Chile Elections: “History is Ours, and People Make History!”
"They have force and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested by neither crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history!" These were the final words of Salvador Allende, a socialist President of Chile, who was overthrown in 1973 by a right-wing coup organised by Augusto Pinochet and backed by United States.
More than four-and-a-half decades later, the far-right wing forces, to which Allende was referring to, and the remnants of it have begun to crumble under the weight of the united people’s struggle. In 2019, Chile witnessed a historic mass uprising by students and workers against the increasing inequality, right-wing violence and privatisation of public resources. The protest demanded changes in the current Constitution of Chile that was inherited from Pinochet's bloody dictatorship.
This 2019 movement further consolidated the “social processes,” and in November 2021 General Elections the Chileans vehemently rejected the right-wing forces and elected progressive candidate Gabriel Boric as the next President of Chile. The 35-year-old Boric, a former student leader, represents left wing Social Convergence Party, a part of the Apruebo Dignidad alliance that includes Communist Party of Chile (PCCh).
Boric secured more than 55.86 per cent of the vote, defeating far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast who secured 44.15 per cent votes. This people’s mandate thus puts an end to the right wing conservative regime of Sebastián Piñera.
As a student representative Boric had played a pivotal role in the 2011–2013 Chilean student protests, at the time of Piñera’s regime, against rampant privatisation of education and escalating costs of education.
"If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave!"
Until September 11, 1973, the day of the coup, Chilean society was characterised by increased participation of the working class and toiling masses. It had witnessed the rise of public ownership of production that was once controlled by big corporations. All of this changed with the rise of Pinochet regime and Chile was forcefully thrown into the road of neoliberalism. This free-market economy plan was highly influenced by the ‘Chicago Boys,’ a group of right-wing and neoliberal economists, Milton Friedman‘s disciples, educated in University of Chicago or its allied institutions with the help of Ford Foundation. The birth of this group was not accidental but by a well-planned strategy of the U.S. (allegedly funded under the US State Department’s ‘Chile Project’ #S199900030). And the Chicago Boys were involved in coup against Allende. While the Chicago Boys charted the country’s path to free market, Pinochet cleaned the way by eliminating anyone who became an obstacle.
The brutal legacy of neoliberalism instilled by Pinochet dictatorship is visible across Chile, including in the country’s constitution – which the successive governments since 1990s either failed to change or wilfully supported.
Piñera and far-right Presidential candidate Kast had envisioned this neoliberal model as the future for Chile. Both Piñera and Kast were products of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile that laid the foundation for Chicago Boys. Kast, son of a former German officer with ties to the Nazi Party, is an anti-abortionist, anti-LGBTQ and a vehement supporter of Pinochet. He was the only major presidential candidate to stand against the rewriting of Pinochet era constitution.
Meanwhile, the conservative government of Piñera was marred with corruption and acts of state-led violence against protesters. Piñera granted pardon to 10 convicted criminals, who participated in the torture, murder and disappearance of political opponents during the Pinochet’s dictatorship.
While previous left leaning governments attempts to break free from the neoliberal tentacles of the post-Pinochet dictatorship era achieved some success, Boric and the left wing alliance has a historic task ahead. It has, for now, managed to stop Chile from sliding back to the Pinochet era barbarism, but with deeprooted neoliberalism, Chile’s socio-economic situation is at the verge of collapse.
Chile ranks among the top 20 most unequal countries in the world, with the top 1 per cent holding 33 per cent of the country’s wealth. COVID further aggravated the material troubles of the low-income Chileans who make up the majority of the population. In fact, over half of all workers earned insufficient income in 2020 to keep their families above the official poverty line. A year into the pandemic, almost 30 percent of poor Chileans lacked work, while over three-quarters reported being unable to meet the most basic needs.
This crisis was reflected in the 2019 uprising, which Piñera regime initially attempted to suppress unleashing military and state violence. Tens of thousands of people across Chile rose against poverty wages, a privatised pension system that condemns most retirees to undignified old age, and apartheid-like health and education systems. More than 30 people were killed and hundreds were arrested and subjected to torture. Many cases of sexual violence were reported.
The Left alliance has vowed to take forward the demands of the working class and toiling masses of Chile against the corporate loot and increasing inequality. Their agenda includes increasing public investment in education, health, social security (including pension) and reforming the country’s mining sector that has been ruining the lives of people and the ecology. Boric has promised to expedite the process of creating a more inclusive society by ensuring increasing participation of women, non-binary Chileans and indigenous people. The alliance will have to shoulder the historic responsibility of completing the ongoing process of rewriting the Pinochet era Constitution. In Chile, there is no possibility of transforming the society and bridging inequalities without completely dismantling Pinochet’s neoliberal tentacles.
"If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave," Boric said during a campaign. "Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country."
With the people’s mandate, Boric and the Left alliance has a historic opportunity and responsibility to consolidate the anti-neoliberal resistance and complete the socialist revolution process that was derailed by US-backed Pinochet regime
This article first appeared in Liberation (Central Organ of CPI(ML)), January 2022 Issue.