We interviewed Tomás Hirsch, Chilean humanist, re-elected as deputy for the 11th District of Santiago. The most conservative district in Chile, and “where we have the worst income distribution gap in our country”.
We discuss with him his re-election and the complex and polarised panorama that has remained in Chile after the first round of the presidential elections.
Hirsch encourages participation and to vote for Gabriel Boric in the second round: “it is very important that today we have the triumph of the sectors that want a change of model, to guarantee rights for everyone in our country”.
Pressenza. – Good morning, friends! We are with Tomás Hirsch, Chilean humanist. Tomás has just been re-elected as a member of parliament. Congratulations!
Tomás, you have been re-elected for the most conservative or one of the most conservative districts in Santiago de Chile, District 11. I imagine that it has not been an easy re-election, but what have you done and what has the team working with you in the deputation done during these last four years to get you elected again?
Tomás Hirsch: Hello, Juana. Thank you very much for this interview, for the invitation. I am indeed a deputy in the most conservative district in Chile, but there is always room for those who are not conservative. So, there are 5 deputies from the right, 2 from the extreme right who were elected this time, and we are here, representing the whole progressive, humanist, opposition, left-wing world.
I would say that the result is the fruit of the work of a wonderful team of people. I fulfil another function, a task which is to legislate in Congress, to represent the people. But this is a team effort, in which we have been involved in a huge number of conflicts and issues that affect the people of the district.
If I had to list it quickly, I would say that the most important issue we have been involved in is housing, the housing committees. There is a tremendous lack of housing in the district, despite being the richest in Chile, it has gigantic pockets of poverty; the problem of green areas, the problem of human rights. It is a district where many people live who have suffered human rights violations, their families, their relatives or themselves. The issue of education where we have been involved with teachers. But also with the student world, and also working strongly with the world of culture… I would say that we have been involved in different issues of conflict, with the feminist, ecologist, animalist world, working a lot with them, which are areas that the people on the right leave totally abandoned.
I would define our work as a humanising attempt, a humanising attempt in a district where there is the worst gap in the distribution of income in our country, trying to generate a demonstration effect that it is possible, also in these places, to generate a better quality of life, with more dignity for everyone.
Pressenza. – If you like, Tomás, let’s open up the approach. Perhaps we can make an analysis of the electoral results at a general level. The parliamentary arc has changed notably and from here, from Madrid, the results of the presidential election have been very surprising. Perhaps you can help us – with your analysis – to understand these results.
Tomás Hirsch: A few weeks ago, in an interview with Pressenza, you said that I defined this moment as paradoxical. In fact, that is how it was titled, and I think we were right. The result of this Sunday is paradoxical because after the outburst for the demands of Chilean society, for better treatment, for more dignity… and that was the phrase that synthesised, in short; in which a constituent process is initiated, in which there is a call for, once and for all, decent pensions, that education is a right, that health does not mean getting into debt, that the regions have rights, that the native peoples are recognised… Well, after that, two years go by and we find ourselves with a vote heavily weighted towards the right, it must be said, although Gabriel Boric goes to the second round, an extreme right-wing candidate wins. To understand, we are talking about someone from the most extreme right-wing position, with a totally homophobic discourse, anti-immigrant, anti-women and their rights… The truth is that it is very impressive and, in a way, we feel that what happened is that the outburst was being left behind, I am referring to October 2019, and other issues were being installed: the issue of insecurity, the issue of crime, the issue of drug trafficking, which is very strong, the issue of immigration and who is to blame for the problems of wages and employment, which were very well exploited by the candidate of the right… I would say that these issues took over the agenda and there, he has a very simplistic discourse, but it reaches the people, and from our sectors it is a much more structured, elaborate discourse, but it is also more difficult for people to take it, to pick it up. And that is what this incredible polarisation in Chilean society has meant, and that leaves the outlook for the future wide open.
Pressenza. – We corroborate that the panorama is also very paradoxical seen from the outside. On the one hand, José Antonio Kast, an extreme right-wing radical, wins – as you said – in the first round, but at the same time we are in the middle of the Constituent Process, a process presided over by Elisa Loncón, a woman who represents the native peoples. This presents a very complex future. How do you think it will be possible to work?
Tomás Hirsch. – The future is very complex because we have a constituent process that is unique in the world: parity, with the participation of indigenous peoples, presided over by a woman from the indigenous peoples, and with a very strong push for structural transformations of the economic, political and social model, in which the Plebiscite for the new constitution won by 80% approval, and the candidates who represented the search for structural transformations. This will have to coexist with a Congress that is biased towards the right. In the Chamber of Deputies, those of us who are the opposition, the left, the centre-left, are in the majority, but that majority has been reduced, and in the Senate there is a technical tie, which favours the right, which will seek to prevent all changes.
It is going to be a complex process. The Constitutional Convention is autonomous, it has the capacity to continue advancing in its process, but it will obviously require the support of Congress and also of the government in power. That is why today it has become so important to achieve the victory of Gabriel Boric, who was only 2 points behind José Antonio Kast, and the sum of opposition votes, left and right, is virtually a tie. So, the big challenge here is who is going to be able to move more people for the second round, because of the 15 million, which is the entire electoral roll, only 7 million went to vote. There are 8 million that we would have to see how we can get them to vote, or part of them. So, we have a big challenge in this universe, which did not participate in this first round.
Pressenza. – Is there a plan, between different organisations, to achieve this increase in votes for Boric?
Tomás Hirsch: A plan is being structured at the moment, which basically has to do with the following: we have a proposal, a government programme, which is very good as a whole, as a four-year, eight-year project, as a social model. What we need now is to translate it into five or ten very concrete measures.
And something that is sometimes more difficult for our sector (it is more typical of the right wing to come out with something very pragmatic, with measures 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Well, we have to make that effort and we are working on it and we are already starting to give very clear signals today, and we will do so in the coming days. In the team that we are working with for the second round, together, of course, with our candidate Gabriel Boric, we are developing very clear and precise images that will allow those who did not vote to know what we intend to do in the first 100 days, in the first six months, in the first year, that could mean a substantial improvement in their living conditions.
Pressenza. – I don’t know if you want to send a last message to the voters outside the country, also to those inside, but above all to the people outside the country.
Tomás Hirsch: Of course, and outside Chile, among Chileans who vote, Gabriel Boric won, but there are still few who went to vote. Therefore, we need more participation abroad as well. In Spain, in Italy, in Europe, in Asia, many Chilean men and women live, there is a very large Chilean community and we need them to participate and, on the other hand, your interviews reach here, in Chile. To tell everyone that we need a very big commitment to action, and what is at stake in Chile is very, very relevant, not only for the country, for Latin America, and I dare say – without being pretentious – for the whole world, because this is the country where the neoliberal model was first developed, implemented and exported. Therefore, it is very important that today we have the triumph of the sectors that want a change of model, to guarantee rights for everyone in our country.