МОСКВА, 22 декабря 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.
There are three things that are always admired in Chile: the ubiquitous, down to all the children’s drawings, snow-covered wall of the Andes, the fine wines and the black humour of the locals. After the first round of the presidential election held on November 21 this year, where the far-right Pinochet candidate Jose Antonio Kast won the most votes, an inscription appeared on one of the walls of Santiago: «If we Chileans were dinosaurs, we would vote for a meteorite.»
This is a country with a special history; in the 20th century, it was destined to become the site of significant events that predetermined many phenomena on a planetary scale. In September 1970, for the first time in world history, it was in Chile that a government came to power in a democratic election in a capitalist country, declaring that its goal was to build socialism.
The story of three years of President Salvador Allende’s rule has become an epic on the scale of a Greek tragedy: the whole world has watched the Chilean attempt to overcome inequality in a poor third world country, without restricting the civil liberties of opponents and while respecting all the laws written by the elites and the oligarchy. And then there was the bombing of the presidential palace by Chilean aircraft and the death of the socialist Allende while defending the bourgeois constitution that he had sworn to uphold.
Before Pinochet’s military coup, Chile was considered by many to be the «Latin American Switzerland», where citizens of different political creeds are able to peacefully resolve their disputes and under no circumstances will shoot at each other.
The brutality of Allende’s overthrow and the carnage of his supporters, which so shocked the world at the time, had only one goal — to return to the stable the most politicised and organised Resistance in Latin America, eliminating the political threat to US interests in the region and their ally — local oligarchic groups, frightened by Allende’s moderate social democratic reforms. About a million Chileans — out of a population of 11 million at that time — were forced to flee the country.
A country tormented by «miracles»
About 10 years after the overthrow of Allende, the Pinochet dictatorship, with the support of the Chicago School of Economics and two of its most prominent representatives, Friedrich August von Hayek and Milton Friedman, began to create its main product in the country — structural state reforms, world-famous today as neoliberalism.
The experiment was conducted in a clean laboratory environment, following the constitution that had just been passed at gunpoint, prohibiting state participation in the economy, and with a complete ban on trade unions, strikes, demonstrations, and political parties; of course, so as not to frighten investors who were trying to enrich Chile.
The project itself was to minimise all social functions of the state and transfer power to the market elements, which, according to this theory, should automatically regulate all social problems – the same thing that Gaidar and Chubais proposed in post-perestroika Russia, extolling the «Chilean miracle” they invented and inflated by the democratic media.
The miracle involved the destruction of the traditional social fabric, the elimination of culture as unnecessary, the transformation of education and health care into another free business, the privatisation of everything that could be profitable, the destruction of state protectionism for local productive capital, and the transformation of private pension funds that were not alternative to the population into a financial pyramid and the basis of the capitalisation of the Chilean economy.
Of course, all of this is done with the brutal persecution of all ideological opponents and the most successful political marketing school in the region, which managed to sell the world the myth of the «success of Chilean reforms». All this was called the oxymoronic term «people’s capitalism». «We must protect the rich”, Pinochet was fond of saying, «they create our wealth”. The dictatorship’s intellectuals created the «overflow» theory, according to which when the rich’s cups of wealth are filled to the brim, the rest will inevitably «flow» to the rest.
At the same time, part of the neoliberal reforms initiated under Pinochet was the «openness» of the Chilean economy to the world, completely reoriented to export. And this — again in the interests of the oligarchic elites — created an urgent need to change the country’s image; for successful trade with the rest, Pinochet’s odious dictatorship had to be replaced by a handshakeable democracy.
It was for precisely this reason that the «transition to democracy» was initiated through the mediation of the US government, when the dictator, who did not want to give up power, was forced to hold first a plebiscite to end the dictatorship, and then democratic elections that ensured the inviolability of the economic model laid down by Pinochet against the background of the abundant social demagogy of the authorities of former opponents of the regime.
The unequal heroic struggle of Chileans against dictatorship was quickly capitalised on by “opposition» political parties, which, during several «centre-left» governments, only deepened the neoliberal model for the benefit of the elites.
Representatives of the Socialist Party of Chile — the Allende Party — shedding crocodile tears over the graves of dead comrades — turned into the most successful administrators of the economic model inherited from Pinochet and introduced many innovations in it in the interests of the owners of the country.
