Gabriel Boric's Challenges

Image: Hugo Fuentes


Faced with so many complex challenges, Chile de Boric will be followed with curiosity and enthusiasm by progressives from all over the world

Chileans went to the polls this past Sunday and the poll confirmed what all the polls had already pointed out: leftist Gabriel Boric, 35, will be the country's new president. He will command a nation of more than 19 million people, with the highest income per capita and the fifth largest GDP in Latin America. His arrival in power puts an end to two historical cycles in Chile and opens a new period in that country.

The first cycle that ends is that of neoliberal Chile. With the 1973 coup d'état, General Augusto Pinochet established a long and violent dictatorship that made the country the world's first laboratory for neoliberal experiments. It is quite true that in Argentina, where another coup took place three years later, attempts were also made to implement the formulas of a minimal state, also with fire and iron. But there is no comparison with the Chilean case, in which the dismantling of the socialist State that Salvador Allende was trying to carry out and the incipient Welfare State that President Eduardo Frei Montalva created in the 1960s was very successful.

Under the lessons of Prof. Milton Friedman, from the University of Chicago, Chile was radically transformed, becoming an economy whose priority was to create a good business environment for international investors, even if, for that, fundamental public policies for the promotion of well-being, such as health, education and social security were converted into commodities through radical privatization processes. Despite economic growth, the projection of the Chilean economy on the world stage and the country's entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Chile continued to be marked by social inequality and alarming levels of poverty.

The large street demonstrations, led mainly by students, from the 2000s, already pointed to the exhaustion of that model and the desire to end that cycle. Several mobilizations for the right to public, free and quality education have become historic in the country. Among them the so-called “Penguin Revolution”, led by high school students in 2006, and the major protests by university students in 2011. From that movement emerged a new generation of leaders, such as current deputies Camilla Vallejo and Karol Cariola, deputy Giorgio Jackson and newly elected President Gabriel Boric. The arrival of that generation at the helm of the country also ended that second cycle of militancy in the opposition. And opens another, much more complex.

There are many challenges for the Boric government. One of them is to guarantee the approval, in a popular referendum, of the new Constitution. It is being drafted by an assembly with gender parity and representation of indigenous peoples. From it it will be possible, effectively, to redefine the role of the State in the economy and in the promotion of collective social well-being. Recovering the centrality of public power in the provision of public services such as education, health and social security is a desire of a large part of Chilean society. A task that the governments of the concertation failed to achieve in the twenty years they ruled the country.

It will also be up to the Boric government to ensure the expansion of popular participation mechanisms in decision-making processes, multiplying the instruments of direct democracy, such as local deliberative councils, in a scenario where new social forces demand much more interlocution between the State and civil society. Another extremely complex challenge will be to redefine the roles of the Armed Forces and the militarized police in a democratic society with diverse social demands.

In the economy, the challenges will not be smaller. Chile needs to diversify its productive matrix, move beyond mining and agro-industry, export more than copper, cellulose, fruits, wines and fish. But how can the export basket be expanded given the country's historically subordinate position in the world economy, as is the case with all of Latin America?

How, in the midst of a knowledge society, can we generate our own technologies and patents and reduce our dependency on transnational corporations and governments of other countries? And how to redefine the country's economic vocation at a time when environmental preservation is imperative? It will not be surprising if the new Chilean Constitution declares, as the Ecuadorian Magna Carta already does, nature as a subject of rights, which must have its productive and reproductive cycles respected. Add to this the challenge of changing the development model while also respecting native peoples and their territories, their cultures and economies, their ways of being and living.

Countless other challenges are presented in this cycle that opens from now on. A few days ago Chile approved the legalization of abortion, but there are many other demands from Chilean women that have not yet been addressed in a society marked by patriarchy. They continue to work more and earn less than their peers, being primarily responsible for the care of children, the sick and the elderly, and remain victims of various types of violence.

Last but not least, the Boric government is presented with the issue of immigration and the challenge of reconnecting Chile with Latin America. The country belonged to Unasur and is part of Celac. But it has never been a member of Mercosur and, in recent decades, has prioritized bilateral agreements with the US, the European Union and countries in the Asia-Pacific region. A reorientation of the country towards its closest neighbors could be healthy not only for Chile, but for all of Latin America.

Faced with so many complex challenges, Boric's Chile will be followed with curiosity and enthusiasm by progressives from all over the world. In a way like it happened with the Allende government, half a century ago.

*Wagner Iglecias is a professor at EACH-USP and at the Graduate Program in Latin American Integration at the University of São Paulo (PROLAM USP).

Originally published on Nexus Newspaper .


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