Chile’s rebellion against neoliberalism doesn’t end with Boric’s election
Supporters of Gabriel Boric watch in a screen as Chile's outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, left, talks to Boric to congratulate him for his victory in the presidential run-off election in Santiago, Dec. 19, 2021. The banner at left is that of the Mapuche Indigenous peoples, the flag at center belongs to the Communist Youth of Chile, and the flag at right is that of the Boric campaign. | Matias Delacroix / AP

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” — Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852

Several weeks ago, when neo-fascist candidate Jose Antonio Kast was winning the first round of the country’s presidential elections, Chile’s 2019 rebellion aimed at burying neoliberalism appeared to be at an end.

However, it has been greatly reinvigorated with the landslide victory of the Apruebo Dignidad (“I Vote For Dignity”) candidate, Gabriel Boric, who obtained 56% of the vote in the second round—nearly five million votes, the largest ever in the country’s history. At 35, Boric is the youngest president ever.

That result would have been greater had it not been for the policy of the minister of transport, Gloria Hutt Hesse, deliberately offering almost no public transport services, especially buses to the poor barrios, aimed at minimizing the number of pro-Boric voters, hoping they would give up and go back home.

Throughout election day, there were constant reports of people in the whole country but particularly at Santiago bus stops bitterly complaining of having to wait for two and even three hours for buses to go to polling centers. Thus, there were justified fears they would rig the election, but the determination of poor voters was such that the maneuver did not work.

Kast, with the complicity of the right-wing and the mainstream media, waged one of the dirtiest electoral campaigns in the country’s history, reminiscent of the U.S.-funded and U.S.-led “terror propaganda” mounted against socialist candidate Salvador Allende in 1958, 1964, and 1970.

Through innuendo and the use of social media, the Kast camp spewed out crass anti-communist propaganda, charged Boric with assisting terrorism, suggested that Boric would install a totalitarian regime in Chile, and so on.

The campaign sought to instill fear primarily in the petty bourgeoisie by repeatedly predicting that drug addiction, crime, and narco-trafficking would spin out of control if Boric became president—even implying that Boric himself takes drugs.

Besides this, the mainstream media assailed Boric with insidious questions about Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba—to which Boric did not produce the most impressive answers.

The mass of the population saw through it and knew that the best way to ensure the aims of the social rebellion of October 2019 was by defeating Kast and his brand of unalloyed “Pinochetismo.”

As the electoral campaign unfolded, Kast backtracked on some of his most virulent statements, but people knew that if he won he would not hesitate to fully implement them.

Among many other gems, Kast declared his intention as president to abolish the ministry for women, same-sex marriage, the (very restrictive) law on abortion, eliminate funding for the Museum in Memory of the Victims of the Dictatorship, and the Gabriela Mistral Centre for the Promotion of Arts, Literature and Theatre, withdraw Chile from the International Commission of Human Rights, close down the National Institute of Human Rights, cease the activities of FLACSO (a prestigious Latin American center of sociological investigation), build a ditch in the north of Chile (along the border with Bolivia and Peru) to stop illegal immigration, and empower the president with the legal authority to detain people in places other than police stations or jails (that is, restore the illegal procedures of Pinochet’s police).

Kast’s intentions left no doubt as to what the correct option was in the election. I was, however, flabbergasted with various leftist analyses advocating not to vote, in one case because “there is no essential difference between Kast and Boric” and even worse, another suggested that “the dilemma between fascism and democracy was false” because Chile’s democracy is defective.

My despair with such “principled posturing,” probably dictated by the best of political intentions, turned into shock when on election day itself a Telesur correspondent in Santiago interviewed a Chilean activist who only attacked Boric with the main message of the feature being “whoever wins, Chile loses.”

The center-left Concertacion coalition that in the 1990-2021 period governed the nation for 24 years and bears a heavy responsibility for maintaining and even perfecting the neoliberal system, expressed its preference for Boric openly and assiduously courted support for him in the second round. Those who believe there is no difference between Kast and Boric, do so not only from an ultra-left stance but also by finding Boric guilty by association, even though he has not yet had the chance to even perpetrate the crime.

