Almost two months have passed since Gabriel Boric’s victory in the second round, an electoral victory that caused an impact not only in Chile but also internationally. Such impact came from different perspectives, from the geopolitical perspective announcing the failure of the re-unification of the right in Latin America; the socio-political perspective emphasising the first presidential triumph of the progressives germinated during the wave of the Indignados that swept the planet in 2011, making the traditional left uncomfortable, or from the generational perspective that situates this triumph in the arrival to power of the millennial generation, the generation of social networks and emerging issues such as feminism, animalism or sexual dissidence, to name but a few.
By Efren Osorio Jara
It is therefore necessary to ask ourselves about the characteristics of this triumph, but from the perspective of our humanist project: is it a project of a revolutionary left or a new and lukewarm social democracy? Is it the sign of a new sensitivity that is bursting into politics, or a simple replacement of the elites who will continue to postpone the demands of a people who have always been forgotten? Or is it perhaps the foretaste of a new cycle, much more virtuous and profoundly more humane?
To dispel myths, Gabriel Boric’s government will be social democratic.
Days before the presidential run-off (ballotage), the then head of the campaign and future Minister of the Interior, Dr. Izkia Siches, stated clearly and without any complex: “We are thinking of a social democracy, of civilising minimums, which are the rights required by any modern country”. Also, during those days, the economist Stephany Griffith-Jones, a member of Boric’s advisory team, pointed out clearly: “Boric is what in Europe is called a social democrat” and is “…concerned with developing a welfare state and encouraging investment, particularly green investment”. And furthermore, immediately after being appointed as President Boric’s spokesperson, the communist MP Camila Vallejo said: “I believe that this is a government mainly of the centre-left. It has a programme that takes up aspects of European social democracy, but takes into account contemporary demands”.
In addition, the party that will have the largest ministerial presence will be the Socialist Party, which is not part of the coalition Apruebo Dignidad, and which has been one of the symbolic parties of the criticised 30 years of neoliberal democracy. The Socialist Party will head the important Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Housing. In other words, Boric’s government assumes without any complexes that it will be a social democratic administration following European models, but making explicit that it will be a transforming government.
Can social democracy constitute transformative change?
To answer this question, it is good to contextualise the fact that for more than 50 years Chile has been the symbol of the most extreme neoliberalism. Not only are electricity and motorway services privatised here, but in the public universities themselves, families have to pay close to a thousand dollars a month to pay for their children’s education or take out loans with private banks to finance it. And in the midst of a drought that has lasted more than 10 years and with more than half of the municipalities declared in water drought, the State must buy water from private companies to supply entire cities, because water is a good that is sold and traded, and we are not talking about the purification and distribution of water (also privatised), but the purchase and sale of water rights from aquifers, groundwater, rivers and lakes! Not to mention pensions and the disastrous AFPs, public health and a tax system shamelessly designed so that the rich pay less and the poor pay more taxes. In short, Chile became the North Korea of Neoliberalism and the real “Chilean miracle” turned out to be the people’s capacity for patience in putting up with an exclusionary and marginalising model for more than fifty years, between the dictatorship and neoliberal democracy.
In addition, during these 30 years of neoliberal democracy, a duopolistic political system was formed with only two major coalitions that took turns governing the country. And this situation led to these two coalitions, the Concertación and the Right, being permeated by the corruption of the large economic groups, in a real and shameless colonising process that even led to the unusual situation that a large mining company (whose owner is the son-in-law of the dictator Pinochet) was officially registered as a militant of the Party for Democracy (PPD). In other words, the company that was the symbol of the dictator’s economic plunder was a militant of the PPD, which in turn – it is assumed – was the party that symbolised the struggle against the dictator and which, to make matters worse, at the time was presided over by the daughter of one of the most emblematic victims of Pinochet’s repression. What I am trying to describe is that, in the Chile of the transition, the marriage between politics and the big economic groups was amalgamated with such blatant and shameless corruption that it was acted and exhibited as something quite normal in political activity.
But what the ruling elite did not consider was that “you have to be very careful with the fury of a patient people”. So it was that after more than 30 years of limited democracy and an extremist and corrupt neoliberal model, in October 2019 millions of people took to the streets, initiating an unstoppable and shocking process of destitution that resulted, almost two years later, in the election of a Constitutional Convention with the mission of drafting a new Constitution. This force of destitution was so powerful that it succeeded in electing a Convention that was unprecedented in the world, with gender parity and the presence of indigenous peoples and, as if this were not enough, with a correlation of forces in which the right, for the first time in Chilean history, had no possibility of veto or any political influence, and with a Christian Democracy, the traditional force of salvation of the right, that managed to elect only one constituent out of the 155 elected.
But if the process of de-legitimisation that began in October 2019 was a telluric force capable of questioning the foundations of the Chilean model, the subsequent constituent process led by the Constitutional Convention has been torpedoed and has been losing legitimacy at a worrying rate. This process of social delegitimisation of the Convention is led by the economic right, but it has also – it must be admitted – been helped by mistakes and some horrors of the Convention itself and is accelerating after the results obtained in the elections of November last year. In those elections the right managed to take half of the parliament and the far right, surprisingly, emerged victorious in the first presidential round. And although in the ballotage Boric won with a large majority, the 44% obtained by the candidate coming from a far-right party shows that the power of the oligarchy is still latent and threatening.
