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November 26, 2013
November 26, 2013

A chance for Chile?

Author: Sara R. Romo Translator: Sara R. Romo
Category: Letters from home
This article is also available in: esel
A chance for Chile?

Last Sunday Chile voted for who will vote for their president for the next four years. This was a historic election, for several reasons. First, it was the 40th anniversary of Pinochet’s coup. Second, there were no less than nine candidates, something that had never happened before, although everybody knew already that there would be no surprises: Michelle Bachelet, who was president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, had every chance of winning once again. And the only one who could do something to prevent it was Evelyn Matthei, who has become the first woman in history to be a candidate of Chile’s political right to the presidency.

Both women symbolise the turning page in Chile’s history. Bachelet is the daughter of a general, Alberto Bachelet, who was part of Allende’s government. Matthei , on the other hand, is the daughter of Fernando Matthei also a general and a member of Pinochet’s Junta. On Sunday they clashed in a democratic election. This election also came at a boiling time in the Latin American country. Strikes (officials, miners…) occur all the time, the problems of college students have not yet been resolved and there is a general feeling that although Chile is growing economically, it still has a long way to become a really developed country. However, this did not encourage Chilean people into voting: only six out of the thirteen million Chileans went to the polls. This was also the first presidential election in which it was not obligatory to vote. But the Government did place a “dry law”: since Saturday night and for 24 hours the sale of alcohol was prohibited in all places, to ensure that no hangover would prevent citizens from fulfilling their right to vote.

The proposals of the candidates in their electoral programs were mixed. Some even have already taken effect. Matthei promised the establishment of a Judicial Watch to monitor the performance of judges (sometimes dubious). Sebastián Piñera, the current Chilean president, picked up the idea and has already implemented it.

Other suggestions are more complicated to carry out. Michelle Bachelet ‘s program is ambitious, but many doubt its effectiveness, because she will not have enough time. In Chile, a President can rule the country for four years, but cannot go for re-election. What Bachelet proposed is an amendment to the Constitution through a referendum. In the current one there is still fear to popular sovereignty, as a legacy of the dictatorship. She also defends that school education should be free, and schools must be separated from its town and rely only on the State, so there is no danger of lack of funds. To accomplish this daunting task she must undertake a tax reform, another challenge for such a short time. She also suggests to reopen the debate on legalising abortion in case of rape, fetal non-viability or risk of the mother’s life. Another important issue is gay marriage. Right now, a “Life Partner Agreement” is being debated in Congress, to which homosexuals can be accommodated.

The general idea is that she promises everything, but we shall see what she will be able to accomplish. In the electoral political debates she talked only generalities and dodged the reporters’ insidious questions. Her strategy was clear: playing safe in order to have all the chances on Sunday.

Free education is a clear priority among eight of the nine candidates. According to a study, Chile has one of the highest segregation rates at school level among the OECD countries. The prices of a good school are considered abusive (these can reach 800 € per month, among the best schools) and university fees, prohibitive for the vast majority of the population (6,000 € per year in a country where the minimum wage is 300 €). Free market is unforgiving and while educational institutions are in private hands, the system will not change .

Matthei and Bachelet will face each other in December. But what would have happened if one of the “minor” candidates had made it to the second round? A coalition between them would have given them enough strength  to fight for the second place, but only one candidate suggested this and their lack of coordination was their final sentence.

Let’s look at their profiles. We already know about Bachelet. Who are the others? Let’s start with Matthei, the second political force. She is the leader of the Alianza (Alliance) by pure luck (she was the fourth option as a candidate), which integrates the Chilean right-wing parties. She euphemistically defined Pinochet as a non-democratic ruler who did “good things such as avoiding war with Argentina and horrific things on human rights”. She called on Chileans to vote “yes” for Pinochet to stay. And when the dictator was arrested in the UK by the Spanish judge Garzón, she organised demonstrations in front of the British and Spanish embassies and called for a boycott of their products. The reason: since no one has been charged either in Spain for crimes during the dictatorship or in the UK, even when they had Irish terrorists (!), why do they have to come nosing in Chilean affairs?

The right-wing coalition leader has a strong personality. She is also very direct and didn’t hesitate to denounce Parisi during the electoral period when she discovered he had bankrupted two Mason schools, and even threatened to do the same with Bachelet, who spent on her campaign much more than she could have raised based only on charity dinners (in the very words of Matthei) .

Matthei does not believe in surveys that say things that she does not agree with. For example, there is one that says that 3 out of 4 Chileans want free education. She finds it regressive, and brings her own data to the table: 60 % of Chileans send their children to subsidised schools. The university should also be free, but not for everyone: the richest must pay for it. This was a move that can be seen as throwing stones at her own roof. In the matter of public safety, she cannot deny being the daughter of a general: Matthei wants more police presence, more control over the citizens, for example she would forbid the right to wear a hoodie during demonstrations and allow records to be drawn without judicial authorisation.

