HAVANA TIMES – On Sunday December 19, 2021, Gabriel Boric, leader of a Leftist coalition, won Chile’s presidential election with 55.9% of the vote defeating conservative and far-Right candidate Jose Antonio Kast in one of the country’s most polarized presidential runoff elections in years.
At just 35 years old (the minimum legal age to become president in Chile) and a graduate of Universidad de Chile’s Law Department, Boric will become the youngest president in this country’s history, during a time when the country is undertaking constitutional reforms to replace the 1980 Constitution, which was inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship.
The Cuban government congratulated the new leader after the announcement of his victory. On Twitter, president Miguel Diaz-Canel sent a warm-hearted congratulations and confirmed the “will to extend bilateral relations and cooperation efforts between both nations and Governments”; while ambassador Bruno Rodriguez expressed “the desire to carry on strengthening historic ties of friendship between our nations.”
However, Boric has publicly declared his stance against human rights violations in Cuba and the Government’s response to social protests on July 11th.
What do we know about the new president?
He is the son of Luis Javier Boric Scarpa, a chemical engineer, and Maria Soledad Font Aguilera, a secretary; and he is the eldest of three brothers from a middle-class family with Croatian and Spanish roots. He studied in his hometown Punta Arenas – buried in the Magallanes and Chilean Antartic region – between 1991 and 2003, where he was linked to the Federation of High School Students, and in 2004, he moved to the capital to study at university.
His presidency is preceded by his background as a student leader in the 2011 protests, when university students demanded free and quality education, where he acted alongside Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson. Between 2010 and 2011, he acted as the University Senator at Universidad de Chile – the institution’s participative body – and in 2012, he became president of this university’s Federation of Students (FECh). In 2014, he was elected a lawmaker by the Magallanes constituency.
In April 2012, Camila Vallejo, vice-president of FECh, and Carol Cariola were welcomed by Fidel Castro, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Young Communist League (UJC), in Cuba. Boric was not a member of this delegation.
Gabriel Boric belongs to a generation of young politicians who disagree with the path their country has taken in recent decades. He has won the presidential seat with a transformative and ambitious agenda which seeks to deal with many of the demands that Chileans made when they took to the streets in 2019. He represents a renewed Left, which has had to moderate its position in order to win the vote of the political center. His candidancy stirred the interest of progressive groups worldwide and he has won the support of internationally acclaimed figures, such as Nobel Prize in Economics winner Joseph Stiglitz and French economist Thomas Piketty.
What does Boric think about Cuba?
The leader’s stance on the Caribbean island has a history, that also includes a critique of the situation in Venezuela and Nicaragua. He has closely followed events in these countries.
On August 16th 2018, he published the article “The Left and our obligation to uphold a single standard of human rights” on his blog Politica – Poesia – Alegria. While he was motivated by a national debate in Chile about human rights and national memory, the then Movimiento Autonomista representative questioned whether “a Leftist party always questions the Right for its complicity with dictatorships in Latin America’s Southern Cone during the second half of the 20th century, but isn’t able to recognize limited freedoms or human rights violations when these are committed by Governments they consider their allies.” He directly criticized the weakening of democratic pillars in Venezuela, the State’s violent repression in Nicaragua and the one-party state in Cuba, with the limited freedoms these result in.
On July 8, 2019, he tweeted about the report by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, which affirmed that: “Nicolas Maduro’s Government is seriously violating human rights. We need to condemn this from the Left, without doubts or nuances,” and he insisted that defending human rights should be a universal, indivisible struggle, far-removed from any kind of double standard.
During the presidential debate in the primaries, which the Frente Amplio and Chilean Communist Party took part in, on July 11th 2021 (the day of mass protests in Cuba), he said it was important not to look for an electoral advantage based on a nation’s drama, and invited us to keep a single stance: “I stand with the Cuban people who are protesting against Diaz-Canel’s government, today,” he said. “Diaz-Canel’s call upon Cubans to confront protestors and saying that the streets only belong to a group of people and not to those who have the right to protest, is wrong, in my point of view.”
He explained that the US blockade as well as human rights violations, including the lack of freedom of the press and shortages in Cuba right now, are reprehensible. As we can see, one complaint doesn’t contradict the other. “When I see the (Chilean) Communist Party greet the Cuban Government, via its official channels, when there are protests against the Cuban Government, is a mistake, I believe, and I hope that they reflect upon this, because we have to always defend a nation’s right to protest,” he stressed and clearly put himself on the side of the Cuban people.
His stance on the island may be interpreted as a real turn about or as part of an electoral game to remove himself from the ghost of Communism. Will he continue to hold this stance against the Cuban Government and its violation of human rights, once in office?