“Each city receives its form from the desert to which it opposes.” This statement by Ítalo Calvino provides interesting services to the interpretation of public life. Politicians often define their leadership through substantive pronouncements. But they also do it out of affinity or rejection towards other players on the board. Sometimes, the difficulty in offering programmatic details condemns them to this second form of presentation. They are what your relationships with other actors allow you to be.
Gabriel Boric is an example of this mode of affirmation through the contours. Very understandable: the successive stages through which he built the consensus that led him to the Presidency of Chile have made him a tightrope walker. He must have extraordinary ductility to steer his ship, preventing part of the passage from mutinying, dissatisfied with the course he has chosen. This is the reason why, to decipher which is that course, many times it will be necessary to observe the actions and reactions of Boric with respect to third parties.
In the last days there were two novelties. The new president made statements regarding his relationship with Joe Biden and with the Arauco Malleco Coordinator (CAM), which is the most aggressive political-military organization in the indigenous claim.
Boric’s relationship with the United States is crucial to shaping his government. The new president stands out against a broader landscape, which is that of a movement for the renewal of the Latin American left. To take note of this phenomenon, it is convenient to read the excellent article that Federico Rivas Molina, Naiara Galarraga Gortázar and Santiago Torrado signed in EL PAÍS last Friday. There the terms of this process of change are explained, one of whose features is the distancing from Castroism, Chavismo, Kirchnerism or Sandinismo.
These four versions of the local left are imbued with a peculiarity that has its roots in history: its nationalist / anti-imperialist character. In other words, a determining note of the radical currents in Latin America has been their enmity with the United States. From this hostility another singularity has derived. The anti-American bias has led these movements to relativize the human rights violations committed by regimes whose authoritarianism is intended to disguise with the nationalist flag.
There are several signs that Boric embodies another style. One of them is the tone of the talk he had with Biden, when the president of the United States called him, last Thursday, to greet him on his electoral victory. Boric, through his Twitter account, reported this contact: “I just received a call from the President of the USA @joebiden. In addition to the joy shared by our respective electoral triumphs, we talked about common challenges such as fair trade, the climate crisis and the strengthening of democracy. We will continue talking ”. The statement issued by the White House said: “The two leaders discussed their shared commitment to social justice, democracy, human rights and inclusive growth.”
For the Democratic Administration this approach is of strategic importance. It aims to show that the enmity with regimes such as the Cuban, the Venezuelan, the Nicaraguan or the Bolivian, is not due to their being from the left but because they are tyrannical. That intention also guided Barack Obama, when he favored dealing with Michelle Bachelet’s Chile or José Mujica’s Uruguay. They are tributes that progressive leaders, like Biden or Obama, pay to their own party base.
Boric greatly facilitates this understanding, not because he is making a turn towards diplomatic pragmatism, but because of a position that he had already established since the beginning of his career with La Moneda. It should be remembered that the first segment of that race was marked by competition with Daniel Jadue, the candidate of the Communist Party. The contradiction with Jadue delimited Boric. And it did so by giving it features alien to the Bolivarian version of the left. In the debate that both held on July 11, the new president formulated an unequivocal reproach to the human rights violations in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.
Boric and Jadue had a more severe short circuit in October. It was when the communist leader, already defeated in the primaries, warned that “the day Gabriel moves a millimeter from the line of the program, they will have me first in the line of complaint.” Boric responded by recalling that “the winning candidate was me and therefore the final decisions will be made by me, and not Daniel Jadue.” He also added that “there is no place for threats.” The mediator with communism is key to modulate the idiosyncrasies of the new government, especially because that party has very rigid positions on foreign policy. It is in light of this bond that Boric’s cordiality to Biden increases his relevance.
The other issue around which the personality of the next Chilean administration has been defined in these days is the relationship with the Arauco-Malleco Coordinator. It is a political and military organization that claims territorial autonomy for the Mapuche nation. CAM defends armed violence as a method. That is why the government of Sebastián Piñera has considered it a terrorist group.
CAM issued a defiant statement last week, putting Boric in an uncomfortable situation. The declaration contained a paragraph justifying the taking of arms, “whoever is ruling.” The president-elect answered saying that he was open to dialogue with all those who are on the road to peace, clarifying that one must be careful with this matter, due to the suffering caused to the Mapuches and also to the victims of their attacks.
Encrypted in that ambiguous pronouncement nests a novelty. Until now the authorities had refused to meet with an armed organization. Not only Piñera. Socialist Michelle Bachelet, today the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also rejected any contact when she was president.
CAM activism is concentrated, above all, in Araucanía. That region was militarized by Piñera, within the framework of a State of Exception that was voted on and extended several times by Congress. In those votes, the deputies and senators aligned with Boric spoke out against it.
The Mapuche struggle is present all the time on the Chilean agenda. Armed violence carried out by one of their organizations, too. In the area where this drama unfolds, the electorate leaned very noticeably to the right. The issue raises one of the most challenging problems for the left on a universal scale: how to repress those who, even behind a just cause, challenge the monopoly of violence that the State must exercise.
In the case of Chile, at this historical moment, it is a problem with great symbolic potential. Boric comes to government after a collapse. Cornered by the chaotic overflow of public space, the ruling class had to hand over the Constitution in order to restore calm. The CAM attacks have no direct connection with the social outbreak of 2019. But both phenomena are essential to understand the challenge facing the new president: proposing and coordinating a social contract that restores harmony. Lead a second transition. This is the desert on which the new Chile must take shape.
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