Reversing Pinochet’s legacy will be an uphill battle

Carole Concha Bell on Chile’s unfinished revolution.

Credit: Fotografoencampana/WikiCommons

On March 11, Gabriel Boric Font will be inaugurated as Chile’s new president. A former student leader, he beat the far-right Republican Party’s José Antonio Kast by a margin of 12 per cent. His mandate is to tackle Chile’s social and economic inequality – the same conditions that led to popular mobilizations in 2019, dubbed ‘El Estallido’ or ‘outbreak’.

Typically, markets responded fearfully to Boric’s progressive agenda in the run-up to the elections – as did conservative sectors of Chilean society, which since 1973 have enjoyed the fruits of privatization. To affect any real social progress, Boric will have to persuade the armed forces and the politically-influential business elite of his agenda.

So Boric’s struggle is multifaceted: he must unite a politically polarized country, convince the Left that he will alleviate inequality without, to use his own words, compromising ‘fiscal responsibility’. Boric has critics on the Left: the Trotskyite Revolutionary Workers’ Party has accused him of a ‘rapid rightward shift’.

The ghosts of Chile’s past – and particularly the deposition of leftwing president Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet in a military coup in 1973 – have haunted this election more than any other in recent history. Kast is the son of a Nazi escapee, his campaign spokesperson was Pinochet’s great-great niece, and he even claimed that Pinochet himself would have supported him.

Back in 2019 Pablo Sepúlveda Allende, a doctor and Allende’s grandson, criticized Boric for calling on the Chilean Left to ‘condemn the human rights situation’ in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Now another Allende grandchild, Maya Fernández, has been appointed to the symbolic post of defence minister.

But without clear commitments to decriminalizing protest, demilitarizing indigenous Wallmapu territory and nationalizing the copper industry – which precipitated the 1973 coup – breaking with Pinochet’s legacy will be an uphill battle.