She had some issues with Piñera, the current president. Both were presidential candidates for National Renewal in 1993 and both were dismissed when a telephone conversation between Piñera and another politician came to light. In this conversation they were arguing about how to publicly discredit Matthei. Results in 2013 election: 25 % of the votes (she goes to second round).

Alfredo Sfeir. Candidate of the Green Party, he promotes the importance of spiritual values, even in school education (one of his ideas was to impart lessons of meditation and development of one’s self) , concepts that are too abstract in a society in which so many people cannot make ends meet. Strong advocate of rural, somewhat forgotten in Chile because everything revolves around the capital Santiago, Sfeir argues that it is precisely there where the first tranche of segregation occurs in the Latin American country. They always are in need of teachers, budget, a better education. He also stands for the native races of this land (mapuches, aymaras…): according to him, they need to regain their world view and history, their place in Chile. Result in Sunday’s election: 2.35% of the vote.

Marco Enríquez- Orinami (Progressive Party): he was a surprise in the last election, but now he has run out of steam. Yet he made it to the third place. It is one of the candidates with more charisma and ability of expression. Paladin of students, he advocates for the forgiveness of the student debt (it is worse than a mortgage), and fix the CSG (Credit with State Guarantee) rate to zero. He proposes to delete the selection process imposed by private schools, since half of its budget comes from the state. Score: 10.98% of the vote.

Ricardo Israel (Regionalist Party of the Independents, PRI). He is the religious type of candidate. He said abortion should not be a constitutionally guaranteed right and should only be practised in dramatic cases (like the one of the girl from Puerto Montt, raped at age 11 by her stepfather and became pregnant). He is against gay marriage. An interesting proposition: to implement a school in every neighbourhood, to ensure that children do not have to get on a bus and suffer Santiago’s monumental traffic jams every day. His ideas have not convinced many: only 0.59% of the vote.

Thomas Jocelyn -Holt is an independent candidate. Previously active in the Concertación coalition that ruled Chile for 20 years after the return to democracy in the late 80s , rumour has it that he left the because he stopped being their candidate, but, according to him, it was because he did not agree with many of their positions. He wants to end the co-payment in education and advocates for increased funding in universities. Result: 0.19 % of the vote.

Marcel Claude (Humanist Party). He worked at the Central Bank of Chile and then directed two environmental NGOs. Thereafter he turned into a sworn enemy of profit. It seems inevitable that, when there is profit in business, this calls for the devaluation which obliterates all other values of society. Furthermore, it is bad for natural resources. In education it is the poison that causes prices to be so inflated. Solution: schools and universities should be managed by the state. He also calls for the payment of student debt, and advocates the legalisation of marijuana. He was the only candidate who thought a coalition with Enríquez- Ominami , Miranda and Sfeir, since all of them had similar ideas, but there was no agreement. Votes: 2.81%.

Franco Parisi (independent candidate). He was the stand-out candidate, achieving the fourth position. Problem: almost no one from his eventual governmental team would have had political experience: a newly licensed nurse, someone he had met at a university… During the electoral period it was revealed that two Masons schools, which were financially healthy when he started taking care of them, went bankrupt shortly after. There was a doubt about his ability to run a country then. With latin lover looks and his sympathy for students, these and women were definitely his target. Score: 10.11% .

Roxana Miranda (Equality Party). She calls herself the “plebeian” candidate. For the first time since the transition, someone who does not belong to the elite becomes presidential candidate. Miranda exposes the marginal Chile, the dark side of a progress that has generated so much inequality. As an activist, she assures to have a criminal record for participating in a demonstration (although according to other sources she has not), and alleges that the police often infiltrate in demonstrations to cause problems. Her ideas: free education, even for the richest ones, because it is the right of every citizen; to forget capitalism, more citizen participation in politics, and measures to improve the quality of life of Chileans. Her slogan , “let the folk rule”. Results: 1.27 %.

Claude, Miranda, and Enriquez -Ominami will not be able to implement their ideas for the next four years. However, their similar ideas allow them to gaze at the possibility of a future coalition in which they could become a real option for the future, especially since Bachelet, also left-wing, cannot go for re-election. Parisi on the other hand emerges as the main competition for Matthei .

But this scenario will be in four years. Let us now focus on what will happen in December. As we have already mentioned, there will not be any surprises and Bachelet will become (again) President of Chile. The only thing we do not know for sure is how much of what she has promised she will have time to implement. Time will tell. But on her lies the responsibility of placing Chile on the right path to exit the “in development” status and finally manage to become a country where there will be no social segregation and where constitutionality and free, good-quality schooling will be guaranteed for all Chileans.

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A chance for Chile? by Sara R. Romo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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