Reports of the new Chilean policy

Image: Magda Ehlers


On the 51st anniversary of the triumph of Popular Unity, Chile crosses the bridge over the long neoliberal torrent

Salvador Allende won the presidential elections in Chile on September 4, 1970, in the midst of great political tension that aroused worldwide interest in what was then known as “the Chilean road to socialism”. Karina Oliva, now a senatorial candidate for “I appreciate the dignity”, a coalition of the Frente Ampla with the Communist Party, talks about what happened 51 years ago: he refers to a “very powerful accumulation of forces from the popular sectors”, which decided to give life to the Popular Unity (UP) government. “It meant a process of counter-hegemonic change in which the subordinate classes decided to stop being so, to be part of a government”, she says.

A cycle that was “brutally interrupted by the military coup and the civil-military dictatorship, which changed the structure of the State and installed a neoliberal model in Chile, not only in terms of economic matrices, but also cultural ones. Citizens were marginalized from politics and the state was dismantled, becoming subordinated to economic power, both national and transnational”.

For two days, on the eve of the 51st anniversary of the UP's triumph, around twenty participants gathered virtually to remember “Chile half a century after Allende: the struggle for democracy and the Constituent Assembly”. The pandemic prevented the event from being held last year, as planned, when the 50th anniversary of the UP's triumph was fulfilled.

A seminar organized by the Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies (CALAS), based at the University of Guadalajara and with three regional offices (in San José, Quito and Buenos Aires). It was with the Centro de Investigaciones Históricos de América Central (CIHAC), at the University of Costa Rica, that the conversation took place. A platform for dialogue, a bridge that united, over the long neoliberal torrent, just over 50 years of history. Two periods of particular political renewal: that of the Popular Unity government (1970-73) and the celebration of the Constituent Assembly currently underway in Chile. Part of her reports were collected in this article.

An oasis of democracy

Until 2019, Chile was seen as an oasis of democracy, as President Sebastián Piñera said on the eve of the social upheaval in October 2019. “There are many explanations for social discontent. But the main reason is the fractures that arose with the overthrow of Salvador Allende”, says Natalia Morales. She talks about Valparaiso. She says it's cold. She is a lawyer, with a degree in Legal and Social Sciences from the University of Chile, and a Master's in Human Rights and Democratization from the University of San Martín in Argentina.

There are many narratives that unite the two periods: the recovery of dignity, social justice, an inclusive policy. The recovery of concepts such as “people” and “revolution”. The rescue of the symbolism of the Popular Unit era, “important to contextualize the content of these demands”, as the song “The right to live in peace”, by Víctor Jara – tortured and murdered by the civil-military dictatorship –, repeated over and over again by the demonstrators. “There is a profound democratizing character of the moment experienced since October 2019, with the development of an unprecedented constituent process”, he says. How does this dialogue with the UP period? “The rescue of these ideas obeys a memory resource. The UP was a moment of expansion of the limits of democracy, economic redistribution and participation of traditionally excluded groups”.

“The legal aspect of the UP initiative is widely highlighted”, recalls Morales, but it was not only about formal aspects, but also about the substantive aspects of democracy, the transformation of the economic and political order, the expropriation of land, the nationalization of the copper and banks.

The Mapuche, with the siege races, felt summoned by the UP and the possibility of recovering their lands. It was a democratizing moment, lived in those thousand days. It was not a project for the future, he asserts, but a real achievement that “was drastically slowed down by the coup d'état, by the civil-military dictatorship, a model that was absolutely the opposite of what the UP government had been promoting”.

The Constitutional Convention, taking place today, “is one of the most democratic moments that Chile has experienced”, he says. He considers that there is a relationship between the UP process and that of Chile in 2019, two periods separated by the long duration of a neoliberal model that, in his opinion, was deepened in the period of transition to democracy.

The end of an experience

“The dictatorship put an end to the experience of the Chilean road to socialism. It imposed a new economic rationale, without worrying about social costs. It justified the use of political violence,” recalls Alejandro Cárcamo, a doctor in history from the Free University of Berlin and professor of history and geography at the University of Los Lagos, in southern Chile. Dictatorship was justified by the struggle against communism.

For Cárcamo, the air control by the Chilean Air Force, the bombing of La Moneda, the force used against legality “are the starting point, the true secret revealed, laying bare the arcane of violence that sustains neoliberal democracy”. The principle of cruelty, the device of terror that began in 1973, "has not ceased". “The neoliberal democratic regime has governed by forgetting the program of the popular government”, he says.

The military junta created a new State, established new social practices, created a new truth: that of Chicago Boys, an economic model that sought a political scenario that would allow it to apply its recipes, that would unite neoliberal economists with authoritarian militaries. The previous State was destroyed, new social practices were established that sought to break all resistance.

