Will Chile become a cemetery of neo-liberalism?

Students emerged from politics 35 The year-old Borich made a special promise in this election campaign. They said- ‘Chile became the birthplace of neo-liberalism, Now this will become his graveyard. The question is whether Borich will be able to create a mass struggle and active public intervention for qualitative change? Will you be able to inspire and excite a large section of the public?

Chile is the third Latin American country in 2021 to elect a leftist president. Because of the history of Chile, the election of Gabriel Borich as president there is a bit more special. Chile was the first country in Latin America where a socialist leader was elected president for the first time. Salvador Ayendé became president in 1970, who was assassinated in a military coup in 1973. It is now an established fact that a part of the Chilean military, in collaboration with the US intelligence agency, the CIA, conspired to remove Ayende from power.

Borich, 35, a student-turned-politician, made a special promise in this election campaign. He said- ‘Chile had become the birthplace of neo-liberalism, now it will become its graveyard.’ The historical context of this promise is that when the military overthrew the Socialist government by assassinating Ayende, then-military dictator Augusto Pinochet had relentlessly implemented neo-liberal policies in Chile. Ayende’s short reign is known for nationalization and initiation of public welfare programmes. Reversing all those policies, Pinochet adopted a policy of indiscriminate privatization under the supervision of American advocates of neo-liberalism. He ruthlessly crushed its opposition. The heart-wrenching stories of human rights abuses in Chile during that time are now a part of world history.

Pinochet implemented neo-liberal policies at a time when the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had not yet arrived in America and Britain. Both these leaders are seen as symbols of neo-liberalism in the world. However, it was in this context that Gabriel Borich made headlines around the world for his remarks that if he won, the grave of neo-liberalism would be dug in Chile. By the way, there is another context to this promise of his. A powerful anti-neo-liberal movement ran in Chile in 2019 and 2020. Even the restrictions imposed during the Corona epidemic failed to weaken the edge of this movement. Finally, in 2020, the then President Sebastian Pinera accepted the demand of the agitators that the Constituent Assembly elections would be held to make a new constitution in the country.

This election was held in May this year. In this, those parties and organizations who have been opposed to neo-liberalism got a majority. One of the effects of this Constituent Assembly election result was a strong reaction from the bourgeoisie, the wealthy, and the right-wing sections of the country. He used all his might in the presidential election to thwart that mandate. The result of this was that in the first phase of voting for the presidential election, the far-right and Jose Antonio Cast, who claimed to be the heir of Pinochet, became the first number. Cast has declared Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as his idol. Clearly, this had deepened concern in the progressive circles of Chile. The fear was that if Kast was victorious, it would be very difficult for the Constituent Assembly to make a progressive constitution and implement it on the country. At the same time, the fear of establishing a regime like Trump and Bolsonaro in the country also deepened.

That is why the second phase of voting, held on 19 December, became a question of life and death for the progressive forces of Chile. He has to give credit for the fact that all those forces stood behind Borich, forgetting their differences. As a result, Borich won by a margin of almost 11 per cent, getting 55.9 per cent of the vote. So now they are in a position to make Chile the grave of neo-liberalism. But will they really do or will they be able to?

This question arises partly from both his own perspective and partly from his experience of the use of the Left in Latin America. In July this year, a leftist president was elected for the first time in Peru in the form of Pedro Castio. Castio was a teacher and entered politics while working in the Teachers’ Union. They declare themselves to be Marxists. When he was contesting elections, his simple lifestyle became very popular. But after becoming the President, his attitude has not been the same. Rather, his tenure of the last four months has been full of compromises. Even compromising with the institutions controlled by the ruling class of the country, he abandoned his special socialist allies whom he himself had appointed as ministers. Today the result is that Castio’s popularity level in opinion polls has dropped to 28 percent.

What has happened in Peru is not a question of Castio personally or his allegiance. The question is on the experiences after coming to power through electoral means. We will discuss it further. However, another Latin American country that has elected a left president this year is Honduras. There Giomara Castro was elected president three weeks ago. His term has not officially started yet. Castro is the wife of former leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya was removed from the presidency in 2009 in a military coup. At present, Argentina, another large country in the region, also has a leftist government.

In Honduras, Zelaya became president during what is called the Pink Revolution in Latin America (it is said that the leftists of Latin America do not like this term). However, the phenomenon that started with the coming to power of Ugo Chávez in Venezuela then spread to most of the countries of South and Central America except Peru and Colombia. In Chile also then the forces of the soft left came to power. But then the right wing retaliated in most countries. Somewhere through elections, sometimes through overthrow of power and sometimes through excessive use of constitutional provisions, he removed the Left parties and leaders from power.

