Chile shows that the far left can be stopped

Gabriel Boric

Chile has a reputation for having the most liberal democratic population in Latin America. Like almost the entire continent, it has gone through the bitter experience of a military dictatorship but, unlike most of its neighbouring countries, it has managed to get its democracy back on track without counter-coups or the corresponding bloodshed. Chile has now reached a new stage in its democratic journey, all the more important because it can set itself up as a model and leader of change on the Ibero-American continent.  

The push of Castro-Chavist populism seemed to have consolidated its unstoppable advance with the last elections and the irremovable establishment of dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, seconded by the shift towards the ultra-left in Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Colombia.  

The Chilean model was and is particularly important and emblematic. All the ultra-left populisms, characterised among other things by the enthronement of indigenism and the merciless condemnation of the continent's entire common history with Spain, were imbibed from its draft constitution. A trend that has spread like wildfire from the United States to Patagonia, with the approval of progressive Spanish intellectual and journalistic circles, including the podemite faction of Pedro Sánchez's government. 

The Chileans' overwhelming rejection of this draft constitution is not only due to a voluminous and cumbersome text that is profoundly unbalanced, but also to its underlying aim: a complete regime change, replacing the model of liberal democracy with a revolutionary one that would end up leading to a single party.  

The project, drawn up by a convention with a marked ultra-left-wing bias and a strong indigenist component, far beyond the current 15% of the population, seemed to fascinate with its apparent progressivism: no less than 103 constitutionally recognised social rights, beating the record of 82 in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, and of course a far cry from the 21 and 15 embodied in their respective basic laws by such "backward" countries as Denmark and Austria. The definition of a plurinational state provoked the greatest rejoicing within the Catalan pro-independence movement, and finally the abolition of a single and equal justice system for all, replaced by parallel and mutually incompatible systems, delighted those who saw in this artificial rise of indigenism a new lever for manipulation of a future totalitarian power. 

A shift to the centre-left 

Fortunately, President Gabriel Boric has understood the message, so he has been quick to reshuffle his government, removing some of its most strident elements, such as Interior Minister Izkia Siches and her undersecretary, the communist Nicolás Cataldo, and downgrading his former partner in strikes and revolts, Giorgio Jackson. At the same time, he has brought in the centrist Carolina Tohá, daughter of the former Interior Minister under Salvador Allende, and the socialist Ana Lya Uriarte, both in favour of a more balanced dialogue with that half of the country that is not in favour of turning everything upside down.  

Boric is therefore swinging from the far left to the centre left, although he will have to remain very vigilant to ensure that the "I Approve Dignity" faction, the combination of the Frente Amplio, the group of forces closest to the president, and the Communist Party, do not mow the grass under his feet. Guillermo Teillier, president of the Communist Party, warned: "If the results are close, we will have to take to the streets". And the Communists' long experience in tightening the ballot and occupying the streets is well known.   

Carlos Malamud, professor and senior researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, believes that what happened in Chile "questions the idea of a shift to the left, of the omnipresence of 'progressive' governments and of 'populist virtues', and will make those leaders interested in promoting constitutional reforms in their own countries think twice, especially if they want to do so with democratic standards". Peru, Honduras and even, albeit with very few options, Colombia are at that stage right now.  

Indeed, the usual Hispanic social-communist aroma was noticeable when the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, described the overwhelming victory of the Chilean rejection as a Pinochet-style revival. Even former socialist president Ricardo Lagos could not contain himself: "The constitution [that governs Chile] bears my signature. Those who vilify it should bring themselves up to date. It is not a text made by four generals, it took us six years of government to carry out these reforms".   

The Chilean election serves as a portico to Brazil's big election on 2 October. As in that election, the polls are showing a desire for change in the immense Amazonian country. It is to be hoped that the ostensible polarisation it is experiencing does not take the form of a head-on, practically irreconcilable clash between the current president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the challenger, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.