The missing center | The duty

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In Chile, the presidential election campaign saw two men in the lead who escape the usual political categories.

First, a former student leader of the 2011 demonstrations, Gabriel Boric: 35 years old, bearded, tattooed, allied with the Communists. In front of him, should find himself – if the polls are correct – José Antonio Kast: ultra-Catholic saying he is close to the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, admirer of Donald Trump and the ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Small revolution in a country where, since the return to democracy at the end of the 1980s, center left and center right have alternated in power, on tiptoes and without calling into question the foundations of the regime.

Chile is a democratic country, endowed with a formally pluralist regime… but remained under a conservative straitjacket in politics, neoliberal in economy, inherited from the dictatorship (1973-1990). Straitjacket enshrined in the Constitution for several of its points (in particular on the intervention of the State in the economy): Pinochet, before leaving, had assured his rear …

In the early 2010s, the student revolt against a largely private and unequal education system signaled the awakening of the forces for change.

In 2019, the demonstrations against the increase in public service tariffs (among other grievances) had found a wider echo, leading for the first time in thirty years to a real questioning of the system.

The cautious, even timid, strategy of a liberal and consensual center-left, embodied by Michelle Bachelet’s two terms of office (2006-2010, 2014-2018), is now being overtaken by the evolution of society.

The “consensus” on the transition, inherited from the years 1988-1990, bore the deep mark of a conservative society – where the socialist Salvador Allende, for the record, had obtained only 37% of the vote, three years before his bloody overthrow. from 1973.

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This elite consensus has always preserved the social order inherited from the dictatorship. History – and we can understand it – not to awaken the authoritarian and militarist forces, which, in this country, have always had a large social base.

Under the current right-wing presidency, that of billionaire Sebastián Piñera, widely discredited (approval rate below 10%) and who has just escaped impeachment in cases of favoritism, a process of overhaul of the Constitution has been spear. At the initiative of the left, with the election of a constituent: the new fundamental text is still being drafted, with a ratification referendum scheduled for 2022.

Towards the real end of “Pinochetism”? We will see it in the scores of Kast and Boric, and in the second round, which could oppose them in December.

The erasure of the quiet alternation of center left and center right, in favor of more radical, even populist choices, can be seen, in Chile, as a necessary and beneficial “sweep”. But this is not necessarily always the case.

Today jostled everywhere, this traditional alternation had its good sides. It could be the pillar of stability and real legitimacy of democracy. In the Chilean case, there was also the concern not to awaken the specter of civil war.

Because politics in Latin America, in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s… it was also the face-to-face encounter of far-left guerrillas and militarized fascisms. With some exceptions in the form of the takeover of power by the extreme left (Cuba, Venezuela) and then other forms of dictatorships and opposition.

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The Venezuelan regime allowed local and regional elections to be held yesterday, with foreign observers: a first for a long time. In Peru, in June 2021, the second round saw the clash of radical populisms. With the victory by a hair of the peasant “Marxist-Leninist” Pedro Castillo against the heiress Keiko Fujimori – herself the daughter of a right-wing putschist father, still in prison.

In Brazil, in 2022, a great test of democracy in the Americas will take place: the probable return of left-wing populist (and nevertheless democrat) Lula da Silva, against the unlikely Jair Bolsonaro.

Democratic confrontation… or the germ of civil war?

François Brousseau is an international affairs columnist for Ici Radio-Canada. [email protected]

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