Gabriel Boric and the long tradition of Chilean socialism

It’s impossible to discuss Chilean politics without facing the ghost of Pinochet

Gabriel Boric and the long tradition of Chilean socialism
Newly elected President Gabriel Boric arrives for a visit to the President of the Constituent Assembly Elisa Loncon on December 21, 2021 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Jonathan Oyarzun/Getty Images)

Today we have a dispatch from Chile on the significance of the victory of newly elected “millennial leftist” and “big time Deftones guy” president Gabriel Boric. Thank you for reading. Please help me continue to pay for great contributors like this one with a paid subscription. It’s pretty cheap right now. The price of a Hell World subscription is like uh bitcoin it … fluctuates (?) and isn’t real (?)

The other day I sent out this piece to paid subscribers. It’s an interview with a guy whose job should not exist. He works for a company that serves as a go between for employees who get insurance through work and the insurance companies that manage those benefits. To be honest it was all pretty confusing what he actually does and that’s the entire point. There simply has to be a better way to do all of this!!!

Do you have to turn people away in frustration or tears often?

Sometimes. People are hurting and need [their healthcare]. There are situations too where, say you have an injury or illness and you have to take time off of work because of that. With some employers, say you take two weeks or a month off of work, because of that you don’t have income, you’re not getting paid. So you can’t have those health insurance premiums being taken out of your paycheck because you aren’t getting one. If those premiums aren’t taken out, after a month, they can just drop you altogether. Then you just don’t have coverage. This always happens. Obviously someone needs that coverage because they had to take time off work for say a surgery or a broken leg. Maybe they got Covid. Just, something fucking happened. Those are the people that need coverage the most, but it’s like, well, if you don’t pay the piper you’re fucked. They’ll call me and say they want to get their insurance restated, and I’ll have to tell them there’s nothing I can do. The rules of your company say once it’s gone it’s gone.

Gabriel Boric and the long tradition of Chilean socialism

by Fernando Silva

By now you’ve probably seen the jokes about the new Chilean president. Memes have been made about him being a nü metal dude or about how he looks like the average fan of your favorite leftist podcast. He has been compared to AOC as the latest in a line of millennial politicians breaking into the establishment through the power of their youth and hipness.

What all of these jokes have in common is an attempt to understand how the young politician fits within the logic of the American political structure, but it’s difficult to truly understand the figure of Gabriel Boric outside of the long tradition of Chilean socialism. Boric’s victory perfectly encapsulates the powerful tensions that this country has experienced and grown through over the last sixty years, and it could represent a tipping point into a new social contract outside of the neoliberal order imposed at gunpoint many years ago by Pinochet and the CIA.

"If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism,”  Boric has been widely quoted as saying this week, “it will also be its grave.”

Gabriel may be young but he isn’t new to politics. He came into national prominence during the student protests of 2011, while he was still in college, in which his generation, my generation, demanded an end to the model of higher education that was imposed, quite literally, on the last day of the dictatorship of Pinochet. This model allowed for universities to profit freely and excessively from students, leaving a whole generation of people to be crushed under debt, (an idea that probably sounds familiar to American readers). The massive social movement to end this model was among the first political victories won against the National Constitution drafted by Pinochet under the guidance of the Chicago School of Economics, while also representing an awakening to politics to many people my age. Our parents had been young under the rule of the military, and even if their political awakening came with the ousting of Pinochet in 1990, the legacy of his neoliberal Constitution was left mostly untouched. During the 1990s the newly elected governments managed to make progress in social issues by lifting the country out of poverty. But even if the military wasn’t formally in charge, they spent that decade openly holding a gun against the country’s head, ready to shoot should the masses demand a bit too much. This allowed for Chile to grow enormously as an economic power within the region, but the unequal distribution of this growth divided society into an obscenely wealthy elite and a destitute underclass.

In Chile, it’s impossible to discuss politics without facing the ghost of Pinochet and his legacy. His infinite sins permeate our social relations to this day and can be felt from the complete dominance that the free market has over our everyday lives, to the legacy of political violence and repression that shows its ugly head every time people demand social justice. José Antonio Kast, the far right candidate who lost against Boric, ran on an open platform of releasing from prison those convicted of committing crimes against humanity under the dictatorship, reopening clandestine detention centers, and increasing the authority of the military to operate with jurisdiction over civilians within national borders. The 45% of the vote that Kast won clearly show that in Chile being an openly an anti-democratic, traditionalist reactionary isn’t an abnormal or extreme position, and that economic elites are once again willing to give power to a repressive strongman in order to defend their privileges. During its history, the Chilean armed forces have been used effectively against its own people on countless displays of violence, and Kast represents the willingness to repeat those performances again should it be considered necessary.