The dictatorship looted state-owned companies such as the copper corporation (CODELCO), the LAN airline, the pension system, health and education. A 70% or 80% return was promised in the pension system, but those starting to retire found that they actually only got 30%. “They would have to live out their old age in poverty,” says Karina Oliva.

“This new conception can be seen in the declaration of principles of the Junta de Gobierno”, says Cárcamo. There is no recognition of cultural diversity in Chile. There is a unique Chilean, with a unique history.

A text known as “The brick”, in which the Chicago Boys they present their project to the right-wing candidate, Jorge Alessandri, in the 1970 elections. For Alessandri's advisers, such a project could only be implemented gradually. But Alessandri didn't win. He came in second with 1.036.278 votes. At 1.075.616, Allende won by 1,5%. Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic came in third, and would later play a key role in congressional ratification of the UP's victory. “With Allende's triumph, this project was archived until 1973”, says Cárcamo. You Chicago Boys they needed political conditions that would allow their implementation and the dictatorship accepted the proposal.

accumulated malaise

The return of democracy did not occur in a vacuum. For Oscar Ariel Cabezas, a Ph. The UP project never took up space after the left's return to power. On the contrary – he says – the memory of those struggles has been destroyed.

For Karina Oliva, the return to democracy model, similar to the Spanish one, of a transition agreed through the 1988 plebiscite, generated a tutored democracy. But the citizens began to accumulate uneasiness. “What we could call a 'dismissal process' has begun”, says Oliva.

The neoliberal cycle, which had been tragically installed in Chile, began to be questioned in the student demonstrations of 2011. The whole crisis accumulates in 2020, to which the pandemic is added. “The government finds itself surrounded by such a huge mobilization that until today it has not stopped and the parties agree to promote a new constitution”.

In an agreement on November 15 last year, it was decided to consult the population if they wanted a new constitution and how the Constituent Convention would be composed. “One of the most significant moments in democratic terms, in 2020, is the recognition of a new constitution of parity character (with no more than 55% of one sex); and the initial plebiscite”, “in which the population is consulted if they want to form a constituent”, says Oliva. Those who agreed amounted to 88%, with all delegates popularly elected. Chairs were also reserved for indigenous peoples.

The constituent process

The “destituent” process then begins to walk parallel to a “constituent” cycle. One of the most significant acts of this constituent is the decision to elect Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche woman, as its president.

The right has no more than 20% representation in the Constituent Assembly. Christian Democracy has only one representative. What is happening is an explosion of candidacies from popular sectors. This is the new Chile that emerges.

“Then a debate begins about the elements of democracy that must be guaranteed in the new constitution”, says Oliva. “They are beginning to analyze the need to return to the demands of the popular field, so that politics is not constructed exclusively by the elites”. They work for the creation of a plurinational State that recognizes the rights of different ancestral peoples.

A very tough dispute

The Constituent Convention has to deliver the constitutional text between October and December 2022. Then there will be two or three months to inform the population and hold the “exit plebiscite”, in which it will be approved or rejected. “We estimate that this would be in the second half of 2023”, says Oliva.

Then general elections would be called. But it is not ruled out that the government to be elected in November (or in December, in a possible second round) will be authorized to finish the four-year presidential cycle. “These are, in any case, part of the questions to which we still don't have answers,” he says. “Today's Chile is very different from October 17, 2019. Things we thought were correct are no longer considered correct. Truths have changed. There is feedback from the public”.

The next government will face an economic context of crisis, aggravated by the pandemic. “In Chile, job loss is much more critical than you see, there is a dramatic drop in income”. “Our government program seeks to create the conditions for Gabriel Boric to be elected, but also for him to have strength in Congress”.

"I appreciate the dignity” is the coalition that provides the greatest certainty to govern the citizens, because there is a project for the country behind this political proposal. “The same does not happen with the candidacy of Yasna Provoste, a Christian Democrat from the former world ofconcertation, the coalition that governed Chile in various periods after the dictatorship,” she says.

The convention in whichI appreciate Dignity” elected its candidate attracted more people than all other conventions. Gabriel Boric won the primary with over a million votes. Daniel Jadue, who came in second, got more votes than the most voted candidate in the right-wing primaries. “Today we are a coalition that has a single parliamentary list, something that does not happen with the other sectors. Citizens see in us the possibility of being a government, but also the capacity for dialogue, despite differences”, says Oliva.

“We are preparing the campaign, working to strengthen the program. We think it is essential that we have a program that not only generates stability, but also provides political responses to citizens' demands”. “It's going to be a very tough race, and that's why the parliamentary elections are important. We hope to double our representation in Congress, which will allow us to sustain the campaign in the second round and show our ability to be a government”, concludes Oliva.

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

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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