Gabriel Boric, The Leftist Who Led The Student Protests And Can Now Govern Chile

Gabriel Boric, the leftist who led the student protests and can now govern Chile

To the surprise of many, Gabriel Boric was in second position in the first round of the Chilean presidential elections. Two points behind the far-right José Antonio Kast, the leftist candidate was optimistic after learning the results. “It will not be the first time that we start from behind,” Boric said of the chances of beating his rival in the December elections. “We did it when we fought for education, and they didn’t believe us, we did it when we broke the [sistema electoral] binominal, with the board of signatures [para presentar su candidatura], with the primaries [frente al Partido Comunista], and I have no doubt that we are going to do it for the second round with unity. “Boric synthesized in this fragment a relevant part of the path that has led him to compete to be the next president of Chile.

Gabriel Boric (Punta Arenas, 1986) is 35 years old and is one of the former leaders of the student movement that shook the country in 2011. From the street he jumped to the institutions and in 2014 he was elected deputy for his region, Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica, the southernmost in the country.

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Descendant of a Croatian family, on the father’s side, and Catalan, on the mother’s side, he is the eldest of three siblings of the third generation born in Chile. He grew up in a wealthy environment in southern Chile and landed in the capital to study law at the University of Chile, the most prestigious in the country. “I am privileged … I became left wing when I became aware that some of the privileges I had were sustained by others not having them”, recognized in an interview.

His path to institutional politics cannot be separated from his past as the leader of the Chilean student movement. Along with other names of this generation, such as Giorgio Jackson or Camila Vallejo, who today accompany him at the helm of the candidacy, he was part of a generation of young people willing to jeopardize an educational model inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990 ).

He burst onto the Chilean political scene in 2011, when he was elected president of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile (Fech) and, from there, he was one of the protagonists of the mobilizations that in 2011 demanded “a free, public education and quality”.

“The enemies are those who want to privatize public education and commercialize all aspects of our lives […] The articulation of a new movement is coming not only to change education, but to transform the entire country “, Boric said once proclaimed the winner.

At that time, the first government of Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) tried to reduce the tension in the streets and opted for a natural wear and tear of the movement, which never came. The students’ pulse with Piñera was sustained for months. The candidate has repeatedly recalled those days, especially the protest of August 4, 2011, one of the most repressed since the return to democracy until then. The day ended with almost 900 detainees only in Santiago de Chile. As president of the Fech, Boric also became one of the main spokespersons for the Chilean Student Confederation (Confech). The visibility of those years opened the way to politics.

Boric landed in Congress in 2014, at the age of 27, after almost finishing his law studies. He was pending the final degree exam and memory, so he is not licensed and has not received the title of lawyer. “Being in the race I could not imagine practicing in courts, litigating, what straw! [¡qué pereza!]. In fact, I did not qualify nor am I thinking of qualifying, I do not want to dedicate myself to being a lawyer ever, “he acknowledged in an interview in 2018. For these claims he received criticism during the campaign.

From the Chamber of Deputies, where he was re-elected in 2017, he formed with Jackson, his former partner in the protests, the left-wing coalition Frente Amplio, which for the elections of that year burst with 20 deputies. In the legislative elections this Sunday they added five more parliamentarians.

The block is often compared to Podemos in Spain. Boric closely followed its birth and evolution and, on several occasions, has met with Pablo Iglesias and the current Minister of Equality, Irene Montero. Concepts such as “the political caste” were once also heard on the Chilean left. Another of his references is former Uruguayan president José Mujica, who participated in the Boric campaign.

One of the decisions for which he was most criticized was the signing of the transversal political agreement for a new Constitution, just one month after the start of the social outbreak of October 2019. The gesture, which he has always defended, cost him the reproach of part of its bases, which they considered to be a way to save President Sebastián Piñera and stop social mobilization.

Just a few months ago, no one imagined the possibility that Boric could reach the La Moneda palace, the seat of the country’s presidency. Just one month after his 35th birthday, the age at which Chilean law allows him to run in a presidential election, his party proclaimed him as a candidate. Then he became the standard bearer for the entire Frente Amplio, but two great challenges still remained: collect 35,000 signatures in three weeks to validate his nomination and win the primaries for the Communist Party. Against all odds, he achieved both goals.

“They told us it was impossible, but here we are,” he said after getting the signatures. Since then he became the representative of the I Approve Dignity coalition, which he integrates together with the communists. “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism in Latin America, it will also be its grave,” he said in his proclamation as a candidate.

His rivals reproach him for his alliance with the Communist Party, despite their differences, especially in reference to the political situation in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. “In our government the commitment to democracy and human rights will be total, without support of any kind for dictatorships and autocracies, annoy whoever bothers,” he said a few days ago.

The more traditional right calls him “extreme left” and repeatedly blames him for the meeting he held in 2018 with Ricardo Palma Salamanca, convicted of the murder of former Pinochet senator Jaime Guzmán, architect of the dictatorship and ideologist of the current Constitution. He has also been criticized for his inexperience and youth.

In the final stretch of the campaign, he had to give explanations for a complaint against you for a case of alleged sexual harassment happened in 2012, when he was president of the federation of students of the University. The identity of the complainant is kept secret, but the complaint was spread after several posts on networks. The candidate said he was willing to “an investigation” and assured that he had not harassed the complainant. It also claimed to have evolved. “I am always self-critical regarding sexist comments and attitudes that I have had in the past and I am constantly reviewing my conduct to adjust it to the principles that we defend,” he said.

His proposals include increasing the minimum wage, raising taxes on the richest and changes in the pension, health and education systems. But to face the second round against the extreme right, which is expected to be adjusted, it needs to convene all sectors of the opposition and those most disenchanted with politics: listen and understand why they took them, “he said after learning the results. He will inevitably have to moderate some of his positions, but it is still unknown how he will seduce abstentionists and disillusioned with politicians and institutions. If he succeeds in coming to power, he will become the youngest president of Chile, a millennial who will lead the government more to the left from the socialist Salvador Allende.

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