Victory of Chilean Left Presidential Candidate Strengthens a Trend

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Frente Amplio (Broad Front) candidate Gabriel Boric, 35, won a decisive run-off victory in alliance with the Chilean Communist Party against a right-wing opponent (whose father was a member of Hitler’s Nazi Party) in a changing Latin America, at times unstable. His victory comes after the triumphs earlier in 2021 of Pedro Castillo in Peru and Xiomara Castro in Honduras, both progressive or left-wing. The 2022 horizon presents two important elections: in Colombia, in May, with the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro leading the polls, and in October in Brazil, with the possibility of Lula da Silva returning to the presidency, (replacing neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro).

This continental map, which three years ago was much more adverse for progressive and leftist forces, now appears in the process of recovery of governments in the hands of opponents to the right. The victory of Boric, who defined himself years ago, for example, as belonging to a “young and Latin American left,” strengthened this tendency.

However, unlike at the beginning of the century, this group of political actors, not only governmental, is in turn marked by distances or divisions. On the one hand, there are presidents or political referents framed within the so-called progressivism, articulated, for example, in the Puebla Group, which met in Mexico a few weeks ago. There, figures such as the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández; of Bolivia, Luis Arce; former presidents such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador (2007-2017); Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (2011-2016), and former presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami, in the case of Chile, stand out.

The Puebla Group brings together progressive and left-wing actors, from Mexico to Argentina, with the absence of members from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. These three countries are the center, together with Bolivia, of the so-called Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a space for the integration of governments that was created in 2014. ALBA, in turn, has had greater political closeness with the so-called Sao Paulo Forum, made up of leftist parties, social movements, leaders, who have shown their support to the leaders of those countries.

The relationship between many progressive actors and ALBA members, with the exception of Bolivia, has been distant in recent years. Thus, for example, the Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who celebrated Boric’s victory, recently stated in a debate that Venezuela is a dictatorship, and the Argentine government, for its part, criticized on several occasions the human rights situation in Cuba.

The new president of Chile, whose party Convergencia Social is part of the Progressive International, as is his campaign manager, Giorgio Jackson, has also manifested strong criticism against the governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, particularly focused also on the issue of human rights, which in turn has earned him debates and questioning within Chile by leftist actors.

The Latin American map of progressive and leftist governments and leaders is currently fragmented, between ALBA, the Puebla Group, and governments such as Bolivia and Mexico, which maintain good relations with both parties. The space where all governments converge, except that of Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting in September in Mexico, a space of integration of states without distinction of the political signs of the governments. Is that where Boric could focus his continental policy?

Boric won the presidency at the head of the coalition Apruebo Dignidad, formed by the Frente Amplio (FA) and the Communist Party (PC). In this pact, the FA obtained the presidential candidacy after the July primary election, and the PC is the largest party, as communist deputy Camila Vallejo stated this Tuesday 21st: “We are the largest party of the coalition, that is a reality, and we probably have some ministers, but we do not have a hegemonic spirit or anything like that; but we are what we are, no more and no less.” The FA in turn is formed by Convergencia Social and Revolución Democrática. The foreign policy positions of the FA and the PC have not always coincided, for example, in the case of Cuba, where the latter has recently expressed its “solidarity with the Cuban government and people”. How could this translate into the foreign strategy of the new government?

This debate will be, in turn, crossed by the space that members of center and center-left forces of the ex-Concertación, such as the Socialist Party (of Salvador Allende, overthrown in Pinochet’s coup), which joined Boric’s support for the second round, could have within the cabinet. Chilean socialism, at the head of the government on several occasions, such as between 2006 and 2010 and 2014 and 2018 with Michelle Bachelet, was part of the Latin American integration process without claiming a centrality of that horizon. Another government part of the ex-Concertación, such as that of Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) of the Party for Democracy, even recognized the coup d’état against Hugo Chávez in 2002.

The internal balance within Boric’s Government, between more left and more center sectors, will surely be reflected in terms of foreign policy. This situation will advance in a context of Latin American opportunity, both to strengthen CELAC or, for example, to re-establish the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), as well as in a context of global dispute marked by the confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

“Chile must consolidate its relations with the US and China, based on criteria of political autonomy and, at the same time, converge with pragmatism in areas of mutual interest with both great powers. We must strengthen and highlight those links and areas of convergence as a long-term path, to be reinforced as part of our strategy of global insertion focused on and from the region”, said Senator Latorre, a backer of Boric, in this regard.

At the moment the cabinet is in the process of being formed and several definitions, as well as measures, will be announced at a later date. Political times in Chile are moving fast and the next step will be marked by the drafting of the new constitution and the plebiscite that will follow in the second half of the year. The South American country is in a moment of exceptionality that will soon bring new events, a context in which a foreign policy will be developed in times of global dispute and a changing continent.

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