In the midst of what seems to be a regional shock, I know I am going against the tide, but the result of last Sunday 19 of the presidential elections in Chile doesn’t surprise me at all.
I lived in Chile, a country that I think I know quite well. I still have close friends there: some with French surnames, others with Spanish surnames, a handful of German descendants and many others of Mapuche heritage. I happily partied on Las Fiestas Dieciocheras, driven by one too many terremotos. I tried, unsuccessfully, to let myself be seduced by piscola, and on countless occasions, I went shopping to Alto Las Condes (although when my priority was volume, of course, I went to Patronato). Santiago was my place: I lived for a few months in Las Condes, then in Ñuñoa and said goodbye to the Chilean capital in a comfortable apartment in Vitacura. I had a hammock on the balcony.
Chile has a characteristic that I consider unique, not only in Latin America but in the whole world: the depth of the social rupture (which Argentines call “the crack”) has no parallel. It is, truly, the most dissociated society I know (and of course, I am including in my appreciation all the elements that led to Donald Trump‘s victory in 2016 and Joe Biden’s in 2020).
Much has been said about disunited societies in which whole groups seem to be at the antipodes of their fellow citizens. Such a feature is, in any nation on the globe, a time bomb, as that fracture is the root, food and engine of all populism. And that is exactly what was observed in Chile on December 19: the materialization of fanaticism that had been macerating, for some time, in the guts of its citizens.
It is perfectly natural for countries to elect leaders of different political tonalities. Normally, where re-election is possible, there is a maximum of three terms of the same government. Then, its antithesis follows. In a mature and republican democracy, such succession never leads to irreparable disasters. The particularity of Chile, however, is that these “tonalities” are taken to their paroxysm, to their most acute and radical manifestation.
In this context, there are no surprises: an extremist society can only give birth to extremist candidates. Lagos, and recently Piñera, with their lights and shadows, have been by far the most “moderate” options that Chile has been able to provide.
Speaking with Chileans, this polarization is seen in their Manichean reading of their atrocious recent history: on the one hand, there are those who vindicate Pinochet (not the Pinochet who hired Friedman, but the one who tortured and murdered); and on the other, those who drool even today for Salvador Allende, ignoring that his “redistributive” policies not only achieved the universalization of misery but were the trigger of the darkest hours of the country.
José Antonio Kast, sad alternative to Gabriel Boric, was no exception. Kast did not know how to detach himself from the historical dilemma that splits the citizenship in two; and as if that were not enough, he indulged in unacceptable xenophobic manifestations, particularly against Venezuelan immigrants, victims of the same socialism that Boric will try to implement once he becomes president.
Even so, so much was at stake in Chile, so much had to be lost by the (for the time being) most prosperous country in the region, that even the victory of this judgemental man of exacerbated ways was desirable to what happened on Sunday 19.
If Boric consolidates his program, Chile will fall into the same communist clutches that devoured Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina. Advances that made Chile a literally outstanding country will be lost. All Chileans will depend on the intelligence and restraint of the opposition forces, whichever side of the spectrum they are on.