This new leader’s not (yet) a revolutionary, but his enemies treat him like one
Will Chile’s Gabriel Boric be radical like Salvador Allende was in the 1970s, or will he cave in to the ruling class’s resistance to his rule?
If you only follow what most mainstream media are reporting about Chile’s recent election, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the South American nation was on a path to socialism.
The reality is a bit more complicated.
Gabriel Boric, a 35-year old ex-radical student leader, defied polls to edge out far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast by 11 points on December 19, becoming the country’s youngest-ever president. In the first round, Boric had finished behind Kast, the son of a former German soldier and Nazi Party member.
Scenes of tens of thousands flooding into the streets of downtown Santiago to celebrate Boric’s victory were reminiscent of the enormous demonstrations that erupted in October 2019. Back then, initial protests over a proposal to increase bus fares in the capital quickly spread to virtually every city in the country as the multiple grievances that Chileans had spent years protesting converged into a single demand – changing the country’s constitution.
The 1980 constitution, passed during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was crafted specifically to make it practically impossible to reverse the market reforms and widespread privatizations ushered in by his military regime. Since the return to civilian rule in 1990, elected governments and mass movements alike have pursued moderate reforms on numerous issues from quality and affordability of services like health and education to workers rights and pensions, only to have the courts rule that the constitution would not allow such impositions on the private sector.
Boric, described as a ‘leftist’ who cut his teeth in one of these movements before being elected to Chile’s Congress in 2013, rode this wave of discontent along with a coalition that featured the left-leaning Broad Front bloc as well as the Communist Party of Chile.
This bears some similarities to the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by Pinochet in a US-backed coup three years into his term. Allende earned the ire of the country’s elites as well as Washington by nationalizing Chile’s vast copper reserves and building relations with the likes of Cuba and the Soviet Union, among other socialist-oriented measures.
Despite proclamations about ‘burying neoliberalism,’ though, statements from Boric’s camp have signaled that his government won’t exactly be like Allende’s.
The 35-year-old has promised to tackle inequality, improving services and pensions primarily through tax reforms aimed at the country’s wealthy minority as well as the private firms operating in extractive industries.
I know many Chileans, including members of my family, who are working well into their 70s because they can’t live on the pensions afforded through the privatized pension system, as well as others paying off huge student debts or avoiding doing health checkups to avoid medical bills. If followed through on, these reforms will address some basic yet pressing needs, but are hardly indicative of a path to socialism.
In terms of foreign relations, Boric’s spokespeople have balked at suggestions that it boost ties with left-wing governments in the region, particularly Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, which Boric has criticized on numerous occasions.
Ultimately, to the internal and external groups who planned, participated in and benefitted from Allende’s overthrow and have run Chile since, it won’t matter how radical Boric is. They are concerned with whether or not he will continue to govern in their interests, cater to their whims and ally with their friends. If the market reaction to Boric’s victory is an indicator, then he, like Allende and other leftist governments since, will face opposition from capital and its guardians, no matter how modest his proposals or tepid his approach.
Moreover, whether Boric reverses his personal opinions on Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba matters considerably less than whether he continues Chile’s active participation in destabilizing and overthrowing those governments. This is unlikely, especially given that the pendulum in the region appears to be swinging left, as seen recently in Peru and Honduras, with Brazil and Colombia increasingly looking like they will follow this trend in the coming year.
Just as the US successfully pressured an incoming president to expel communist ministers in 1946 in order to stop Chile from moving closer to the Soviet Union, there should be little doubt that there are similar machinations underway to shape Boric’s policies and cabinet before he takes office in March.
The problem with that approach, however, is that Boric’s administration is not where some of the most radical initiatives will emerge from.
The Constitutional Convention, which was elected to draft a new constitution to be voted on, will culminate in the first half of 2022. The new constitution could fundamentally shake up Chilean society, as what is in play is the entire economic model, including ownership of the country’s resources and basic services. Boric has committed to support this body and what it produces.
Gracias a Elisa Loncón y Jaime Bassa, Presidenta y Vicepresidente de la Convención Constitucional, por recibirme hoy. Sabemos el valor del trabajo de todos los constituyentes y lo que significa para el futuro del país. Haremos todo lo que esté a nuestro alcance para apoyarlo. pic.twitter.com/HctiPuTsVP— Gabriel Boric Font (@gabrielboric) December 21, 2021
So while many who voted for Boric, myself and many of my family and friends included, may not agree with everything he has said or done, and may not even expect he will enact significant reforms, he is only one part of the equation. At the polls, Chileans have reflected the efforts of those on the streets who have risked life and limb to make the country more livable and just. The constitutional convention and the election of Boric are only possible because of this.
That said, there is a real hope that his government will break from the tradition of being merely an instrument of an indifferent and parasitic ruling class, and a puppet of Washington.
Very soon, we will see if Boric’s government caves to the resistance that has already begun to surface, or whether it makes good on its commitments to the people in spite of it. What follows may set in motion events that produce something radical, or even revolutionary. His place in history will be determined then.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.