The countries that have been an exception to this phenomenon are Venezuela and Nicaragua. There was also a brief military coup in Bolivia, although the Movement for Socialism party returned to power in 2020 within a year. Since then, the trend has reversed in the region, with the results of this year’s elections in Peru, Honduras and now Chile. Now in 2022 elections are to be held in this region in terms of population in two big countries – Brazil and Colombia. Elections will be held in Colombia in the middle of the year, where for the first time leftist forces are seen in a strong position. It is possible that this time for the first time in the history of Colombia they will be successful in coming to power.

However, the world’s attention is focused even more on Brazil, where the presidential election will be held in October. Former President Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, is in the fray again this time and his chances of winning are considered bright.

However, now this whole phenomenon is more than two decades old. During this time leftist governments were formed and removed or removed. So in this regard, the question is important that how should this whole phenomenon be seen? Or, what has their overall experience been like and what lessons can be learned from it?

But before considering these questions, it is necessary to make an understanding of the character of the Latin American Left. Left in itself is a misleading term. It is a relative word. That is, in an extreme right-wing environment, a person with relatively less right-wing thinking can also be called a leftist in the context there. Actually, that’s how the word is used. In the US, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC), a well-known member of the Democratic Party’s House of Representatives, once said that if she were in a European country, she would be a Conservative or right-wing member with her current stance. Whereas in America, the Democratic Party is considered progressive, and the other AOC is also related to its faction considered to be progressive.

The same applies to the Latin American left. There is a difference in the policies and understanding of the groups which are called left in different countries. If we talk about Chile itself, then there are deep differences between Gabriel Borich and the Communist Party there. The Communist Party had fielded its candidate in the presidential election. But he got less votes than Borich, due to which he gave his support to Borich in the second phase. Among the points on which the Communist Party and Borich’s party, Frente Amplio differ, are attitudes towards Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Borich broadly agrees with the criticisms of the US regarding the state of human rights in these countries. This is probably because the main conflict in Latin America is not, in Borich’s understanding, between the people there and American imperialism. Whereas this is the understanding of the Communist Party.

The governments of Cuba (where a communist government was formed through revolution), Venezuela and Nicaragua have maintained a clear and combative approach to imperialism. Now the reality is that the Communist Party has been in power in Cuba for the last six decades, maintaining its popularity. The governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua have also been in power for more than a decade and a half. Bolivia can also be placed with them, where the popularity of the Movement for Socialism party has remained intact. The party has consistently been friendly towards Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The governments of these four countries have adopted their policy of playing the dominant role of the government in the economy, nationalization and preference for the public sector, and spending a large part of the budget on public welfare.

Whereas the leftist governments of other countries have largely followed the policy of spending a greater part of the treasury on public welfare leaving the neo-liberal or capitalist structure as it is. The result is that there is little change in the class character of the society. Most of the centers of power, including the media, are held by the traditional ruling class. This enables him to set the narrative of politics. In the midst of this, as soon as the popularity of the Left government declines for some reason or the ruling class is able to do so artificially, it starts a campaign to remove that government. This has happened to most of the governments that came to power this century as part of the so-called Pink Wave.

That’s why Borich’s promise that he would make Chile a cemetery for neo-liberalism attracted the most attention. And that’s why the question remains relevant, will they really be able to do that? On the basis of experience so far it can be said that if Borich is serious about his promise, he will have to follow more or less the same path of Latin countries whose socialist governments he has been critical of so far. The deciding question will be whether they remain content with their image of the relatively left or embrace socialist policies. If he embraced socialist policies, it is possible that some voters who came in his favor because of his soft image may turn away from him. But they can also usher in a greater unity of socialist-communist forces, as did Salvador Ayende.

Borich might recall an old quote by Bernie Sanders, a leader who called himself a Democratic Socialist in his neighboring country, America. When Sanders was campaigning for the Democratic Party’s candidacy for president, he bluntly said that even if he got to the White House, he would be able to make a qualitative difference only if his supporters continued to march on the streets for him. But keep on descending. Clearly, from the experience of his long political career, Sanders has learned and learned so much that just winning by a margin of votes in an electoral democracy is not enough to bring about change. In such democratic systems, there are so many barriers and balancing arrangements to maintain the basic character of the system that it is not possible for any leader or party to break them despite strong and sincere will.

Therefore, the path of qualitative change in democratic systems also comes out only through people’s struggle and active intervention of the people. The real question is, will Borich be able to inspire and motivate a large section of the public with his soft left image?

So for the time being, all that can be said is that the people of Chile have made a choice. On seeing what is the experience of it there, the eyes of the powers of the whole world, who want to remove their societies from the maze of neo-liberalism.

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