Chile and Brazil – incomplete democratizations

Image: Hugo Fuentes


The agenda for the 2022 election in Brazil cannot be Chile's, but it can learn from Chile

The inauguration of Gabriel Boric in Chile marked a new moment for the incomplete democracies of South America. I remember, a little less than a decade ago, a trip to Santiago, when some colleagues from the Catholic University took me to see the famous side door through which Salvador Allende's body was removed shortly after he was murdered by the coup plotters of 11/1973. September XNUMX. The story was simple. Augusto Pinochet had the side door of La Moneda removed to try to erase the memory of the act.

After redemocratization, it took ten years and two Concertação governments for Ricardo Lagos, the third democratically elected president, to have the side door of La Moneda rebuilt. As we walked towards the door, I noticed a certain fear or apprehension among the Chilean colleagues, in what still seemed like a defiant act in the Chilean political conjuncture. So it was with great joy and satisfaction that I saw Gabriel Boric walking towards the statue of Salvador Allende. Chile finally seems to have overcome the shackles of its democratization. The question is: will Brazil be able to do the same?

Chile and Brazil had partial democratizations, although in different ways. In the Chilean case, the military inscribed the dictatorship within the constitutional text. They created an electoral system resistant to political reforms, insofar as it was necessary in each of the districts to have more than 70% of the votes to achieve majority representation. Thus, the Chilean right maintained the right of veto to constitutional changes in Congress and managed to prevent two central changes in the political order in the country. A completely anti-meritocratic private higher education system and a pension system that benefited the market and plunged retirees into poverty could not be changed in the democratic order.

Since the beginning of the last decade, Chileans began to mobilize against the situation of constitutional immobility in which they found themselves. In the early years of the decade, university students began demonstrations in front of La Moneda Palace to demand free and quality higher education. These demonstrations ended up cornering the first government of Sebastián Piñera. But even more significant was the inability of the Bachelet government and the concertation to move towards a democratic and progressive constitution.

This only occurred after the demonstrations that mobilized the country at the end of 2019 and which effectively led to a constituent assembly under the control of democratic forces. Gabriel Boric is a direct result of Chile's will to untie a democracy suffocated by the forces of the past, even though he is the one among the student leaders who decided to move towards the rules of institutionality. The result is clear. Boric brings the Mapuches, women and new and old economic demands for equality, free higher education and social protection into power, which the Pinochet constitution prevented from being implemented.

Brazil seems to be a case worth comparing with Chile. For nearly two decades we lived under the illusion that we had defeated the right. Between 1994 and 2014, Brazil lived with the idea that we had defeated the right in the 1987 and 1988 Constituent Assembly and that the foundations of a democratic system had been laid. There were problems, it is true, but the political scientists as a whole minimized problems such as Article 142 and the possibility of military intervention.

It seemed that the democratic consensus was too strong for us to consider the military's return to influence. At the front social, Brazilian democracy made great advances. We took 20 million Brazilians out of poverty, we reduced equality. But a regressive tax system remained untouched and economic elites managed to mobilize the middle class against the leftist government and social policies.

So what was the big difference between Chile and Brazil? There are two differences and they will determine the situation this year. In Chile, the right tied up the possibilities of constitutional change, which made possible a strong movement for institutional renewal. In Brazil, the right was ashamed and hid behind the center until 2013 and 2014, when right-wing movements like the MBL were created and Aécio Neves broke with the tradition of recognizing electoral defeats.

What we've seen since then suggests not a resurgence of the right, but the fact that the right knew how to choose a strategy to cover up its positions. With the Bolsonaro government, we realized for the first time since 1985, the agenda of the Brazilian right, in the area of ​​human rights, environment, higher education, among other areas. The agenda for the 2022 election in Brazil cannot be Chile's, but it can learn from Chile on two issues: that the conditions for a left-wing government have to be created in a dual strategy, institutional and extra-institutional, and that it it is possible to reconcile with the agendas that are the most expensive for the population, in the case of Chile, higher education and retirement.

In the case of Brazil, after the Bolsonarist disaster, the challenge of determining priority agendas will not be easy, but it must be pursued and must involve social agendas. In any case, Chile and Brazil will remain polarized. Boric defeated the extreme right and Lula, by all indications, will too. All the two right will try to boycott the new governments and we can be sure that in Brazil this will be done in a more destructive way. Creating the conditions for a long-term defeat of the undemocratic right in Brazil represented by Bolsonarism seems to be the priority at this moment so that the democratic order can move forward.

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil (Brazilian Civilization).


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