The elites indeed felt it was more than necessary this time around. Just as in 2011 when the tensions of our economic model were revealed, in 2019 these tensions exploded. The much remembered events of October 2019 quickly grew from a demonstration against a spike in subway prices into a weeks-long revolt against the profound inequalities entrenched in Chilean society through countless protests that completely paralyzed the country for the following weeks. During this period, the silence of those suffering under capitalism turned into an explosive anger, and those sitting at the top of the social hierarchy were caught by surprise. As the streets were filled with people demanding justice, protestors were described as aliens, orcs, or foreign agents by the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera, which was unable to conceive the idea that a country where free-market rules over all could be hiding such dissatisfaction. And just like in 2011, Boric rose again as a social leader in order to give shape to popular demands. Now as an elected member of congress, he and other political authorities have managed to negotiate the conditions to rewrite the National Constitution from scratch, this time in a truly representative democratic process. This process, which should be finalize within the following year, has been fundamental in strengthening a new social base for a national project. Under his presidency, Boric could inaugurate the final blow against the dark chapter that was conjured back in 1973.

If anything, the victory of Boric wasn’t just an individual accomplishment, but the embodiment of the long and difficult process that has been the return to democracy in Chile. He represents a desire to finally erase the legacy of violence and oppression that has tainted so much of our national history. Millions of Chileans may now be looking at the future with hope, as the national project for justice keeps taking shape both in his government program and, more importantly, in the new Constitution. The path ahead will not be easy, and any of these processes could be hijacked by the entrenched interests of the ruling class. But at the same time, the Chilean people have proven over and over and again how hard it is to extinguish their desire for social justice. This fight doesn’t just belong to Gabriel, but to all citizens wishing for a fairer tomorrow.

Now here’s to hoping the CIA stays out of our business this time.

Fernando Silva is an architect working in vulnerable neighborhoods in Valparaiso, Chile. Find him on Twitter at @AlainFelon.

This was pretty hilarious you have to admit. Despicable but nonetheless funny as hell.

Real quick since we’re on the subject of shitty journalism.

And since we’re on the subject of the “country of poets” if you’ve never dug into Roberto Bolaño By Night in Chile is a comparatively approachable book of his to start with.

A hallucinatory and rambling and self-justifying “confession” of sorts it deals with among other things the concept of complicity through the eyes of dying priest who had been tasked with teaching the tenets of Marxism to Pinochet.

“Sometimes, at night, I would sit on a chair in the dark and ask myself what difference there was between fascist and rebel. Just a pair of words. Two words, that’s all. And sometimes either one will do!”

“One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that includes one’s words and silences, yes, one’s silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them, and only God understands and judges them, so one must be very careful with one’s silences…”

And hell why not read a poem while we’re here.

Death Sonnet I
by Gabriel Mistral

From the icy niche where men placed you
I lower your body to the sunny, poor earth.
They didn't know I too must sleep in it
and dream on the same pillow.

I place you in the sunny ground, with a
mother's sweet care for her napping child,
and the earth will be a soft cradle
when it receives your hurt childlike body.

I scatter bits of earth and rose dust,
and in the moon's airy and blue powder
what is left of you is a prisoner.

I leave singing my lovely revenge.
No hand will reach into the obscure depth
to argue with me over your handful of bones.

This is very nice I think it will be nice for you to watch and listen to it.

God she moves so weird I love it.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Chan because in my first week or so of moving to New York after college in 1999 I saw her at the Knitting Factory and she was doing her whole thing she did at the time freaking out and barely holding it together and so on and I looked around to see if anyone was seeing this and there was Dave Grohl standing right there behind me very normally and I thought ah this is what every night in New York City will be like forever!

And then right around then by a few days I believe there was this:

When I’ve told this story in the past I say it was my first day actually living in the city but I’m not sure if I made that part up to sound more dramatic but either way it was early on and I was on Madison Ave. and 42nd or so and there was a loud thwack like someone had just socked a home run to the moon and then there was a woman on the ground and the blood from her head was spreading so fast it was like when you knock an entire bottle of merlot over but instead of tipping it up right you just leave it there to spill until it’s empty. Goddamnit it you say. And you can’t get the stain out but you Google how to do it anyway and give it a try.

A man had run up behind her and smashed her in the head with a brick people said and I don’t remember anymore if I saw the man do it or I filled in the details later because even eye witnesses are exceptionally unreliable but I do remember the blood everywhere and there were so many people rushing to help her right away and a police officer was right nearby trying to help her so the rest of us a few people back just stood there and watched a woman probably dying like hypnotized audience members at a magic show who aren’t convinced if what they just saw was real or not. If I had a smartphone at the time I probably would’ve made a video of it and then some dipshit on the news would have asked me for permission to broadcast it across all mediums until infinity but like I said earlier we didn’t do much with our phones back then.

I think that’s all for today. Here’s another song before we go. Some of you will have heard it but most of you haven’t. We wrote it a few years ago and I share it around this time of year because it’s a Christmas song and like all good Christmas songs it’s about longing and regret.

“Love’s a vain and crooked thing. I think I’m due for an upswing. Maybe not this week or next but we’ll see what the new year brings” it goes and well I’m still waiting on that upswing. I think this new year is finally gonna be the one. Everything is gonna change baby I can feel it.

ONE MORE THING! The studio where we recorded that song and others burned down this week. If you can spare a buck or two please chip here in to help out our dear friend Brian rebuild.