The Government of Gabriel Boric is not going through its best moment. For weeks now, the violence in rural areas of Chile and also in the capital has taken over the agenda of La Moneda, the presidential seat, and has forced the president to focus on an area that is always controversial, such as security and public order, while tries to find space to launch social initiatives to address the “important social fracture” – as Boric himself has defined it – as the largest increase in the minimum wage in 29 years.
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The death of journalist Francisca Sandoval while covering the Labor Day demonstrations in the Meiggs neighborhood, an area of Santiago with a strong presence of organized mafias, weapons and informal commerce, has shocked the country’s society. The 30-year-old reporter and worker for the community radio station La Victoria 3, died 12 days after being shot in the head during the protest, allegedly perpetrated by a street vendor with links to drug trafficking. She has been the first journalist assassinated in the exercise of her profession in the last 36 years in Chile, since the end of the dictatorship.
“Violence harms democracy and irreparably damages families. Our commitment is to security and justice, and we will not rest in that desire”, wrote President Boric on Twitter. Weeks before, students were also attacked by street vendors who were demonstrating in the same neighborhood. One of them ended life-threatening. In recent months, in addition, school violence and crime have increased, and a few days ago an escort for the president was shot on the same day that three armed men stormed the house of Defense Minister Maya Fernández. some experts They speak of a public security crisis. “It is the worst moment for security that the country has experienced since the return to democracy,” the Undersecretary for Crime Prevention, Eduardo Vergara, said in April.
Escalation of violence in Wallmapu
“The right-wing and center-left governments of the last 30 years have been characterized by addressing this problem from a punitive and control approach, with a short-term view, increasing penalties, creating new criminal types and increasing the number of police officers. and its attributions over people”, says Gonzalo Huenumil, researcher associated with the Center for Studies in Citizen Security (CESC) and former colonel of Carabineros.
For the director of the Urban Security Center of the Alberto Hurtado University, Franz Vanderschueren, “this government has received a fragmented country with new security problems, but without agreed policies on the matter.” In his opinion, the country has hot spots in this area such as the management of migration in the north, the presence of organized crime and the increase in violence after the social outbreak of 2019 and the pandemic. To this – he adds – “two major problems are added”: the crisis of legitimacy of the carabineros and the conflict in the south of the country, in the Mapuche territory of Wallmapu, between indigenous communities and the Chilean State for the recovery of lands. A pending issue that none of the previous governments – whatever the political color – has been able to resolve and that has recently intensified.
Faced with the increase in attacks in this territory, the Chilean president has chosen to step back and militarize the area, although at the beginning of his government he was always in favor of withdrawing the Armed Forces. The president’s decision has been difficult to accept for the Communist Party, a partner in the government coalition, and even for members of the Broad Front, his own sector. During the government of Sebastián Piñera, Boric and the Chilean left criticized his predecessor’s strategy of decreeing states of constitutional exception in the area. Now, faced with the rise in violent incidents, he has chosen to declare a “limited” State of Emergency for the protection of routes and roads in the region of La Araucanía and the province of Arauco, in the Biobío region.
The mistakes made by the Minister of the Interior, Izkia Siches, a doctor by profession who came to office after becoming one of the key figures in the success of the left in the second presidential round, have not contributed to improving the outlook. Siches wanted to visit some Wallmapu communities to open a dialogue, but she did so without the permission of the local authorities and the operation had to be aborted due to lack of security of the ministerial delegation. Weeks later, the minister issued a public accusation against the previous government that turned out to be false. “The absence of a strong and experienced command in the Ministry of the Interior has deteriorated the image of leadership required by the figure of the minister of this portfolio, which in Chile is equivalent to that of a prime minister,” says Vanderschueren.
a stone in the shoe
Security and public order are on their way to becoming the stone in Boric’s shoe. The formulas to combat violence are always controversial, especially for a government coalition that is so diverse and that integrates forces that the right-wing opposition criticizes for too soft positions and little interest in the subject. “There has been a lack of forceful discourse by non-conservative sectors about the urgent need to address the structural reasons that affect violence, such as poverty, marginalization or lack of education,” says Huenumil. Even so, he believes that Boric is making an effort in this regard to “pay attention to prevention, in the circumstances that affect the most vulnerable groups and that affect the quality of life and the generation of violence”, such as the aforementioned increase of the minimum wage.
According to him, the lack of institutional response is due to the fact that the competent bodies in the matter have acted for a long time “independently of each other”, “according to their own approaches” and “without effective collaboration or coordination in matters in which they are related and of national interest. For example, “there is a uniformed police force that does not share data or information with its civilian police counterpart,” he adds.
For Vanderschueren, the response that the Executive has given so far brings “few novelties and they are too timid due to the lack of consensus between the forces of the Government itself and due to the complexity of the situation.” He believes that the scenario “risks getting worse if inflation and the climate crisis grow or if the Constitutional Convention fails, which would increase the climate of anomie.”
Boric is looking for formulas for public security and order that do not resemble the proposals of the two coalitions that have preceded him, under the pressure of having to find quick and effective solutions. The latest polls show a disenchantment of citizens with his government and a sharp drop in expectations. His management of rural and urban violence in the coming months will contribute to a large extent to whether or not this trend is maintained.