Chile – crisis without solution



Gabriel Boric seeks a political alignment that proved impossible in Chile

It seemed like it existed: a democratic right. “But it was because they had control, the veto power.” “When they saw that democracy could allow others to take control, then they were against democracy,” said Fernando Atria. I am once again sitting with Fernando Atria, constitutional lawyer, former constituent, at his home in Santiago, in a conversation that has lasted six years. The same common thread as always.

“The Chilean political form lapsed on October 18, 2019, when large protests broke out due to an increase in public transport, which soon turned into a true social eruption,” he told me on May 21, when he was a member of the Constituent Assembly. . Three years earlier, when he unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Chamber of Deputies – and Sebastián Piñera won his second presidential term – he spoke of a change of era in Chilean politics, since the protests of 2011. He realized that the country was subjected to a form of government incapable of producing the significant transformations it needed.

An unresolved crisis

Six years ago, in 2017, you told me that there was an “epoch change” in Chilean politics. But the demands for challenging the neoliberal model could not be met without a new constitution. There was progress in this direction, but I think few people imagined that we would reach the current point, with the constituent process in the hands of Pinochetism. “What now?”, I asked him on the eve of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the coup against Popular Unity, when the drafting of a new proposed constitution entered its final phase.

“I still believe that Chile needs a transformation and that the Constitution prevents it,” said Fernando Atria. “What this situation produced was a progressive delegitimization, until the process exploded. Only then did the possibility of true transformation open up. This possibility has failed and will not materialize now. One of the reasons is that it arrived too late. The crisis will remain unresolved.”

In a Constitutional Council of 50 members, the right has a large majority. Only the Republicans, led by José Antonio Kast, have 22 representatives, in addition to six from UDI and five from National Renewal-Evopoli. Since September 16, they have been voting on (and approving) practically all the reforms that the group made in the most consensual text prepared by a Committee of Experts.

“Those who control the majority in this process are transforming their draft Constitution into a source of sectarian hatred and pettiness,” said Álvaro Ramis, rector of the Academia de Humanismo Cristiano University on September 21. “What we see in the Council is a swamp in which mediocre characters wallow.” In the end, on December 17, Chileans will have to go to the polls again to approve or reject the text presented to them, whose radicality has begun to create discomfort in sectors of the right itself.

50 years after the coup

Fifty years after the coup, it seems that Chile needs to resume the course of reforms interrupted by the dictatorship. Allende's daughter, Senator Isabel Allende, defended her father's work and the Popular Unity program in her September 11 speech. The right responded to this program with a coup, which suspended it for the last 50 years. Don't you think we need to resume this political thread? I asked Fernando Atria at the beginning of our conversation.

"Yes of course. We have to get back on track. Continuing the construction of this social state, that’s what Chile needs”, he told me. “But this isn’t September 12, ’73,” he added. “Allende’s program, the UP experience, must be seen in the context of Chilean development in the 1960th century. In the 64s, during the Frei government (70-XNUMX), there was an attempt to redefine the role of property and the presence of the State in the economy. This had to do with property as a way of redistributing power and was explicit in the case of agrarian reform.”

Senator Isabel Allende recalled this historic process when speaking at La Moneda on September 11th. “My father traveled throughout Chile, he traveled the country for more than half his life, from the mountain ranges and valleys to the sea, from the desert to the ice fields in Patagonia. He represented the North, Central, and South in Congress as a representative and senator; and, in his four presidential campaigns, he listened to the voices of thousands of people and encouraged the building of broad, diverse and plural social movements.” “In those years, 60% of families earned 17% of the country's income, while 2% of families controlled 46% of the national income. Infant mortality exceeded 200 deaths before the age of one for every thousand live births, poverty was brutal and, of course, multidimensional.”

“The Popular Unity government adopted his thinking”, he recalled. “Despite its difficulties and errors, it redistributed income, significantly increased the minimum wage and pensions, democratized credit, nationalized the country's main natural resources, deepened agrarian reform, fought malnutrition, opened spaces for participation in decision-making. decisions, doubled maternity leave, established equal pay between men and women working in the State, increased scholarships and special programs for workers and women at universities, promoted culture, reading and social medicine, gave a of shoes to all the children who didn’t have them, among many other achievements”.

