‘No free lunch!’”

Like me, many of you have probably thought about striking over what your spouse made for lunch last Saturday, or have hoped that your kids don’t get wind of it and start banging their Minecraft lunchboxes in unison in the school cafeteria.

Now, on the serious side, the Great Lunch Strike of 2014 cost people time and money they would rather not have expended. And, had it continued, importers told me it would have taken its toll on U.S. imports from Chile.

There’s also the chance, importers and officials said, that bad PR from this strike and others (including one that happened less than a year ago) could have more of a long-term effect on trading partners’ attitudes toward Chile.

But it’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget the bigger picture: namely, that Chile and the U.S. have a great relationship, and it’s likely to stay that way.

A recent essay by David Luhnow in The Wall Street Journal drives the point home. Luhnow talks about “the two Latin Americas” — one group of countries (Chile, Mexico, Peru and Colombia) that has embraced free trade and free markets, and another (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina) that hasn’t done as good a job.

In 2014, the economies of Chile and its fellow Pacific Alliance partners, as Luhnow calls them, are projected to grow at a rate of 4.25%. The Atlantic group, by contrast, is expected to grow by just 2.5%.

To some, Chile has been the one leading the way.

“I see the future in countries like Chile — which has been a good example of how to do things for a while — Colombia, Peru and Mexico,” Peru’s former president Alan Garcia is quoted as saying in Luhnow’s essay.

So let the strikers take their lunch break. As of right now (I just checked) they’re back to work, and in this winter and likely many more winters to come, it will probably be business as usual.

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