Chile. Progressive wins. Former student protest leader, 35, elected President

It’s a new day in Chile as the country’s voters have elected a true Progressive as President. The emphatic victory by Gabriel Boric over an unrepentant remnant whose father served in the dictatorial Augusto Pinochet regime is a signal victory for progressives worldwide.

The spirit of Salvador Allende is smiling. The Socialist President was deposed in a violent coup by General Pinochet with the backing of the American government on September 11, 1973 ushering in 17 years of dictatorship.

Excerpted from The Wall Street Journal 12.19.2021

SANTIAGO, Chile— Gabriel Boric, a congressman and former student protest leader, was elected president Sunday, auguring a shift far to the left in a nation that has long been a stalwart of centrist, market-friendly policies in Latin America.

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Chilean President elect Gabriel Boric casts his vote – 12.19.2021

Mr. Boric’s ascent to La Moneda presidential palace comes a decade after he gained national prominence as the shaggy-haired leader of protests that paralyzed Santiago in 2011. Thousands of students demanding tuition-free universities had blocked streets with burning barricades.

Mr. Boric received 56% of the votes, defeating conservative rival José Antonio Kast, who conceded and congratulated the president-elect on Twitter.

Mr. Boric will take office in March.

His election was assured by the strong support of young, urban voters seeking greater public spending despite the most polarizing campaign in a generation. At 35 years old, the tattooed lawmaker will become Chile’s youngest leader in modern times after meeting the minimum age to run for the presidency this year.

Mr. Boric, pronounced BO-rich, represents what analysts say is a new generation of leftists in Latin America. In addition to promising a greater welfare state, politicians such as Mr. Boric pledge to fight climate change while expanding rights to native peoples and gay and transgender people. Mr. Boric, who has publicly said he has obsessive compulsive disorder, has also called for more support for people with mental health problems.

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Late Chilean President Salvador Allende deposed in military coup September 11, 1973

“His program is a very 21st century vision of the left. It’s not the traditional left,” said Jennifer Pribble, a political scientist and Latin America expert at the University of Richmond. “He personifies a challenge to the older hierarchy.”

A descendant of Croatian immigrants, Mr. Boric grew up in Punta Arenas, a small city in Chile’s southern Patagonia region. His father, an oil company engineer, was a member of the center-left Christian Democratic party. The younger Mr. Boric moved to Santiago to study law at the University of Chile, a degree he didn’t complete.

In 2013, at age 27, he was elected to Congress, leading a younger generation of leftist politicians and social activists who were sharply critical of their center-left predecessors, including former Chilean presidents. He accused them of selling out by applying neoliberal policies that saddled Chile’s middle class with debt and poor pensions.

“If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” Mr. Boric said earlier this year. “Don’t be afraid of the youth who want to change Chile.”

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President elect Boric supporters at election rally in Santiago, Chile

Mr. Boric’s election marks the end of three decades of centrist rule that made this country of 19 million a global model for free trade and a magnet for foreign investments in Latin America. The country had slashed poverty following the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

Support for the traditional center-left and center-right parties that governed since the return to democracy in 1990 collapsed following protests in 2019 amid anger over the high cost of living and demands for better public services.