MOSCOW, 23 Dec 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
In the presidential election, Gabriel Borich, the candidate of the left coalition, who is already called the “second Allende”, won with 56% of the votes over the ultraconservative Jose Antonio Kast, who called himself a Pinochet supporter. What do these analogies hide and what choice did Chile make?
The intensity of the confrontation in the Chilean election and its significance is already evidenced by the fact that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was one of the first to congratulate the elected head of state. Moreover, how he congratulated! “Greetings to the people of Salvador Allende and Victor Jara in connection with the convincing victory over fascism,” Maduro tweeted on Sunday.
The subtext is obvious. The fact that Chile, half a century after the storming of the La Moneda Palace by the army of Commander-in-Chief Pinochet and the assassination of President Allende, found itself in a situation dramatically reminiscent of the events of 1973, is well known to everyone. But a careful look at things shows that history does not repeat itself. The new choice that the country has just made is more significant than working on the mistakes of the past.
Yes, the “Chilean May 9th” came on the voting day of December 19th, and this, in principle, almost corresponds to the calendar change of seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. But in a political, and even more so in a social and economic sense, the current “Chilean spring” is only a request for future changes. The main thing is what Chileans have spoken out against and for.
The essence of this choice is that Chileans voted against Pinochet’s legacy. Against the system that the “Chicago boys” – followers of the Chicago Milton Friedman School of Economics – rebuilt in the country under him as in a laboratory test tube. The country rejected the very neoliberal “Chilean miracle”, the achievements of which at one time Gaidar and Chubais supposed to make post-Perestroika Russia happy. Let me remind you: the project consisted in minimising all social functions of the state; it was claimed that the “invisible hand of the market” would regulate all social problems together with the economy. And the experiment began after the constitution was adopted at gunpoint, prohibiting the participation of the state in the economy, and at the same time trade unions, strikes, demonstrations, parties. All of this, supposedly, was not supposed to scare off investors.
In essence, the “Chilean miracle” turned education, healthcare and culture into business sectors, led to the privatisation of everything that could be profitable, eliminated the support of local producers, turned private pension funds that had no alternative for the population into a financial pyramid. “We must protect the rich,” Pinochet liked to repeat – “they are the ones who create our wealth”. The ideologists of the dictatorship created the theory of “overflow”: it was implied that when the rich get rich, prosperity will inevitably “flow” to the rest.
It didn’t flow. The socio-economic inequality in Chile is just screaming. There is no free university education in the country, medical care is not available to the majority of the population, non-alternative private pension funds have driven the older generation into poverty. 30 years after Pinochet’s departure from the presidency, Chile is a deeply divided country: the fruits of the “macroeconomic miracle” went to about 10-15% of the inhabitants (they have 80% of the national wealth), all the rest are on the sidelines. This is data from the report of the French research association World Inequality Lab for 2022.
The social reforms timidly initiated after Pinochet by the transitional governments left this economic model untouched: radical changes were hindered by the very constitution adopted under the general. It is no coincidence that 80% of Chileans voted for the development of a new Constitution in a referendum in October 2020.
This is probably interesting even from the point of view of macroeconomics: when pensions, education, medicine are in private hands, and there are no social guarantees, even economic growth does not lead to an increase in living standards. Only voters in Chile had no time for theory: candidate Gabriel Borich called for the scrapping of the social model, in which “literally all spheres of life are monetised.”
The warning, unnoticed by fans of “neoliberal miracles”, was not even a riot, but in fact an uprising against the next increase in transport prices, which began in October 2019 in Santiago. The police opened fire, there were thousands of victims, clashes continued until the pandemic quarantine. A huge problem for the political opposition was to translate these protests into voting – according to April data from the private research centre Centro de Estudios Públicos, only 2% (!) of Chileans trusted all political parties after 30 years of semi-reforms.
Hence the problems with the turnout in the first round – 52.7% abstained. But people came to the second round – they were spurred on by the entry into the second round of the far-right lawyer José Antonio Kast. This son of a Wehrmacht officer and a “sausage king”, a favourite of the Chilean army and wealthy neighbourhoods, bluntly stated that if Pinochet were alive, he would vote for him. It is not a fact that the student leader Gabriel Borich convinced everyone. It just became clear that it was no longer possible to put one’s fate in the hands of ultra-liberal conservatives.
As political scientist Claudia Heiss from the University of Chile emphasises, “this election was the most important after the return to democracy, because it determines who will be president at the time of preparation and implementation of the new constitution” instead of the one inherited from Pinochet. It is assumed that it will also include new elections, that people who have already believed that their votes decide something will come to them. Chile no longer wants to be a laboratory test tube, the country is looking for a way out.
Will it work? Will the United States free float the former flagship of neoliberalism? One can only hope that Washington has too many internal and external problems outside Latin America today. In any case, it is worth wishing the people of Chile to take their fate into their own hands.
Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute Elena Panina, especially for News Front