South America. In Chile, a historic election and a gaping social divide


Santiago de Chile, special correspondent.

Around Place d’Italie, renamed Place de la Dignité by the rebels of 2019, the walls are overflowing with frescoes and aphorisms, slogans and demands. In this urban confluence where gatherings and demonstrations always follow one another, they bear witness to a still lively effervescence, two years after this social explosion which shook Chile. At the foot of a tower, an immense portrait of the singer and guitarist Victor Jara, mutilated and murdered by the torturers of Augusto Pinochet, is underlined by a very contemporary observation: “When the torrent of history returns, no one can say how far it can sink. A neighboring fence says “no to a Constitution that perpetuates exploitation”. Six months ago, the voters brought in new faces, many of them appearing in the course of these social upheavals, within the confines of the Constitutional Convention responsible for burying the fundamental text bequeathed by the dictatorship. A breach made possible by this popular movement carrying a radical questioning of the neoliberal model experienced here, hand in hand, the military junta and the Chicago Boys formed in the United States by the pope of monetarism, Milton Friedman.

A campaign affected by health restrictions

On the Alameda, the main avenue of Santiago de Chile, opposite the Catholic University, the copper enclosure of the Gabriela Mistral cultural center, which Pinochet had closed the day after the coup d’état of September 11, 1973 for making her operations center, she too, covered herself with slogans. They call for mobilization to free young political prisoners from the social revolt, to cap weekly working hours at 40 hours, to put an end to AFP, pension funds, to health and education. rights for all.

Further behind the Moneda Palace, in the gardens of the former Congress which welcomes in very precarious conditions the members of the Constitutional Convention, Valentina Miranda, 21, the youngest elected to Congress, green scarf of the feminist movement and rainbow banner around his neck, must parley for a long time with the riflemen before bringing in guests. The young woman, a communist activist, elected from the popular neighborhoods in the southwest of the capital, moved Chile with her first speech retracing the history of her family persecuted by the dictatorship and testifying to the appallingly precarious living conditions of the popular classes to which she belongs to. “Whoever the president and the Parliament will come out of this election, the strong social mobilizations of these last five years will continue. If the demand for social rights they express remains unanswered, there will be serious consequences. The Chileans have long resolved to move forward with their heads down, to keep quiet about what was on their minds, to comply. The 2019 revolt sowed the seeds of a profound cultural change. People are no longer willing to bow down, ”she wants to believe.

Elected in the month of May in the same spirit, for the same mandate, the young historian and lawyer Manuela Royo also believes that the country remains shaped by “popular hope, a desire for profound transformations”. Dull, affected by the health restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the electoral campaign has nevertheless focused less, in recent weeks, on these social expectations than on the emergence of the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast, carried by polls and mainstream media reports.

José Antonio Kast, a half-Trump, half-Bolsonaro candidate

Climatosceptic, fierce opponent of the right to free abortion still denied to Chileans, ready to dig trenches to prevent the arrival of migrants, this friend of Jair Bolsonaro, admirer of Trump, assured a few days ago that “opponents do not ‘were not imprisoned’ under Pinochet. Manuela Royo reads in her ascent a temptation to call to order, as well as the sign of a deep political divide: “After the revolt of October 18, the situation became polarized, with, on the one hand, these forces. social organizations entered into the Constitutional Convention who want to promote other ways of doing politics, which shake up a political system in crisis and, on the other hand, this rise of fascism, perceptible on a global scale, with a rhetoric of hatred , racism, contempt for human rights, embodied in Chile by Kast, the last offspring of a Nazi clan. But I don’t think he can win. “

In fact, Kast could take advantage of the woes of right-wing candidate Sebastian Sichel, runner-up to unpopular incumbent Sebastian Piñera, cited in the Pandora Papers corruption and tax evasion scandal, which has won him over the past two weeks. an impeachment procedure finally blocked by the Senate on Monday.

The latest opinion polls feature Kast leading the first round, or neck and neck with Gabriel Boric, the left-wing coalition candidate Apruebo Dignidad, constantly summoned by his right-wing and far-right opponents to explain his alliance with the Communist Party or to condemn the governments of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, designated as “dictatorships”.

150,000 young people lost their jobs due to the pandemic

In Valparaiso, the governor elected in May, Rodrigo Mundaca, a respected figure in the defense of water as a common good and a fundamental right, follows these controversies with distance, caution and concern. “The post-dictatorship consensus called on people to stay at home, passive, to delegate to elected officials and political leaders the resolution of the country’s problems. A rupture occurred in October 2019, when the Chileans expressed, with rage and anger, their rejection of inequalities, of the economic model, of conventional forms of politics, he analyzes. This revolt has shifted the boundaries of what is possible. But this very disruptive electoral campaign, where many promises have been made, will open, I fear, on a second round polarized in the extreme. Kast is a candidate à la Bolsonaro, à la Trump, ignoring reality, despising common sense which, in the 21st century, is linked to freedom, with the guarantee, for all, of fundamental rights. “

The most overwhelming reality is, in Chile, in one figure: 150,000 young Chileans lost their jobs with the Covid-19 pandemic, while the official unemployment rate for 15-25 year olds was already approaching, in 2019, the 20 %. “We are the grandchildren of the workers whom you could not kill”, proclaimed, in 2015, this generation of castaways of the “democratic” transition and the neoliberal mirage, which had played a decisive role, in 2020, in the victory, almost 80%, of the yes to a new Constitution. The greatest uncertainty hangs today over the participation, Sunday, of these rebels without partisan ties. From the street to the polls, not everyone is determined to take the plunge.

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