All these double standards, which have become the basis of Chilean politics, have caused the highest civic passivity of a society traumatised by the recent nightmare of dictatorship and the current cynicism of democracy in a country of enormous economic injustice, with the highest class stratification and complete lack of social elevators. The great Portuguese writer José Saramago, who visited Chile a few years after the return to democracy, wrote «here the dead are alive, and the living are dead”.
After several governments in the past of the worst political opponents (Christian Democrats and socialists), turned by a miracle of love for power into twin brothers — these were the offices of the conditional «left centre», the right returned to power. By this time, they had already democratically disowned their spiritual father Pinochet, and also condemned «human rights violations», about which, of course, «they knew nothing”.
In turn, society became convinced that the difference between those «centre-left» and these «centre-right» is that the skilful social demagogy of the more educated ex-leftists in European exile is much more successful in neutralising numerous social conflicts in the country, without bringing them to the boiling point.
An undetected uprising
But as time passed, generations grew up in Chile that were unfamiliar with the dictatorship’s fear of political issues. The constitution adopted under Pinochet continued to operate, and a critical mass of hypocrisy accumulated in society.
In the country, there were no options for free university or free public school education — the fate of about 90% of the population was getting worse every year, and most pensions from such vaunted and uncontested private funds guaranteed poverty for the older generation.
Chile remained a deeply divided country, with good macroeconomic indicators that represented an «economic miracle» for about 10-15% of its inhabitants, and everyone else – a place on the sidelines.
In October 2019, public transport fares in Santiago — which costs about 12% of the family budget of workers — were once again raised. Schoolchildren began to massively jump metro turnstiles, in response to which, in the middle of the working day on October 18, the management of the capital’s metro stopped the main metro line as a collective punishment, causing chaos in the city. When outraged citizens began to gather at the subway exits and bus stops, they were attacked by police water cannons, which was the last straw.
Decades of accumulated civil protest spilled out onto the streets. The first spontaneous demonstrations were completely peaceful, but as a result of a violent police response, barricades were ablaze in the streets of downtown Santiago by evening. That same night, unknown assailants — including plainclothes police officers — set fire to dozens of metro stations from the inside, with the apparent aim of accusing the demonstrators of terrorism.
Surreal accusations were made on behalf of the authorities — Venezuela, international terrorism and drug trafficking were blamed for organising the riots in Chile. After that, not only residents of Santiago, but also almost all cities of the country took to the streets. In the ranks of demonstrators, the slogan «not because of 30 pesos (the amount by which the fare is increased), but because of 30 years (so much time has passed since the dictatorship)” appeared.
The main demand of citizens was the convocation of the constitutional assembly for a democratic discussion of a new constitution, the creation of a state alternative to private pension funds, and the guarantee of the universal right to a decent education. The response of the authorities (President Piñera) is brutal police repression, beatings and torture of demonstrators, and political assassinations.
A week after the start of the civil uprising, on a single day, about 4 million people took to the streets of Chilean cities for the first time in the country’s history at the same time, half of them in the capital. The government imposed a state of emergency, a curfew and the army out on the streets, a reminder of the darkest years of Chilean history and was seen by many as a personal insult.
The uprising lasted about six months — until the beginning of the pandemic. The unrest lost its original mass character, but was ubiquitous. The police distinguished themselves with targeted shooting at the eyes of demonstrators, which left hundreds of people disabled.
Chile’s outgoing president, Sebastian Piñera — a populist businessman and conservative version of Berlusconi who narrowly escaped impeachment after the Pandora Papers scandal, genuinely did not understand the social demands of the demonstrators. In general, the years of his rule were remembered only for the deepest ignorance of the head of state in almost everything that does not concern business. The authorities were confused and lost control of the situation.
The parties were also confused, even the opposition ones, who were actually not allowed to participate in the uprising under their own flags. Chile was experiencing the most interesting psychosocial phenomenon, the likes of which have never been seen in history. It was a «new type” of uprising.
Followers of recently hostile soccer clubs fraternised on the barricades. The «first line” — a spontaneous civil self-defence organisation — was made up of young people from the poor suburbs, who proudly called themselves «lumpens»; with homemade slings and shields, they stood in the way of police repression against peaceful demonstrations, for the first time these people from marginal invisible Chile felt loved and needed by society.
They were heroes of the resistance, along with volunteer medics who helped the wounded and firefighters who picked up tear gas grenades with gloved hands and put them out in buckets of water. For the first time, representatives of all social groups and classes in Chile participated in a social uprising, defending the right to a common future.