“What happened in Chile in those years,” said Isabel Allende, “became part of the life story of millions of citizens who felt challenged and mobilized in many ways, inspired by Allende.” “Today, this right-wing seeks to distort the facts to blame the UP and President Allende for the coup d'état. But the real people responsible,” she added, “were those who broke the institutional system, bombed this palace, persecuted, tortured, murdered and disappeared thousands of Chileans. And, without a doubt, those who protected them politically and maintained complicit silence in the face of the atrocities that were taking place in the country”.

Democracy and human rights

History shows us that these 50 years of Chile's history were 50 years of struggle to regain a thread that the coup d'état severed. A fight that was never interrupted, not even when the conditions were the most dramatic and everything seemed impossible.

As Allende said: “Social processes cannot be stopped either by repression, crime, or force. History is ours and it is made by the people.” It seems to me that Fernando Atria and Isabel Allende were referring to this path.

Gabriel Boric preferred to talk about democracy and human rights. It's not that Atria and Senator Allende didn't care about the issue. But the approach is different. I asked Fernando Atria if the president's statement of promoting human rights “without placing any ideology behind it” did not end up aligning him with a conservative policy that has been the basis for the violation of these rights in Chile and Latin America. Is this the path to defending human rights? I asked.

He takes a moment… thinks… and says: “Yes and no… I don’t think that an international policy can be defined by the theme of the unconditionality of human rights. But regardless of which side Gabriel Boric is on, there is value in the idea of ​​the unconditionality of human rights.”

He takes a little longer… “Latin America needs to have a left whose democratic commitment is fundamental. That makes it possible to compensate for the damage caused to the Latin American left by the situation in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

He adds: “But, in politics, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on. In its policy aimed at building a Latin American left, the government did not have the momentum I expected.”

Gabriel Boric's speeches must be read: that of September 11th, that of the UN and that of the OAS, when he inaugurated the Salvador Allende door. “Democracy is the only way to move towards a more just and humane society and is therefore an end in itself,” said Boric. It is “a continuous construction, it is a story that never ends”.

It is difficult to find support in history for such claims. The very vagueness of the concept of “democracy” allows for its most varied uses. At a recent meeting of the most rancorous Latin American and Spanish right in Argentina, it was said that “democracy” is the only system “capable of guaranteeing freedom, progress, justice and sustainability”.

At almost the same time, more than 140 academics from 15 countries gathered in Rome on September 20 for a Sino-European human rights seminar titled “Modernization and Diversity of Human Rights Among Civilizations.” Gabriel Boric speaks “for the new generations, for those who grew up or were born in democracy and who, therefore, consider it as a given of reality. What does he say to them? He says that the problems of democracy must always be solved with more democracy and never with less. That “human rights are an ethical basis and an inalienable political choice”, that they have no political color, that they must be promoted and defended at all times and places, that their condemnation must be clear, “regardless of the color of the government that violates them ”. He guarantees that he does not intend to “distribute recipes or teach anyone lessons”.

Of course, none of this is possible. What will he do if the United States does not heed his demands to end illegal sanctions against countries like Venezuela and Cuba (which was subjected to drastic measures more than 60 years ago, practically unanimously condemned by the UN General Assembly) ? Can he do anything? Will he go out into the world repeating his condemnation? He is particularly targeting the government of Nicaragua. He had already done this previously with Venezuela. Will he treat human rights violations in the United States (which is not even a member of inter-American human rights bodies, such as the Convention or the Court) equally and those he reports in other countries?

None of this makes sense. It is not possible to deal with the issue of human rights (if we intend to advance in any way) without considering the political circumstances, the historical scenario. In other words, transforming principles into active and intelligent policies to advance the solution of problems. This ability to apply general concepts to concrete situations is a rare and indispensable quality for any politician.

