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New Chilean President Boric begins the ‘progressive era’ in Chile

Published on March 15, 2022

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Gabriel Boric took power in Chile last Friday, March 11. President Guillermo Lasso took advantage of the inauguration trip to reaffirm the relationship between the two countries and to seek a new ally on the road to the Pacific Alliance.

International delegations arrived in Santiago Thursday for the inauguration of progressive leader Gabriel Boric, who became the youngest president in Chilean history on Friday.

Nearly 500 guests attended, including eleven heads of state or government from around the world.

Boric, just 36 years old, won the December ballot by more than 55.8% of the votes and almost 12 points difference to the far-right candidate, José Antonio Kast.

A defender of the constituent process in which the country is immersed, and a staunch critic of the neoliberal model installed during the Pinochet military regime (1973-1990), the former student leader wants to expand the role of the State towards a welfare model like that of Europe.

He will also head a feminist government with 14 women and 10 men, where the person who will have the most power within the future cabinet will be the independent doctor Izkia Siches, the first woman to hold the position of Minister of the Interior in Chile.

“Being a feminist government means changing the way in which we relate to each other, with which we see the world, which has been told by men for too many centuries,” said the future president in a meeting with his cabinet, prior to taking office.

The Chilean process and Boric’s challenges

The former Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera, elected in 2010 and 2014, said goodbye to power after four years marked by social outbreak, poor management of the pandemic, an economic crisis, the discussion of a new Constitution, the conflict in Araucanía and an unprecedented migration crisis.

The 2019 protests, which were contained after the agreement to create the Constitutional Convention, were marked by strong police repression and widespread human rights violations, denounced by groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI).

The outbreak that shook the country was the biggest political crisis in three decades and triggered an unprecedented constitutional process that should culminate in the middle of this year with the calling of a referendum to ratify the proposed new Magna Carta.

The text that will replace the current one, inherited from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and considered the origin of the country’s inequalities.

A large part of the population has pinned its hopes of change towards a fairer model with this constitution, which is why taking care of it so that the process comes to fruition is one of the main challenges of the new government.  Other issues facing the new president include

  • Migration crisis

Since February 2021, the police have recorded more than 50,000 irregular entries into Chile through unauthorized border crossings, with a daily flow of hundreds of people.

The magnitude of this unprecedented migratory movement towards Chile and the rest of the southern cone, derived from the Venezuelan exodus that already reaches nearly 6 million people, has generated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the north of the country.

An unexpected challenge that combines discontent of the local population, lack of basic goods for citizens who enter, and a border militarization in force since mid-February.

Controlling irregular migration and building diplomatic bridges with neighboring countries that are also affected by the crisis will be one of the urgent challenges that the new Chilean administration must take on.

  • Violence and insecurity

For decades, the so-called “Mapuche conflict” has been taking place in southern Chile, pitting indigenous communities against large agricultural and forestry companies that exploit lands considered ancestral by the country’s largest native people.

It is a territory occupied by force by the State at the end of the 19th century in a process officially known as the “Pacification of La Araucanía.”

In recent years, in the heat of frequent arson attacks on machinery and property, the conflict has intensified, causing the death of a large number of Mapuche community members at the hands of State agents and also causing the deaths of police officers and hunger strikes by indigenous prisoners.

On October 12, Sebastián Piñera decreed a state of emergency that militarized the area, a measure that Boric announced that he will not renew, saying he will “call for dialogue” between the parties.

  • Extreme drought

Last year ended as the fourth driest on record in Chile, a critical water scenario that extends throughout the entire territory and most dramatically affects the central zone, where thousands of inhabitants receive water daily from truck cisterns.

This occurs in tandem with a continued increase in average temperature: last winter temperatures almost reached 85 degrees on some days. There have been a total of 13 consecutive years of drought, marked by low rainfall and a serious deficit of snow water in Andean areas.

Increasing aid for small farmers and ranchers, preventing fires and guaranteeing the water supply will be a priority task.

  • Post pandemic recovery

Chile, which suffered a significant drop in its GDP of 5.8% in 2020, due to the pandemic -the largest drop in four decades- has shown a rapid economic recovery, although the Central Bank’s projections for this year do not exceed 2.5%.

With one of the most open economies in the world and despite the fact that neither Russia nor Ukraine are among its main trade allies, its status as a net importer makes Chile a country with vulnerable points in the face of the war in Eastern Europe.

Fighting the inflationary shocks derived from the increase in the price of oil and wheat and recovering jobs will be one of the main challenges to lift the Chilean economy, as well as maintain control of the pandemic.

To all this, one more challenge has been added at the last moment: the effects that the war in Ukraine will have on the globalized economy, which will also hit the fragile Chilean system.

Ecuador ‘tests’ the terrain

President Lasso met with Boric on Thursday afternoon and took the opportunity to request his support to join the Pacific Alliance, the economic bloc made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.

The President and Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín appealed to the new Chilean president for support so that Ecuador can achieve its intention to be a full member of the trade group. This objective was also pursued by the government of Lenín Moreno.

Since he was elected, Lasso has made that goal a priority and so have his chancellors. He has held meetings with the presidents of the member countries to seek the necessary political support. All have been favorable to the possibility.

The main trade link that is needed is a trade agreement with Mexico, and the government is working on it. In January, Holguín stated that “our bilateral agreement with Mexico is one of the most important tasks that we will have in the coming days and months.”

During his visit to Chile, Lasso also presented the country’s investment portfolio, of $30 billion.

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