At the same time, local self-government councils were created in different parts of the country; they distributed the aid collected by citizens, created mobile medical centres, and tried to connect social demands that arose from within the movement. The people did not demand socialism, but a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth, the possibility of not being second-class people, and civil rights. In fact, it was a revolt against «neoliberalism», or rather, against its fruits.
Political parties tried several times to reach an agreement with the rebels, but this was not easy for many reasons, including the lack of a single coordinating centre; the movement had no visible leaders, no centralised structures, and no single ideological base, which represented both strength and weakness at the same time.
At the height of the uprising, in mid-November, politicians of the opposition parties of the previous «centre-left» governments came to a compromise with the government — to offer the mutineers a referendum on the possibility of creating a new constitution in response to the signing of «social peace».
After an hour-long round of negotiations, former student leader Gabriel Boric, a deputy from the left-wing political bloc Social Convergence — one, but far from being the only, force representing the mutineers, became the only representative of the left to sign the peace pact.
What’s at stake?
This treaty paved the way for the creation and election of a Constitutional Convention, which is already working on a new Chilean constitution, but it cost Boric dearly. He was criticised by social movements and his own party, the independent left, for not authorising him to sign it. Some bluntly accused him of being a traitor.
Nevertheless, on the eve of the current presidential election, internal elections of a single candidate were held within social organisations and leftist forces in Chile, which were won by Gabriel Boric.
In the first round of elections on November 21, 47% (!) of Chilean voters took part. The result looked sad for the left: in the first place Pinochetista (directly calling himself a follower of the General) candidate Jose Antonio Kast — 28%. He was followed by Gabriel Boric, who was 2% behind (26%).
Then there is the main surprise of this vote (13%): Franco Parisi, a populist who claims that he is «neither left nor right», he lives in the United States after fleeing Chile due to non-payment of alimony and, by the way, did not even vote himself. Sebastian Sichel, the candidate of outgoing President Piñera and part of the «traditional» Pinochet electorate, also collected 13%.
The vote in the second round put the dots on the «i». Gabriel Boric succeeded in the race for collecting the votes of candidates who did not progress into it. He garnered a 56% majority and became Chile’s youngest president at 35 years old. His opponent had 44%. What’s next?
It seems that it is important to highlight the following.
1. After the mass protests during the 2019-2020 uprising and the unequivocal vote for the new Constitution in the October 2020 referendum (80% voted for it), the results of the first round showed to what extent Chileans do not trust the current politicians. 53% of voters did not show up at the ballot boxes.
Everything hung in the balance, and this speaks volumes — citizens who massively protested against Pinochet’s legacy do not feel represented by the current candidates, who too often betrayed them. Yes, Gabriel Boric was able to get enough votes to win the second round, but these were more likely votes against his competitor than for him. There is still a lot of struggle ahead, and real reforms need a real leader. This means that it is necessary to fight for the voter even after the election.
2. Pinochetist Jose Antonio Kast is not his predecessor, Sebastian Piñera, who is leaving the post of president of Chile, or even the «Brazilian Trump» Jair Bolsonaro, as some mistakenly believe. He’s scarier. This is a 100% fascist, who, unlike Bolsonaro in carnival-chaotic Brazil, is backed by a disciplined, politically experienced and, so to speak, ideologically bayoneted host of political elites in Chile — they are clearly frightened by the scale of recent popular demonstrations and the plans for the reforms that Borich began to talk about.
And behind the leader of this camp is the Chilean army and security forces organised according to the class principle. In their fear of losing their privileges, they are ready to torture, kill and habitually talk about «saving the values of Western civilisation”. That power hasn’t gone away either. And it knows how to find its own leaders.
3. Finally, the last and most important thing. The choice that Chile made on December 19, 2021, is not a choice between the «ultra-left» and the «ultra-right», in the shades of which it is easy to get confused. In reality, Chileans chose between keeping the country within a democratic system with an attempt at moderate social reforms and establishing an extremely authoritarian regime, which can not but resemble the confrontation of the 1970s.
Although there are differences — «neoliberal reforms», which benefited 15% of the population, did not remove the stratification, but spurred it on; wealth never spilled over the edges of the bowls that the rich clung to. The anti-fascist and democratic forces of Chile, in turn, showed the ability to mobilise, fascism in a new guise to power this time did not pass. It is important that this time everything was decided at the polling stations, by voting, but future confrontations may be tougher.