Former student activist and leftist Gabriel Boric will become Chile’s youngest president after easily defeating the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast with over 55% of the vote. Boric has vowed to fight for progressive social reforms and overhaul the neoliberal economic policies left by the U.S.-backed dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. We speak with Chilean writer Pablo Abufom and feminist activist Javiera Manzi, who say Boric’s victory signals an opening for progressive policy in Chile and Latin America more broadly.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to Chile, where celebrations are continuing after Gabriel Boric’s presidential victory Sunday. The 35-year-old leftist is a former student leader who’s set to become Chile’s youngest president ever. He easily defeated the far-right-wing candidate José Antonio Kast by winning over 55% of the vote.
Boric has vowed to fight for progressive social reforms and overhaul the neoliberal economic policies left by the U.S.-backed dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Boric’s election comes after two years of massive peaceful demonstrations in Chile over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. On Sunday, Gabriel Boric addressed supporters in Santiago.
PRESIDENT–ELECT GABRIEL BORIC: [translated] Chileans, I receive this mandate with humility and a tremendous sense of responsibility. We have an enormous challenge. I know that in the coming years, the future of our country is at stake, so I guarantee that I will be a president who cares for democracy and does not risk it, listens more than what he speaks, seeks unity and attends to the needs of the people daily. I will firmly fight against the privileges of a few. And I will work every day for the quality of the Chilean family. … I will do my best, my best to live up to the trust you’ve placed in me. We do not forget justice, truth, respect.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Santiago, Chile, where we’re joined by two guests. Javiera Manzi is an activist with Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, the Coordinadora Feminista 8M. Also with us is Pablo Abufom, a member of Chile’s Solidaridad movement, the Solidarity movement, an anti-capitalist and feminist organization.
We thank you both for being with us. Pablo, let’s begin with you. Talk about the significance of Boric’s victory.
PABLO ABUFOM: Hi, Amy. Thank you for having me again.
So, Boric’s victory on Sunday is actually a huge victory for the social movements and the Chilean people. After two years of social and popular revolts in October 2019, in the middle of a huge political and social crisis in Chile, we see that finally there is an opening for a progressive government in Chile that we haven’t had in over 40, almost 50, years. And so, it’s a very interesting moment for Chile. Even though that Boric has always been a moderate in his own coalition, this is a truly interesting moment, a new political cycle far Chile.
Also, because the first round of the election, Boric was second, and the first place was for José Antonio Kast, who was the candidate of the old guard of the Pinochet’s right wing, a candidate that was mostly pandering to a far-right-wing agenda and base, similar to Bolsonaro and Orbán and Trump, and so the fact that Boric won in the second round meant that there was a part of the electorate that didn’t vote for him in the first round and that mobilized for his campaign in the second round. And that’s definitely because of sectors that were involved in the popular revolt that were not really happy about his platform in the first round, but that, seeing the threat of neofascist — of a neofascist government, decided to take to the streets and campaign for this victory.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pablo, I wanted to ask you — the victory of Boric happens in the context of an effort for a rewriting of the Chilean Constitution. Could you talk about that and the movement that developed around that, and how it spilled over, as well, into the election?
PABLO ABUFOM: Yeah. So, one of the main demands of the popular revolt in October 2019 was a new constitution. It was a way to take all the demands that were being pushed by the social movements in the past 20, 30 years into political global change. And so, we had a referendum for a new constitution in October last year, and the alternative for a new constitution won with an 80% of the vote. So that means that a majority, a large majority, of the Chilean population wants a new constitution.
And so, and then, the election for the members of that Constitutional Convention was won by a majority of anti-neoliberal representatives, both from leftist political parties, such as Frente Amplio and the Communist Party, who are now the — they are going to be the governing administration — coalition, but also from independents, from the social movements, like the feminist movement, and the environmentalist groups, but also the Indigenous peoples, who had guaranteed representation in the Constitutional Convention.
So, that confirmation of the Constitutional Convention is very relevant to this new cycle, because it means that both the new constitution has the support of a progressive government, but also that this progressive government does not have any excuse to make only timid changes, only minor changes, in the political institutions in the context of the drafting of a new anti-neoliberal constitution.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the defeat of the right-wing or pro-fascist sectors in Chile. Fifty years ago, there was another legally elected government in Chile, Allende’s Unidad Popular, but the military took action to crush that movement and bring in the Pinochet era. I’m wondering your concern about how the Chilean military is reacting or will react in the future to this new government.
PABLO ABUFOM: That’s a very good question. Well, history does not repeat itself exactly the way it happened before. So, the first thing is that there is impunity in Chile, even with the crimes against humanity and violations of human rights in the dictatorship, in the democratic transition and during the revolt. So we saw the way the military behaved during the revolt, when the president, Piñera, declared a state of exception and took the military to the street to placate the revolt. But we also saw how they were very, very wary of the political and criminal repercussions of their behavior in the streets. So, there were threats of another coup during those days, but it was completely outrageous to think that they were going to start a coup against a right-wing government.
Now, of course, we have in our bodies, in our minds the memory of the coup d’état of 1973 and the 17-years-long dictatorship. But there’s also the experience of those years, the experience of the resistance, and the belief that the people is politically prepared to confront the military as we did in October 2019.
