With Gabriel Boric's triumph, hope for the return of pro-Palestine left in Latin America
The main cities of Chile overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people on the night of December 19 to celebrate not only the triumph of Gabriel Boric, former student leader and centre-left parliamentarian, in the presidential election but above all the defeat of José Antonio Kast, a defender of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Once again the streets were filled with Mapuche, feminist, pride and leftist flags, emblems of the social outburst of October 2019 that mortally wounded the post-dictatorship transition regime.
Kast attracted the support of writer Vargas Llosa, of Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the Brazilian president, and of the Spanish extreme right party Vox. For his part, Venezuelan right-winger Leopoldo López travelled to Chile to campaign for Kast, undeterred by the fact that weeks earlier the "Chilean Trump" defended the xenophobic mobs that attacked Venezuelan refugees, shouting, "No more immigrants!"
"The parallels with the so-called "pink tide" of the first decade of this century, when a series of social rebellions and the collapse of the traditional parties gave way to governments more or less to the left, have not gone unnoticed"
Kast's defeat adds to that of the Honduran right-wing's defeat, which had governed since the 2009 coup supported by Obama, and also the defeat in Peru of Keiko, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, and the electoral failure of the Bolivian right-wing after the de facto government of Añez. The parallels with the so-called "pink tide" of the first decade of this century, when a series of social rebellions and the collapse of the traditional parties gave way to governments more or less to the left, have not gone unnoticed.
However, there are also important differences between that process and the prospects of the current situation.
At that time, Chavez, Morales, Correa, Mujica, Lula, among others, presented themselves as a new left and criticized capitalism, but without taking measures that would affect the structural causes of our region being the most unequal in the world. Riding on the boom in commodity prices, they advanced welfarist policies. After the world economic crisis of 2007, they applied austerity plans, attacking the gains of the working class and passing laws to limit the right to protest.
Corruption and double talk became the hallmark of those governments that created so many expectations in their beginning. Despite the speeches about Latin American integration and independence from the US, several of those governments, with Brazil at the head, sent occupation troops to Haiti between 2004 and 2017, and Mercosur signed a free trade agreement with Israel.
Their relationship with social movements was a combination of co-optation and criminalization. In the most extreme cases of Nicaragua and Venezuela, Ortega and Maduro murdered hundreds of protesters and morphed into dictatorships. Chavismo drove Venezuela into hyperinflation, even before US economic sanctions, and six million people, 20% of the country's population, emigrated.
Boric, like Xiomara Castro in Honduras, Pedro Castillo in Peru, Luis Arce in Bolivia, came to power amid a tremendous economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Their room for manoeuvre is precarious. The same will be true for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Gustavo Petro in Colombia if they win the elections in 2022. Already the Peronist Alberto Fernandez lost a parliamentary election this year in Argentina.
On the other hand, there are political differences between these governments. Boric has publicly criticized the governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela for their dictatorial traits. His program, which lies between liberal and social democratic, has Iceland and New Zealand as its references. The changes he proposes are so gradual that the police reform has a 10-year term and social security reform has a 40-year term.
If the conditions for a new "pink tide" are limited, the potential for deeper and more significant changes are present in Chile. The situation created by the social outburst of 2019 has not fully ceased.
The previous president Piñera, who declared war on the people and brought the military into the streets, killing dozens of protesters and injuring thousands, was unable to crush the rebellion. The protests ended up questioning the entire political regime and taking up the demands of a decade of struggles against inequality, privatization of social security, student debt, oppression of women and repression of the Mapuche indigenous people. Support for Piñera fell to less than 5% and November saw the largest mobilizations in decades, demanding his resignation.
It was then that the Peace Accord emerged in Congress. The implicit compromise was to save Piñera in exchange for opening the way to a new constitution, within three years and with major restrictions, such as requiring a two-thirds majority of the constituents for any decision. Boric, despite opposition in his own party, Convergencia Social, signed the pact. Even before that, he had voted in favour of a repressive law promoted by Piñera, called the "anti-looting law". These actions not only led dozens of members of his party to resign but also to Boric himself being expelled from Plaza Dignidad and branded a traitor by the demonstrators.
In 2020, the pandemic and the curfew interrupted the protests. No coherent political expression emerged from this process, but the approval in the referendum on the call for a constituent convention with almost 80% of the votes, and then the election of its members, showed that the will for change was still intact. The majority of the elected constituents were independent and the right-wing only managed to elect 38 of the 155 constituents, far below the one-third to be able to block any proposal.
In the absence of an alternative in the presidential and congressional elections of 2021, the space of the left was occupied by the Frente Amplio and the Communist Party, with ample experience co-governing with the centre-left.
"It is in the popular sectors, workers, indigenous peoples, feminists and the youth, where hope rests in this new stage"
In the runoff election, a large part of the old political establishment called to vote for Boric, with a view to joining the new government. Given the trajectory of the young president, it is understandable that they see him as a tool for preserving the system's fundamental features, making only minor changes. Nevertheless, for the millions who have continued to fight to bury the legacy of the dictatorship and the 30 years of the so-called transition, Kast's defeat has been an important battle won.
One of the first challenges for the movement facing the new government will be to free the political prisoners of the 2019 and 2020 protests.
December 19 showed that the streets still belong to the rebellious Chilean people. It is in the popular sectors, workers, indigenous peoples, feminists and the youth, where hope rests in this new stage. If they trust their own forces and manage to articulate a political alternative, they can illuminate new possibilities not only for Chile's future but for the rest of Latin America too.
Simón Rodríguez Porras is a Venezuelan Socialist and writer. He is the author of "Why did Chavismo fail?" and editor at Venezuelanvoices.org.
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