Leftist Gabriel Boric became Chile’s president-elect this week, the man who will run the politics of one of the continent’s largest economies. The youngest president in Chile’s history represents the millions of people who took to the streets in late 2019 against the neoliberal policies of outgoing Sebastian Piñera.
His rival, right-winger José Antonio Kast, conceded defeat on Sunday by garnering just 44 percent of the vote. With 55 percent of the ballots in his favor, Boric obtained the highest number of ballots gained by a Chilean president, which reflects the political change demanded by Chileans since the social outburst of 3 years ago.
When Boric’s triumph was declared, the streets of downtown Santiago and other major cities across the country were filled with people holding flags and chanting songs like “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (The people united will never be defeated), a classic Chilean protest song by the band Quilapayún.
In 2011, when he achieved his first major political triumph by winning the presidency of the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH), he defined himself as a young leftist “eager to change the country.”
But the years to come will not be easy. Today, Boric receives a country ideologically polarized and marked by the traces left by General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990), a constant shadow in Chilean society.
Boric knows that “progress will require broad agreements. We do not want to go off the rails or risk what every family has fought for with their efforts,” as he said in his first speech as president-elect before tens of thousands of supporters.
“We must move forward with every structural change without leaving anyone behind, grow economically, and guarantee a peaceful and safe life,” he added. These comments reflect a more conciliatory approach to neo liberalism than when he said early on in his campaign, “if Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its tomb.”
His administration has great challenges ahead. The first one will be to change the Pinochet-Era Constitution that rules the country.
The drafting of the new text was overwhelmingly approved by Chilean society in a Plebiscite held in October 2020. Boric will have to ensure that the commission drafting the new Constitution represents all sectors of society. He will also have to navigate obstacles from the Chilean right, which accuses the commission of having “extreme positions” under a “re-foundational zeal.”
The young president assumes Chile’s leadership also amid the escalation of the centuries-old Mapuche conflict. One of his great challenges will be to end the violence in the so-called “southern macro zone,” where there is an increase in arson attacks and deaths of Mapuches, farmers, and police officers.
The migration phenomenon will be another issue to which the new administration will have to pay full attention. In the last decade, Chile went from hosting 305,000 migrants to almost 1,500,000 people in 2020, according to the Jesuit Migrant Service (SJM).
The new president will have the great challenge of finding a balance between the national security agenda and migrant human rights. He will also have to contain the economic crisis, exacerbated by the arrival of the pandemic and Piñera’s extreme neoliberal measures.
“Boric’s world has never had the idea of growth as a lighthouse. That aspect has never been at the center of his concerns. But it won’t be enough for him to raise the tax rate if he wants to finance social rights. He will need to grow the economy, and that will be a huge challenge,” Mundo Cristóbal Bellolio, an academic at the School of Government at Chile’s Adolfo Ibáñez University, told the BBC in an interview.
Last but not least, the politician will have to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic and define such important issues as whether to maintain face-to-face classes amid an exponential increase in cases and deaths due to COVID-19.
“No one can force or impose parents, teachers, or students to attend a school if all the security measures are not in place,” said the communist and former presidential candidate, Daniel Jadue.
According to experts, Boric will have to be able to sustain the vaccination policy, which will imply extra tensions. He will need to balance economic reactivation, which is already unsustainable, and mobility restriction measures.
There is a sense of urgency and he must hit the ground running in order to tackle all the problems he faces in order to prevail. Will he manage to tune in with the needs of the poorest in Chilean society? Will he be able to promote from La Moneda the furthering of Latin America’s unity? It remains to be seen.
In a recent interview, Boric recalled that, when he was a child, in the middle of the presentation of a group song, something unexpected happened to him: the other little singers panicked and gave up singing.
Gabriel was left playing alone on stage, and after finishing his torture, he started crying. Today, just like that day, Boric has all eyes on him. The big question is how the young president’s political act will conclude. One thing for sure is that Boric’s victory is making the shadow of Pinochet start to fade; being replaced with hope.
Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English