But also, it’s very important to remember that Boric is not Allende. He is a progressive. He’s definitely — his base is on the left and even in the popular movements who mobilized in October. But he is not Allende, and he’s talking about making moderate changes and responsible changes. So, what we can expect is that the government is going to be in a contradiction or a tension between a more moderate position following the governance, the ’90s and 2000s governance, and being pushed by the social movements towards a more radical agenda. So, I think that the contradiction is not going to be between the government and the military, but between the government and those two poles, those two axes of political change in Chile.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, do you see the trend that has happened here in Chile similar to what appears to be going on in several other countries in the region? I’m thinking specifically of the election of Alberto Fernández in Argentina in 2019, of Luis Arce in Bolivia in 2020, of Pedro Castillo in Peru this year, and Xiomara Castro in Honduras. Do you see Latin America once again shifting in a more progressive and social democratic and radical direction?
PABLO ABUFOM: I think it’s a moment of huge opportunity and promise for Latin America. There’s going to be a new cycle of at least progressive governments that would have the opportunity to work on regional integration, on regional solidarity, with a more progressive agenda.
But the situation is very different. During and after the pandemic, and even before, we’re experiencing a global crisis in the economy. There is huge instability in political terms in these countries. And there’s also a new far right wing in some governments but also in neofascist movements in the streets. So the scenario is a bit different. It’s not going to be exactly the same, but definitely it’s a moment for opportunity.
And one thing that for the Chilean government and for the Chilean people is going to be very important is how there’s an international campaign by those governments that are already in power in the rest of Latin America to free political prisoners in Chile. We still have political prisoners from the revolt, people who are in pretrial detention for more than a year and people who have been sentenced with few evidence and a lot of impunity for agents of the state who have committed violence and mutilated people. So, today, the first responsibility of the government in terms of international relations, it’s to work for an international campaign to free prisoners. And I wanted to take the opportunity to call activists and intellectuals in the United States to join us in an international campaign to end political prison in Chile. I think that Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky, for instance, who have been in this show, are very known by the Chilean people and the Latin American peoples, and it would be very interesting to join forces to fight political prison in Chile.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Pablo Abufom, we want to thank you for being with us, member of Chile Solidarity, as we turn now to Javiera Manzi, an activist with Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group. It’s known as the Coordinadora Feminista 8M, March 8th, International Women’s Day. Javiera, can you talk about the significance of this being a grassroots movement victory, and how people organized?
JAVIERA MANZI: Hi, Amy.
Well, the first thing to say is that this was a popular victory. This is the victory of the people. And this shift from a far-right agenda and the alternative that they were offering us was, for us, the demonstration of how — of the extent, you know, or of the alternatives of a neoliberal agenda, of a Pinochetist continuity, and the necessity for us, as women, as feminists, to put a step forward for a alternative for a different life.
So, for us, it’s important to say that since the first election, the very second day, from the Coordinadora Feminista 8M, we made a public statement that we were going to do campaign for Gabriel Boric and that we were going to, as many other grassroots organizations, play a protagonist role in this moment. This is very different, for instance, than in Brazil, you see, because we knew that it was not enough to say no to a candidate, but we had to make an effective campaign for the victory of Gabriel Boric in the second round.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about why your organization decided to back Boric? What was it about his program that attracted you?
JAVIERA MANZI: I would say it’s two things. In the first place, we knew the threat for our lives, for our rights, for everything that we have conquered as the social movements, as women, from the community of LGBT, that was being in a threat, and how Kast and the far-right agenda that he was representing us was an absolute menace for us. So then we had to know — and we knew that Gabriel Boric, who comes from a left platform but also from the mobilizations, from the students’ mobilizations of 2011, could protagonize a shift on the continuity of neoliberalism in Chile throughout the last 30 years. And our main purpose now is to keep on shifting in that agenda of transformation. We have a program, a feminist program, and especially with the aims, the purposes and the desires of the revolt of 2019.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the coalition Boric is a part of, the “I Approve Dignity” coalition, what political movements are represented within it, and the importance the student movement in propelling volunteers and activists for that coalition?
JAVIERA MANZI: Yes. Apruebo Dignidad is a platform, a left platform, a very diverse platform, as well, that has a progressive agenda. And, for us, it’s important to say that it’s not only their victory. It’s a victory of people who never went to vote before. You see, this is the election with the most votation since the vote is voluntary here in Chile. And even though we can see the diversity there, and we can see, of course, the extent of the — and the diversity of different social movements even in Apruebo Dignidad but also outside the Apruebo Dignidad, that in a unity made possible this victory. For us, it’s very important to say that this is a victory of a way of a radical tenderness of the people and the aim of a radical transformation, and that feminism as well as environmental movements are in the — we are working towards that justice, social justice and social transformation.
AMY GOODMAN: And the demand of feminists, particularly, now of Boric, who will take power in March?
JAVIERA MANZI: Yes. Boric has said three very important things. First, he’s committed with the constituent process, that’s part of the revolt. He’s also committed with the agenda of the feminist agenda and the rights of the feminist movements we are pushing forward, such as abortion rights, sexual reproduction justice, and, of course, an agenda of — with a commitment with human rights and the justice, reparation and truth for the violation of human rights during the government of Sebastián Piñera. These three things are, for us, like a main goal and a main commitment, and, of course, the permanent responsibility with all of those who went to vote, and not only to vote, but that mobilized and organized to make this victory possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Javiera Manzi, we want to thank you for being with us, activist with Chile’s largest feminist advocacy group, the Coordinadora Feminista 8M.
Coming up, we look at how the U.S. Navy has contaminated the water supply for tens of thousands of people in Hawaii, in 30 seconds.
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