As featured in Edition 40, available here.
BY CATHARINA SCHAUFLER-MENDEZ (3rd year - PAIS and GSD - Vienna, Austria)
Who is he?
Gabriel Boric is about to become Chile’s youngest president ever at 36 years old, after winning the presidential election run-off vote this past December. He defeated his opponent, José Antonio Kast, in the second round of elections, obtaining 56% of the votes and being elected with the highest number of votes in Chile’s history. He succeeds outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, an ultra-conservative billionaire, after running on an anti-neoliberal platform as the presidential candidate of the Apruebo Dignidad coalition, which includes the Broad Front and the Communist Party. Boric has pledged to end the neoliberal model, which massively stratified Chilean society since its establishment during the Pinochet dictatorship, and has persisted even after the country’s transition to democracy, further exacerbating inequalities. He has stated that, “if Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave”.
Boric’s political engagement has an extensive history. As president of the University of Chile Student Federation, he rose to prominence as a leading figure during the 2011-2013 Chilean student protests, which fought to end for-profit higher education among other things. In 2014, while still in his twenties, he became a lower-house legislator, joining the National Congress and representing Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes. He is also a founding member of Social Convergence, one of the parties constituting the Broad Front, a left wing coalition, formed in 2018. In 2019, during civil unrest in the nation, Boric was at the forefront of negotiating an agreement that laid the foundations for a referendum to change the Constitution, another remnant of the dictatorship.
What does he represent?
To the people of Chile, Boric represents a new kind of political leader: young, progressive, and an agent of the people. Boric has for years now fought for the rights to free education and the abolishment of student loans, a crucial issue amongst young Chileans. He has also called for the establishment of a universal, publicly-funded healthcare system, similar to the NHS, promoted a law for increasing the minimum wage and establishing a 40-hour working week, and has proposed creating a state-run lithium extraction company in an effort to protect the environment from foreign and private interests, all issues of incredible importance among Chilean society. Additionally, he supports the recognition of LGBT rights, including legally recognising non-binary identities, expanding current gender identity law, and same-sex marriage. Due to his support of abortion rights, Boric also has a large female supporting base.
Will he deliver on his promises?
With only a few weeks remaining until his inauguration in March, Boric has already softened some of his more radical views. He has even thrown investors a ‘bone’ by his choice of Mario Marcel, the current Central Bank head, as the new Finance Minister. However, this may be less reflective of Boric’s own views, instead being a necessity, as he is faced with not only a divided nation, but a fractured Parliament. Boric needs to create a path for dialogue with the opposition parties in parliament, as his coalition only has 37 of the 155 seats in Congress, meaning in order to pass legislation, Boric will most likely have to shift towards the centre. However, Boric still plans on putting Chile down a path of sustainable growth through a fair redistribution of wealth.
What does the future hold for Chile and Latin America?
As President, Boric will be contending with various challenges, including inflation, an overheating economy, a fragmented Congress, heightened inequalities, climate catastrophe, and the effects of Covid-19. Boric must refrain from becoming just another politician making promises he couldn’t keep, betraying the very people that helped elect him by bowing down to neoliberal and centrist interests. The repercussions of Covid-19 – recessions, corruption, poverty, insecurity, low-employment – will continue to tear through the nation, and the continent as a whole. What is desperately needed is a divorce from neoliberal policies and a focus on the people and the environment. There is tentative hope for this, as the Latin American left sees its resurgence. Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Panama, and now Chile have seen a left-wing tide take over, with Brazil and Colombia likely candidates as well. This can be attributed to the new left-wing embracing feminism, environmentalism, and social justice, attracting masses of young voters. What is required now is for leaders like Boric not to turn their backs on their people.
Image: Flickr (Diputadas y Diputados de Chile)