Socialist and former student leader Gabriel Boric is set to become Chile’s youngest ever president, inheriting a legacy of neoliberalism and Western interventionism. Curtis Daly explores this important election and the years that lead up to it.
At the age of 35, Gabriel Boric will become Chile’s youngest ever president – winning on the back of huge support from young people. But after decades of free market economics, can Boric overcome deep structural inequalities, and will he face strong opposition to his reforms?
Gabriel Boric, a former student leader, defeated far- right candidate and staunch Augusto Pinochet supporter José Antonio Kast.
The election was clear, Boric – a socialist whose policies include higher taxes and public spending – made commitments to women and indigenous peoples rights and stood up for the young.
On the other side, Kast threatened to dig ditches across borders to stop the flow of migrants and support neoliberal economic policies similar to Pinochet’s under military rule. Kast has also claimed that “what is best for society is that couples be heterosexual”.
So let’s take a look at what led to this historic election.
In 1973, Augusto Pinochet, who was commander in chief of Chile’s army at the time – took power in a coup against socialist president Salvador Allende. The move was promoted and supported by the US at the time. The following year Pinochet progressed to supreme head of the nation.
Under his dictatorship, Pinochet went after socialists, unions and critics. It’s estimated that 3,065 people were killed. Including those that were tortured, imprisoned, or had their human rights violated, the total number of victims exceeded 40,000.
A recurring attack against international left-wing politics is that socialist leaders end up creating dictatorships. That socialism or communism somehow coincides with anti-democratic societies and always leads to human rights abuses. The west often accuses socialists of being more inclined towards dictatorialism, yet ironically Pinochet was elevated to his position in part because of support from the West.
Notably, Margaret Thatcher was extremely close with him. The then prime minister had no regard for human rights; her support came from their mutual hatred of Socialism.
Both worked closely together during Pinochet’s tenure as the ‘supreme leader’. Thatcher praised his actions when it came to the Falklands War, which included providing intelligence information on Argentina’s air force.
In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London for his alleged crimes against Spanish citizens. Unfazed, Thatcher still strongly defended him, calling for his release. She also sent him a bottle of scotch in solidarity.
BAE Systems is the largest British arms manufacturer. Back in 2005, US banking records revealed the company was funneling money to Pinochet and groups linked to him. Investigations found that more than £1m was sent to the dictator and some of that money was laundered through a company registered in the Virgin Islands.
When looking at the context of Chile, and other countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, it is in fact capitalism, not socialism, that ends up being in bed with dictatorships.
The US loves to install their own corporate backed leaders to loot nations of their wealth, and the case with Pinochet was no different.
Birth of Neoliberalism
A group of Chilean economists called the ‘Chicago Boys’ were integral to the free market policies of Pinochet. The name came from the fact that the majority of them studied at the University of Chicago. Their influence had become exponential after Pinochet hired them to become ministers and advisers.
This was the beginning of the free market neoliberal period. The public sector was eviscerated, and state controlled companies dropped from 300 to 24. Social security was slashed along with education and infrastructure.
Public universities were defunded and two thirds of them were privatized. It was argued that the privatization of the education sector would see costs decline and quality improve; obviously that never materialized. The average cost of a university course was 41% of the average income, when beforehand it was free.
The lasting effects of neoliberalism caused Chile to become massively unequal. The combined wealth of Chilean billionaires in 2014, of which there were only 12, was the same as 25% of GDP.
In 2019, the bottom 50% only have a 2.1% share of the national income.
“It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years”
Nationwide protests erupted in October 2019 after the rightwing Piñera government decided to increase tube (metro) fares by 30 pesos. One of the main chants was “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years”, alluding to the fact that it’s been 30 years since the end of Pinochet’s regime but that the noeliberal policies he enacted have continued to lead to inequality and austerity.
This has happened because after the return to democracy in the 90’s, successive governments implemented largely cosmetic rather than structural changes.
That’s why this year’s election was so important. The result potentially fosters a new age – one that seeks to break from the free market dogma that began under the dictatorship and continues to this day.
This election was on one side, filled with hope, and the other with division.
In Chile, for now, hope has won, at least on the surface. His moderate left wing stances aren’t revolutionary, but they are much needed reforms after decades of right wing rule.
As we know from history, any country outside the West that even so much as sniffs socialism, there’s a very real threat of those governments being overthrown by the US – with the compliance of the UK.
Our media usually pushes the false narratives of ‘election irregularities’ and socialist dictatorships, which is ironic given all the Western- backed coups around the world.
Will we see forces that wish to stop Boric and his progressive changes? Will there be disinformation campaigns in Western media? Or will this be a success story that strengthens the left internationally? That remains to be seen.
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