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Chile’s Future at Stake: Runoff Election Pits Leftist Student Leader Against Far-Right Pinochet Defender

StoryDecember 15, 2021
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In Chile, voters this weekend will determine a close runoff election between far-right candidate José Antonio Kast and leftist Gabriel Boric, a former student leader. If Boric, who holds a narrow lead, wins the race, he would become Chile’s youngest and most progressive president in years. Meanwhile, Kast’s win would make him “an authoritarian taking power with anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, nationalistic and very hateful rhetoric in relation to everything that is progressive,” says Chilean American author Ariel Dorfman.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show in Chile, where voters are headed to the polls Sunday to choose a new president in a tight runoff election between the far-right candidate, José Antonio Kast, and the leftist, Gabriel Boric, a former student leader. Recent polls show Boric with a narrow lead.

The socialist Chilean congressmember has vowed to fight for progressive social reforms and overhaul the neoliberal economic policies left behind by the U.S.-backed dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Then there’s José Antonio Kast, a far-right populist, apologist for the Pinochet dictatorship. Kast opposes abortion and marriage equality, which Chile just legalized, and ran a campaign on hateful anti-immigration rhetoric. Meanwhile, a recently revealed German identification card shows Kast’s father, Michael Kast, joined the Nazi Party in 1942.

The two presidential candidates faced off in a debate Monday.

GABRIEL BORIC: [translated] I believe that people know at home about the caricatures and campaigns of terror that José Antonio Kast has installed. Perhaps it’s the dirtiest campaign since the dictatorship you supported. José Antonio Kast is a Pinochetista version of Piñera, and he is a danger for the country and, in particular, the people who are going through a bad time.

JOSÉ ANTONIO KAST: [translated] Do not use violence as a form of dialogue. I have not told any lies. I have only said that every time we catch you in something, you have to ask for forgiveness. I hope it won’t happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: Chile’s presidential runoff election comes as it’s reeling from the economic crisis worsened by the pandemic.

For more, we’re joined by Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean American best-selling author, human rights defender, playwright and poet, his latest op-ed in The Guardian headlined “I lived through the darkness of the Pinochet era. Is Chile heading back there?” He was cultural and press adviser to President Allende’s chief of staff during the last months of his presidency in 1973.

Ariel, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, answer that question. You lived through the darkness of the Pinochet era. Is Chile heading back there?

ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, there’s a chance. And really, though, the point is that it’s a very distressing situation, because Chile had — just some months ago, 80% of the people had voted for a new constitution, and I thought that those dark days were sort of over, in the sense that we were having — this constitution was one that — a fraudulent constitution which in 1980 the dictator Pinochet had pushed through and which was a straitjacket on all the reforms necessary, especially to get rid of the neoliberalism, which was really oppressing our economy and our people. And now there’s a chance, really. I mean, it seems to be a slim chance, but there is a chance.

The fact that we are even speaking of the fact that a Pinochetista could be president of Chile, after what our country has suffered under the dictatorship, would be a disaster, not only from the point of view of Chile itself and its advanced and progressive politics, which have been so important in the world in general, but also worldwide, because it would be one more example of an autocrat, an authoritarian, taking power with anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, nationalistic and very hateful rhetoric in relation to everything that is progressive.

You know, I don’t mind that this man is the son of a Nazi, though he himself sort of denies it. But the fact is that — or that his brother was one of Pinochet’s ministers, or that another of his brothers was part of interrogating peasants who were then massacred back in the 1970s. I don’t mind all that, I mean, if he were different. But the point is that he continues these policies, traditionalist, law and order. He wants to use the military. He has now recently said that he would revive the possibility of holding people in houses that are not officially recognized, meaning we go back to the era of the disappearances of the Pinochet era.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ariel, I wanted to ask you — Latin America went through, in the late '90s and the early 2000s, what has been dubbed a pink tide movement. That was followed by a series of right-wing governments that came into power. Now we're seeing, as the pendulum seemed to swing back, we had Alberto Fernández elected in Argentina in 2019, Luis Arce in Bolivia in 2020, Pedro Castillo earlier this year in Peru, Xiomara Castro in Honduras — all of them left-wing-oriented presidents. And we have two major elections coming up next year. Lula, in all the polls, seems to be in the lead in the vote in Brazil. And even a former guerrilla, Gustavo Petro, in Colombia is seen to be possibly favored to win the Colombian elections. Is your sense that the region is shifting once again into a more progressive, social democratic and left-wing center in the world?

ARIEL DORFMAN: There is a shift, undoubtedly, and it is very welcome. We must remember, however, that if this pink tide was followed by these right-wing, retrograde governments, it is because that pink tide made some mistakes. And I think the major mistakes was that there was some corruption on the part of the left-wing governments and that they were — I think they were not sufficiently dedicated entirely to democracy and to respecting their opponents’ views.

And I think that that’s one of the things that Boric is — it’s so important, what he’s doing now, because this is a man who is open to dialogue and at the same time is very firm in his convictions. And in that sense, I think that what we’re looking at is not a pink tide or new red tide, but a democracy tide, a democracy now tide, if you want, you know? And Boric is particularly — I mean, I like him particularly for that. He’s 35 years old and makes mistakes like younger people do, but his heart is in the right place. He’s very smart in the way he does this. And he is articulated a front of the left and the center-left against the possibility for regression to the very bad days of Pinochet. So I’m very hopeful in that sense. And I hope that Chile can, in this case, lead the way to not only more progressive candidates in all of Latin America, but that we should also learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past. And I think Boric is part of that movement in that direction.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ariel, for those viewers and listeners who don’t know much about Boric, could you give us a quick capsule of his trajectory and his history?

ARIEL DORFMAN: Well, one of the interesting things about him is he wasn’t born in Santiago. He was born near Antarctica in Punta Arenas, way down in Patagonia, so he comes from the margins, let’s say, in that sense, right?

The other thing is that he became a student leader in the protests against — basically against the remnants of neoliberalism under democratic governments. And so he rose to power. He was very critical of the group of people who led the transition to democracy. And he has since moved somewhat in the sense of saying that he recognizes all the good things that were done, and would like to remedy the less bad things.

He also is not married. He has a polola, as we call it in Chile, a girlfriend, and we don’t know — this would be the first girlfriend in La Moneda — right? — in the presidential palace.

And he’s very open. He’s very progressive. There’s something so refreshing about him, so joyful about him. And he represents the movement that, in the last two years, has asked for a new Chile to be reborn, you know? And I myself feel as if this is part of my own experience, because I’ve just written a novel called The Compensation Bureau, in which I deal with precisely how we can move forward with all the pain that we have lived with in the past, and also what we do with the perpetrators. What do we do with the José Antonio Kasts? How do we deal with them? How do we make sure that — you know, I’m against punishing them. I’m trying to find ways in which we can convince those people who are our enemies to at least join the democratic conversation rather than being opposed to it.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, and we are going to check back next week after the runoff election on Sunday. Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean American author, distinguished professor emeritus of literature at Duke University. We’ll link to your op-ed in The Guardian, “I lived through the darkness of the Pinochet era. Is Chile heading back there?”

And that does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Remember, wearing a mask is an act of love.

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