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LATIN AMERICA | 19-12-2021 20:49

Gabriel Boric: a millennial president for a new Chile

Former student activist Gabriel Boric becomes Chile's youngest-ever president - but who is he?

Leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric, 35, on Sunday became Chile's youngest-ever president on promises of installing a "welfare state" in one of the world's most unequal countries. 

The former student activist only just met the required minimum age to run in the presidential race, seven years after being elected to his first political job as a member of Chile's Chamber of Deputies.

On Sunday, he prevailed over far-right rival José Antonio Kast, an ultra-conservative lawyer who had promised to cut taxes and social spending in a country shaken in 2019 by deadly mass protests for a more just and equal society.

Boric has vowed to relegate Chile's neoliberal economic model, which dates from the era of dictator Augusto Pinochet and is widely seen as sidelining the poor and working classes, "to the grave."

And he promised to bring about "a welfare state so that everyone has the same rights no matter how much money they have in their wallet."

Chile has one of the world's biggest income gaps. One percent of its population owns 25 percent of the wealth, according to a UN agency.

People are heavily indebted, having to pay wholly or in part for education and healthcare. Pensions are entirely made up of private savings.

 

'Tremendously fractured'

"If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism in Latin America, it will also be its grave," Boric said on the campaign trail.

The millennial was the candidate for the Approve Dignity coalition that includes Chile's Communist Party – an association that caused discomfort for many voters in a country deeply suspicious of communist doctrine.

But he has laughed off the fears, telling AFP in a message to investors in October "that it is not possible to do business or for a country to grow when a society is tremendously fractured, as it is in Chile."

Boric has promised to reduce the work week from 45 to 40 hours, to advance "green development" and to create 500,000 jobs for women.

He has also vowed to reform Chile's pension and healthcare systems to promote access for the poor.

Boric backed the 2019 anti-government revolt that resulted in dozens of deaths in clashes with police, and prompted a referendum that resulted in a process to rewrite Chile's pro-business, dictatorship-era constitution. 

 

'Let's do the impossible'

In 2011, he led student protests for free schooling.

His detractors say Boric is inexperienced in politics, and he himself has conceded he has "much to learn."

But supporters say his lack of ties to the traditional ruling elite, increasingly viewed with hostility, counts in his favour.

Boric, of Croatian and Catalan descent, has abandoned the unkempt, long hair of his activist days, seeking to build a more consensual and moderate image.

But while he has adopted jackets, he shuns ties and makes no attempt to hide his tattoos.

Unlike Kast, he supports marriage of same-sex couples and abortion rights.

Boric was born in Punta Arenas in Chile's far south. He is the oldest of three brothers and moved to the capital to study law, though he never sat for his bar exam.

He is unmarried, has no children and is an avid reader of poetry and history.

 

'Reason makes strength'

His father, Luis Boric, told AFP this week the new president had been politically minded from a young age, painting messages such as "let’s be realistic, let’s do the impossible" and "reason makes strength" on the wall of his childhood bedroom.

The 75-year-old described his son as "consistent" and as someone who "knows how to listen."

"He wants to produce real change in society. He wants to eliminate many injustices that we have today and believes deeply in it, and that will give him strength to carry out that task (of being president), I have no doubt."

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by Miguel Sánchez, AFP

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