This brings us to a central political issue: What has the October 2019 rebellion and all its impressively positive consequences posed for the Chilean working class? What is posed in Chile is the struggle not (yet) for power but for the masses that for decades were conned into accepting (however grudgingly) neoliberalism as a fact of life, until the 2019 rebellion that was the first mass mobilization not only to oppose but also to get rid of neoliberalism.

The rebellion extracted extraordinary concessions from the ruling class: a referendum for a Constitutional Convention entrusted legally with the task to draft an anti-neoliberal constitution to replace the 1980 one promulgated under Pinochet’s rule.

The referendum approved the proposal of a new constitution and the election of a convention by 78% and 79% respectively in October 2020. The election of the Convention gave Chile’s right wing only 37 seats out of 155, that is, barely 23%, whereas those in favor of radical change got an aggregated total of 118 seats or 77%.

More noticeably, Socialists and Christian Democrats, the old Concertacion parties, jointly got a total of 17 seats. The biggest problem remains the fragmentation of the emerging forces aiming for change since together they hold almost all the remaining seats, but structured in easily 50 different groups.

Nevertheless, in tune with the political context, the convention elected Elisa Loncon Antileo, a Mapuche Indigenous leader, as its president, and there were 17 seats reserved exclusively for the Indigenous nations and elected only by them—a development of gigantic significance.

The mass rebellion also obtained other concessions from the government and parliament, such as the return of 70% of their pension contributions from the private “pension administrators,” which rightly Chileans see as a massive swindle that has lasted for over three decades. This has dealt a heavy blow to Chile’s financial capital.

A proposal in parliament for the return of the remaining 30% (at the end of September 2021) failed to be approved by a very small margin of votes.

The scenario depicted above suddenly became confused with the results of the presidential election’s first round, where not only did Kast come out first (with 27% against 25% for Boric), but also elected deputies and senators for Chile’s two parliament chambers.

Though Apruebo Dignidad did very well, winning 37 deputies (out of 155) and five senators (out of 50), the right-wing Chile Podemos Mas (Pinera’s supporters) got 53 deputies and 22 senators, whilst the old Concertacion got 37 deputies and 17 senators.

There are several dynamics at work here. With regards to the parliamentary election, traditional mechanisms and existing clientelist relations apply, with experienced politicians exerting local influence and getting elected.

In contrast, most of the elected members of the Convention are an emerging bunch of motley pressure groups organized around single-issue campaigns (pensions, privatization of water, price of gas, abuse of utility companies, defense of Mapuche ancestral lands, state corruption, and so forth), which did not stand candidates for a parliamentary seat.

A most important fact was Boric’s public commitment in his victory speech to support and work together with the convention for a new constitution. This has given and will give enormous impetus to the efforts to constitutionally replace the existing neoliberal economic model.

What the Chilean working class must address is its lack of political leadership. They do not have even a Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP), as the people of Honduras did to fight against the coup that ousted Mel Zelaya in 2009. The FNPR, made up of many and varied social and political movements, evolved into the Libre Party that has just succeeded in electing Xiomara Castro as the country’s first female president.

The obvious possible avenue to address this potentially dangerous shortcoming would be to bring together in a national conference all the many single-issue groups together with all social movements and willing political currents to set up a “Popular Front for an Anti-Neoliberal Constitution.”

After all, they have taken to the streets for two years to bury the oppressive, abusive, and exploitative neoliberal model, and it is becoming clearer what to replace it with: a system based on a new constitution that allows the nationalization of all utilities and natural resources, punishes the corrupt, respects the ancestral lands of the Mapuche, and guarantees decent health, education, and pensions.

The road to get there will continue to be bumpy and messy, but we have won the masses; now, with a sympathetic government in place, we can launch the transformation of the state and build a better Chile.

This article first appeared at Reprinted here from Morning Star.


Francisco Dominguez
Francisco Dominguez

Francisco Dominguez is head of the Research Group on Latin America at Middlesex University. He is also the national secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in the U.K. and co-author of "Right-Wing Politics in the New Latin America" (Zed Books, 2011). Dominguez came to Britain in 1979 as a Chilean political refugee.