Chile to vote with the ghost of Pinochet

Chile to vote with the ghost of Pinochet
Chile to vote with the ghost of Pinochet

SANTIAGO DEl CHILE. In a Santiago with a desert climate, it hasn’t rained for two months and the humidity is below 20 percent, Chileans know that today’s elections could mark the end of an era, wiping out 40 years of leadership and traditional parties. The polls must be taken with a grain of salt here too, but everyone agrees that the left-wing candidate Gabriel Boric and the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast will go to the ballot. The first is 35 years old, a former leader of the student movement and one of the few politicians who came out unscathed from the 2019 demonstrations. The second is a friend of Bolsonaro and nostalgic for Pinochet, populist and nationalist. Very different but similar in rejecting, at least in the electoral campaign, the compromises of the last governments, those “slow steps” that, in the end, have everyone dissatisfied.

It is no coincidence that the center-right candidate Sebastian Sichel and that of the center-left, the Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste, are chasing from behind, committed more than anything else to saving the shack, guaranteeing a group of seats in Parliament for their parties. Boric does not close the door to anyone but goes straight, focusing above all on the middle class dissatisfied with the economic model. He is accompanied by young people trained in public universities, ecologists, feminists at the head of the parades of two years ago. Like Nicole Martinez, a 29-year-old civil engineer who dreamed of becoming a basketball player. As a candidate for the Chamber, she has been distributing her holy cards for two months in the middle-class neighborhoods of Nuñoa and Providencia. You can find her at traffic lights early in the morning or outside subway stations to intercept commuters; militancy and worn shoe soles, as they used to say. “The dictatorship spread the concept that politics was something better not to worry about, that ordinary people have to think about work and their families. The governments that came later have cultivated this idea. Now things have changed, the Chileans have realized that everything is political, from private pensions to hospitals that don’t work, to salaries that don’t make you through the month ».

It takes ten minutes by taxi to go to Las Condes, where Kast’s headquarters are located. He is the real surprise of this vote, his consensus has grown a lot in the last two months thanks to a widespread campaign in the suburbs and on social networks. It has few warhorses, simple concepts repeated over and over again; defense of the family, a hard hand against crime, free market incentives. The slogan is “Atrevete”, try it, take a risk, take courage. To tune in to popular discontent, he points the finger at immigrants. Today half a million Venezuelans and at least 200,000 Haitians live in Chile, the former having entered mostly clandestine through the great Atacama desert, on the border with Bolivia, the latter received as refugees in the second Bachelet government. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has made them undesirable, Kast proposes to build a giant moat in the desert, the Chilean version of the Trump wall. “Kast taps this button because he knows that intolerance exists and earns votes – explains Tomas Mosciatti of radio Bio Bio -, but the migration crisis is real and the result of the lack of planning of the last two governments of Bachelet and Piñera”.

Pinochet’s ghost does not represent a bugbear for the new Chilean right. The young people of Kast, born after the end of the dictatorship, condemn the abuses of the regime but are not ashamed to claim that economic model. At just 25, Maida Moncada is the chief of staff of the electoral command. “Many think that young people in Chile are all left-wingers, but that’s not true. We want a better country, but we don’t take to the streets to destroy everything. We defend the family, traditional values, we believe that the state must protect the work of Chileans and punish the criminals. We want to improve our democracy ». Kast’s speech breaks through in the popular neighborhoods, where the lack of work and crime are felt; Boric attracts the disappointed of the center-left and those moderates who do not want dangerous skids to the right. Everything is open and it could not be otherwise, considering the political earthquake of recent years.

Outgoing President Piñera recently escaped impeachment in the Pandora Papers case, but his popularity is very low.

The economic situation is worrying; in the pandemic, the government provided a shower of public aid equivalent to the entire national GDP and Chileans were allowed to withdraw part of the savings accumulated in private pension funds; the bill will fall on the next tenant of the Moneda. The President and the congress will meet in mid-2022 with the new Constitution which, given the composition of the assembly that is writing it, will have a strong progressive imprint. It is as if in the middle of the game the referee decides to change the rules of the game. They will not be, whoever wins, easy times.

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