If you haven’t heard of Gabriel Boric yet, you soon will. Elected on the 19th of December, media outlets worldwide are heralding the youngest president in Chilean history as the champion of a new age. Specifically, one that is liberated from the clutches of authoritarianism and right-wing dictatorship. Boric is young, ambitious, and idealistic – the perfect man for Chile’s redemption story.
Some have labelled him ‘radical’ for wanting to reduce inequality, fight climate change, and increase representation for minorities. On the contrary, I’d say such social reforms are vital to create a positive and inclusive future for Chile. His victory speech touched on themes of women’s rights, economic stability, and sustainability, neatly summarised by a campaign slogan of ‘Para vivir mejor’ (‘to live better’).
This manifesto could not be further from the military dictatorship of General Pinochet that is tragically a not-so distant memory for Chile’s older population. The human rights abuses that were hallmarks of the 1973-1990 government are well documented, as are the harsh economic policies the population suffered. Yet Boric has made it abundantly clear that he intends to part with this unsavoury aspect of Chile’s past, claiming “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.” If his campaign to rewrite the entire constitution of Chile goes ahead, he will have made a symbolic step toward destroying the ideological legacy of Pinochet.
Luckily, Boric is not alone in his hopes for a brighter future for Chile. Winning 55.8% of the votes (the highest number of votes in the country’s history), he enjoyed a resounding victory over the far-right candidate, Jose Antonio Kast. Indeed, Chile saw celebrations in the streets in response to the triumph of Boric’s progressive politics. Notably, many of his supporters are from the younger generation who feel the millennial leader best represents their views.
However, the budding statesman has proved equally talented at engaging a broad spectrum of voters. So far, he has demonstrated the ability to unite the population in a polarising election, not least due to his captivating oratory[IL1] skills. And of course, as part of the coalition party ‘Apruebo Dignidad’, he must blend the interests of several parties, including the Communist Party of Chile. His high-profile advocates, like Nobel[IL2] prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, are yet another example of his wide-reaching popularity.
Interestingly, Chile is one of several Latin American states experiencing a string of left-wing presidential victories. In Bolivia, Luis Arce of the ‘Movement for Socialism Party’ was elected last November. In Argentina, Alberto Fernández of the leftist ‘Justicialist’ Party was inaugurated in late 2019. In Peru, Pedro Castillo of the socialist ‘Free Peru’ party took office in July 2021. Furthermore, pollsters anticipate more left-wing success in Honduras and Brazil in 2022. This pattern of a resurgent left in Latin America has been dubbed the ‘Pink Tide’ by political analysts as a reference to the move towards more progressive social and economic policies across the continent.
It is easy to get caught up in the romantic narrative that’s pushed[IL3] , of the heroic left rescuing Latin America from its authoritarian past. But his critics remind us that, despite Boric’s refreshing history of activism and protest, he is largely inexperienced in government. Boric will face many challenges to his high ideals, from a divided country to a slow economy. There are concerns of Venezuelan-esque socialism and economic collapse on one hand, and the complication of a right-wing stronghold within the Chilean elite on the other. He will need to skilfully work with the right- wing opposition in order to get any of his legislative reforms through Congress.
But one thing is clear: Chile is in desperate need for a fresh start. In a country where 1% of the population own 25% of the wealth, most people are more interested in funding for their children’s schools than the political nuances of their government. Gabriel Boric is putting on an optimistic foot forward on “the path that Chile has been walking for a long time”, as journalist Javier Rebolledo puts it. I am hopeful that he will deliver on his promises for a more democratic future for Chile.