Gabriel Boric: A pivotal victory in Chile

Chilean president-elect Gabriel Boric waves at supporters after delivering a speech, in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021

By Elias Jabbour

For many reasons, the leftist Gabriel Boric’s victory in the Chilean presidential elections can be considered one of the most important political events of the year.

In Chile – despite the end in 1990 of Augusto Pinochet’s US backed rule – a sequence of institutional frameworks were established to ensure that neoliberalism would turn become state policy. It is very illustrative that since the 1990s, the country has had a succession of progressive governments, but they never managed to change the pillars that support a “privatized state” in which health, education and social security were under private control, which has led to an increasingly unequal society. A real social bomb is ready to explode.

This is the product of a well-known historical process. After a coup d’état organized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1973, the Chilean dictatorship turned Chile into the first laboratory of neoliberal ideas. Between 1956 and 1961, around 25 Chilean students, known as the “Chicago Boys” were trained at the University of Chicago, and they later returned to their home country with the intention of implementing what they learned in the U.S. to create a society where major investment decisions were mediated by the “invisible hand of the market.”

However, this experience has proved disastrous as the Chilean economic policy of “import substitution industrialization (ISI)” prior to Pinochet was abandoned. The country is now economically dependent on some commodities, mainly copper, and its peripheral place in the international division of labor leaves the country vulnerable to price cycles originating abroad. It is good to remember that one of the first national development banks in Latin America, the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO), was founded in the state in 1939.

The contradictions of a development model where the market decides the fate of people soon appeared in the form of great social unrest. Since the early 2010s, Chile has been shaken by a wave of strikes and popular uprisings, which peaked in 2019. Billionaire Sebastián Piñera’s government was fruitful at some points, including the call for a new Constituent Assembly, but the country’s internal contradictions have reached a point of no return, and the election of a 35-year-old candidate to Chile’s presidency is the highlight of this long-lasting resistance.

On the other hand, we must not forget that 44.13 percent of voters opted for the extreme right-wing candidate Jose Antonio Kast, and the parliamentary majority remains unclear. For that, the balance of forces in Chile is still unknown and could become an obstacle to deeper transformations.

Therefore, the new government must be aware that there is very little margin for error and that Chile has immediately come into the spotlight of imperialism in the region. For instance, when in September Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro met with the head of the CIA, their agenda, according to Bolsonaro himself, went through the political situation in Chile.

The challenges are immense. The necessary structural changes promised by the elected government not only require a clearer political majority in Congress, but the program of the government that won the elections itself must be more objective in some points. For example, little is known about what the leaders of Gabriel Boric’s movement think about complex issues such as an industrialization strategy for the country, what would enable the conditions for the constitution of a large public sector in terms of health, education and social security.

What is not produced is not distributed. One of the great problems of Latin American has been the lack of a strategic vision in terms of economic development. In this sense, not only for Chileans, but also for all Latin American progressives, the example that comes from China and the centrality of the development of productive forces is very important.

I believe that relations between China and Chile could improve, following the example of the excellent and strategic relations that China has established with Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Being progressive is not enough, nor does it guarantee that this or that political force has enough strategic intelligence to perceive the trends of our time. More than ever, the Chilean government will need to deepen its relations with China. China has a lot to offer Chile, just as Chile, with its resources and geographic position, is a key country to China in South America. We live in an interesting historical cycle on our continent.

Elias Jabbour is a professor in the Faculty of Economic Sciences at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

The above article is an edited version of the original that was published here by CGTN.