In the end, Gabriel Boric ends up distributing recipes and giving lessons. It ends up aligned with what is most conservative in Latin America, unable to solve a challenge faced by anyone who intends to do politics: transforming general principles (on which a vast spectrum, right and left, agree) into application practice these concepts. He gave up on this task. A general concept is enough for him, an idea that reminds us of Fernando Atria's introduction: it seemed that a democratic right existed. But this happened because they had control, the veto power.

Rejection from the right

According to this vision, Gabriel Boric seeks a political alignment that has proven impossible in Chile. To their attempts at unity, the right responded by reading again in Congress the controversial resolution of August 22, 1973, in which the foundations for the September coup were laid, triggering an angry response from parliamentarians who represent, in some way, what can be considered as forces close to Allende's project. In its text, the right blames Salvador Allende for the institutional rupture, as justification for the coup.

Just a month ago, last August, General Ricardo Martínez, former army commander, published a modest and controversial 140-page text entitled “An army for all”, of notable political importance. In it, he redefines the role of the army in turbulent political scenarios, including the period of Popular Unity. Over the past 50 years, he said, “a succession of relevant events has involved the army.” But none of them was more important for the life of the nation and its citizens than “the coup d'état of September 11, 1973, in which the commander-in-chief of the army assumed the role of president of the government junta”.

General Martínez claims the role of two of his predecessors in command of the army, both murdered by right-wing civil and military conspiracies: General René Schneider (in whose assassination, he assures, civilians and active-duty military personnel participated, with the support of the CIA ) and General Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor in command of the army and who was murdered with his wife, in September 1974, in Buenos Aires, where they took refuge after the coup. A “cowardly, cruel and repudiable” crime, says General Martínez, “an institutional shame”.

It is not possible to dwell here on the reflections of a book full of lessons, which seem to me much more useful for the application of a human rights policy to the case of Chile than the repeated defense of an idea, without any basis in concrete analysis. . I think, for example, that if Gabriel Boric had invited General Martínez to join him at La Moneda on the 50th anniversary of the coup, he would have sent a much more lucid and powerful message of unity to the citizens than his repeated speech of Slogans.

“There was an attempt to reverse responsibility for the tragedy that we all experienced during the darkest 17 years of our history”, denounced Senator Allende in her speech. “The real people responsible were those who broke institutions, bombed this palace, persecuted, tortured, murdered and disappeared thousands of Chileans,” she said.

This political scenario has made it clear that the slogan “never again” – repeated over and over again – is nothing more than a wish, which does not give Chileans any guidance on how to achieve it. There are only two paths: either renounce any significant change in the country so that this right does not feel threatened; or the necessary political force is created to promote these changes, without another coup being able to stop it.

But the slogan, empty of political content, contributes little – or nothing – to achieving what is desired. Just as a vague conception of democracy leaves no guidance for a population eager to conquer it. Perhaps all of this has a lot to do with the difficulties of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the coup d'état, without any political objective – replaced by the president's good wishes – to mobilize the population to return to the lost path.

A wrong door

The fiftieth anniversary celebration coincided with the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where the Chilean president traveled a week later. There, he reiterated his speech: the problems of democracy are solved with more democracy; human rights have no political color… He criticized the sanctions imposed by Washington on Cuba and Venezuela. He did not speak about those applied against Nicaragua.

But the final act of the fiftieth anniversary was still pending. It was held at OAS headquarters in Washington. Gabriel Boric noted, on his “X” page, that the OAS had named its main door in honor of former president Salvador Allende, along with 32 countries that adhered to this decision. And he posed, shaking hands with the secretary general of the OAS, under a beautiful tapestry with the image of President Allende.

Fifty years later, the idea of ​​transforming Allende's image into a door at the OAS seems unfortunate to me... It is inevitable to compare it with another door – so remembered today –, that of Morandé 80, through which the body of President Salvador Allende was removed. The image of that door (which Pinochet ordered closed) filled Chileans with memories – and lessons.

What lesson can we learn from the Salvador Allende door of the OAS, inaugurated by a secretary general committed to the coup d'état in Bolivia, in an institution whose discredit could not be greater in Latin America? The OAS does not deserve this door, nor does Allende this scorn.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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