Moreover, in recent months we have witnessed hundreds of “fake news” stories circulating on social networks and the media’s obsessive amplification of the mistakes made by some of the mainstream media. This smear campaign has reached intolerable limits and, worse still, everything indicates that it will increase as the work of the Convention continues to progress. What we are saying is that if the social energy released after the social outpouring in October allowed the destitution process to move forward at great speed, the subsequent constituent process, led by the Convention, is seriously threatened by the economic right and the great power it still holds. In short, what is happening with the Convention and the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections show that dismantling all the oligarchic power and its networks of corruption is an extremely complex and difficult task, as this web of institutional corruption not only dates back 50 years but has been entrenched since the very origin of the Republic.
For all of the above reasons, and beyond the fact that the government programme is a social democratic programme, the consolidation of the progress made after the social outburst in October is vital, otherwise the latent threat of the neo-fascist ultra-right could become a macabre reality, and if anyone does not believe this or considers it too alarmist, it is because they are unaware of what has happened with Trump in the United States after Biden’s triumph.
A litter that turned the generational wheel
It happened last January, at the Encuentro Nacional de la Empresa, the forum that brings together all the big businessmen in Chile and to which Gabriel Boric had been invited in his capacity as President-elect. The scene was very strange, there were the 400 biggest businessmen who think they own Chile, used to talking about macroeconomic figures, interest rates, the value of the dollar and the behaviour of the markets, all anxiously and curiously waiting to hear the President’s speech, when suddenly they noticed that this 35-year-old young man without a tie began his speech by reading… a poem! Gabriel Boric, breaking all traditions and customs, in front of those cold businessmen used to impersonal economic figures, had chosen to read a text by a Chilean poet to speak to the grey businessmen about the brutal inequality in Chile.
A week later Gabriel Boric presented his new cabinet of 14 women and 10 men, two of whom have publicly declared themselves part of the LGBTQ+ community. Both situations, a majority female cabinet made up of ministers of sexual diversity, are unprecedented in the history of Chile and a few years ago would have been a real scandal for the conservative press. On the same occasion, a comparison of the photo of President Patricio Aylwin’s first cabinet, composed entirely of serious men, all dressed in dark suits and predominantly bald or white-haired, circulated on social networks, while the photo of Gabriel Boric’s cabinet showed a diversity of ages, with smiling faces, colourful clothes and more than one minister with their young children in their arms. The contrast between the two photos was enormous and summed up very well the quantum leap between the Chile of 1990 – patriarchal, old, grey and homogenous – and today’s Chile, diverse, colourful, feminist and with a new generation coming to power.
Just three days later, on a festive and warm Saturday night, the President-elect suddenly burst into a restaurant full of cheerful young people, walking, dressed in shorts and boots. The dozens of young people present did not hesitate to approach Boric to greet him and take selfies, which flooded the social networks showing the president-elect as an ordinary person, close and far from any solemnity. The scene ends with Gabriel Boric leaving the restaurant and being acclaimed by the young people as if he were a real rockstar.
I describe these scenes, which may well seem inconsequential or part of clever political marketing, but which clearly show an important break with the way power had been exercised in Chile during the transition. We all know that politics is power and that power is something that cannot be seen but is experienced, which is why a great deal of symbolism is required to express the changes that need to be carried out. And if in the past it was necessary to exhibit the guillotined head of the monarch in the public square to demonstrate the change from one regime to another, now in our apparently more civilised societies it is necessary to pay attention to the symbols that (de)show the characteristics of the change underway.
Just as in 1973 the dictator Pinochet bombed and set fire to La Moneda palace to brutally demonstrate that he was the one in power; so too, several years later, but now in a much more civilised way, thousands of women put on the presidential sash to demonstrate that Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first woman president, arrived at La Moneda with the support and power of women. Now he is a president who does not talk about macroeconomic figures, but recites poems, who recognises his mistakes and who is capable of going out in shorts and boots to buy a sandwich, just as anyone would do.
Boric’s presidency is the most notorious expression of generational change, but he comes to government alongside Dr. Izkia Siches who, at 35, will become the first woman to head the powerful Interior Ministry. As Minister of Government Spokesperson, Gabriel Boric appointed the communist militant and former student leader Camila Vallejo, who is only 33 years old, and as Minister Secretary General of the Presidency, Giorgio Jackson, a 34-year-old Democratic Revolution militant. In addition, the new Chamber of Deputies, which in its entire history has had a 2% female presence, will be made up of more than 35% women and, for the first time, six deputies have openly declared themselves to be part of sexual dissidence. In addition, a new board of the Constitutional Convention was recently elected with a 40-year-old woman as president and a young 32-year-old vice-president, who is also a member of the sexual dissidents.
It is clear that a great generational change is underway. A new generation of different political colours is taking over the destiny of an entire country. But are we witnessing a revolutionary change, a new sensibility that anticipates the arrival of a new world? Personally, I think not, for as Silo said: “Every generation has its cunning… but it also has its snares”. There is still much of the old politics and it is neither good nor healthy to over-romanticise this new breed of leaders. As they say in Mexico: “ni tanto que se queme al santo ni tan poco que no se vea”. What is remarkable and tremendously valuable about this generation is that it has been able to do what previous generations were incapable of doing or others simply did not want to do: remove conservatism, remove fences and bring utopias closer together.
It is true that Gabriel Boric’s government will be a social democratic government and will be under the threat of economic blackmail, the historical carrot and stick that the oligarchy knows how to use very well for co-optation, but simultaneously I say that it is a tremendous and radical change from what existed in Chile only three years ago, and – most importantly – this new generation cannot fail because neo-fascism is there, waiting for the opportunity to enter. The symbolism it will use to exercise its power will not be poetry or shorts, but repression, tanks and shrapnel. For all of the above, we humanists who are in Acción Humanista and were founders of the coalition government Apruebo Dignidad, support the candidacy of Gabriel Boric and will be part of the government that will begin its functions on 11 March.
This article was published in the recently launched Revista Ciclos (click to open it there).