What does Gabriel Boric’s Presidential Victory Mean for Chile?

Chile’s president-elect, Gabriel Boric, speaking at his victory celebraiton. Photo: Reuters

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES – The picture I saw on the night of December 19th, of a Gabriel Boric talking about the future to a crowd that flooded many of Santiago de Chile’s main streets, was far-removed from the picture I saw two years earlier, when a group of ultra-leftists physically attacked him in a central area in the capital.

Back then, nobody would have bet two cents on the young lawmaker’s political fate: the Frente Amplio coalition had disavowed him, his supporters had deserted him en masse and everywhere he went, he was called a “yellow” traitor to the popular cause. Thugs from the ultra-left had just followed the course of things, in their own way.

How did we get here?

Along with other figures such as Communist Camila Vallejo and Frente Amplio member Giorgio Jackson – who are now two close colleagues – Boric had been a key member of the spirited student movement in 2011, when university students brought the country to a standstill when they demanded the right to free education. That’s how Frente Amplio was born, which managed to elect a dozen lawmakers into office and won 20% of the presidential vote in the 2017 elections.

Then 2019 was a surprising year for everyone. The crisis of the model inaugurated after the dictatorship’s political defeat and a transition to democracy in 1990, manifested itself in strikes, protests, sit-ins at schools, as well as other actions that didn’t let the political class at the helm of the country take a breather.

The situation began to spiral out of control when the Government decreed a 30-peso increase in the price of a metro ticket, and its officials began to add sarcastic jokes to the fire that further fueled public outrage. So, a group of high school students jumped the turnstiles in the metro on October 1st, and their act of rebellion touched society so much that Santiago erupted in protest on October 18th.

As the days passed, and even though there were still some violent acts, peaceful protests prevailed, which were regularly repressed by the Government, and silenced by a right-wing press that was interested in disseminating an image of chaos, when in reality something new was being rebuilt.

In November 2019, the situation was unbearable: a real crisis had broken out where the old was collapsing, but the new still hadn’t been born. That’s when Gabriel Boric, going against what everyone thought, even his own Party’s leadership, pushed a national agreement through that forced every political power who had signed it, and the Government, to commit to a constituent assembly timetable. That’s also when thugs attacked him in broad daylight, when many of his friends abandoned him and the Party practically fell apart. 

Everybody here knows what happened next: there was a call for a new constitution (the current one dated back to Pinochet times), which was passed by an overwhelming majority in a plebiscite. Elections were called to form a Constituent Assembly, in which the Left won a majority, but it was mainly from groups that weren’t organized into political parties.

In early 2021, the idea that a general election would be held in November began to float around, with a presidential runoff election in December. The Left organized into two large blocs. The more moderate bloc joined the old agreement with the central-Left (whose main powers were the Socialist Party and the Christian Democratic Party. The other bloc, further to the Left, was spurred on by the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio. It was in this latter alliance that Communist mayor, Daniel Jadue, appeared as a leading figure, after having had a commendable term in public administration in his community and seemed headed to be a presidential candidate since 2018.

Up until May 2021, nobody had bet on another figure to compete with him from Frente Amplio. Boric himself had begun to collect signatures, although without much luck, just a few weeks before the deadline, and he hadn’t even got a third of the signatures he needed.

That’s when a miracle came: a populist lawmaker who didn’t pay much heed to moral principles, began to blurt out jokes about him from the Frente Amplio. There was an energetic response. In just two weeks, Boric collected all the signatures he needed; in another couple of weeks, he had written up an agenda and, against all predictions, Boric beat Communist Daniel Jadue, by 20 points, in the presidential primary.

That was in July 2021. In November, the presidential election took place where he won 26% of the vote, and a few days ago, he won the runoff with 56% against a misogynist, homophobic and neoliberal far-Right candidate. In order to get this result – the highest electoral turnout in the history of Chile – he not only managed to appeal to the entire Left, but he also managed to mobilize a progressive vote that doesn’t normally happen at the ballot box.

It was a door-to-door campaign, which prevented insults and slander from the ultra-Right opponent and was focused on explaining the agenda and its effects for a population that had been cast to the background, amid a context of great social inequality. His platform captivated everyone, but especially women and young people. In the poorest and more heavily-populated municipalities in the capital, he blazed to victory Sunday with up to 70% of the vote. Regions that had voted for the Right in November, were now supporting him.

The key to this turnaround? One person: an Aymaran woman, Izkia Siches. Carrying her baby in her arms, she traveled up and down the country in a bus, reaffirming what Marti said happens when just causes win over women’s hearts. Izkia is a doctor who led the opposition to the Government’s anti-COVID policies, at the beginning of the pandemic when Chile was one of the hardest-hit places in the world.

Does Communism lie on the horizon?

Cubans living in Chile reared their heads in the ultra-Right candidate’s campaign, arguing that Boric was a communist and that he would end up supporting the Diaz-Canel government. This was also what many columnists, Twitter and Facebook users, etc. also thought, who oppose the Cuban government and normally do so from well-known right-wing positions, even when they normally say that they have already overcome the Left/Right dichotomy. Unfortunately, anti-Cuban political speech – both inside and outside Cuba – boils down to basic anti-Communism from Cold War times.

While Boric began this journey heading an alliance with the Communist Party almost exclusively, his agenda featured substantial differences with the one put forward by candidate Jadue. It was never an anti-capitalist agenda (although it is anti-neoliberal), closer to the European model, especially in Scandinavian countries. In political terms, he always advocated for keeping democratic/liberal policies, but accompanying them with greater room for decentralization, respecting diversity and plurality, and ways for community and labor participation. When he progressed into the second round, he even made his agenda more moderate, so as to involve the less extreme central-Left, while holding onto basic principles of his agenda. I must point out that he has a very highly-qualified technical team, and which is equal in terms of gender.

Within this context, I repeat, political figures from the old central-Left agreement entered a coalition – sure they would make it to the presidency -, which has repeated calls for cooperation. The Communist Party will do this too, which deserves a brief explanation.

The Communist Party of Chile has been a disciplined and honorable member of the political coalitions it has formed a part of since the 1940s. No matter how disgusting its support for Leftist dictatorships may be – such as Cuba – nothing indicates that they have acted differently than when they were part of Popular Unity Allende government (1970-1973) or when they formed part of the New Majority led by Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018).

Regarding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Boric’s stance has been direct and clear, for a long time too: he totally condemns every dictatorship, it doesn’t matter what their political stripes are. A short story about this last point, to finish:

The final primary debate between Boric and Jadue was on July 11, 2021 (the day of mass protests in Cuba) and foreign policy was one of the issues on the table. Faced with the inevitable question about Cuba, Jadue hesitated, but Boric was clear: strict condemnation of the dictatorship and Diaz-Canel. Every political analyst agrees that this was a mortal blow for Jadue, who ended up losing the primary by some 20% a few days later.  Many Cubans who protested that day will perhaps never know how their bravery influenced this victory in Chile for democracy and social justice.

Chile has won itself the right to have a better future. Now comes the hard part: building it. 

Read more from Haroldo Dilla here.