Chile had its first round of its elections on Nov. 21. With no candidate reaching the 50 percent threshold needed to win, the two leading candidates, Gabriel Boric and José Antonio Kast, are now set for a runoff on December 19. The fundamental disparities between the two candidates are representative of Chile’s long history of power struggles between far-right authoritarianism and social democracy.
In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first democratically elected socialist president. With bold plans for agrarian reform and wealth distribution, strong opposition was present in the military. Led by Augusto Pinochet, a military coup ensued, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and tortures. Pinochet’s rule up until 1990, with strong support from the United States, cemented a legacy of right-wing terror and oppression not forgotten by many of Chile’s older residents.
Boric of the left-wing Apruebo Dignidad party rose to prominence in the mid-2000s as a student activist and led the University of Chile’s Student Federation. Student protests reignited shortly after his election Chamber of Deputies, and his leadership proved critical in reinvigorating Chilean resistance to neoliberalism.
Kast, founder of the far-right-wing Republican party, is a lawyer and founder of a right-wing think tank. He has consistently denied the human rights abuses of the former Pinochet dictatorship and was a supporter of his referendum to extend Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1988. Dubbed by many the “Chilean Jair Bolsonaro,” his platform is centered around a tough-on-crime mentality supplemented with Milton Friedman-style neoliberalism and xenophobia.
Recent years have seen surges in youth demonstrations characterized by displeasure with economic inequality and an impotent constitutional structure. The Chilean right wing has exploited the protests much like how the American right-wing capitalized on exaggerated claims surrounding Black Lives Matter protests. Kast swooped in during a critical time of economic and social unrest, similar to the way Donald Trump used reactionary politics to splinter the working class. Many Chileans believe the importance of voting against Kast outweighs whatever issues they have with Boric. This notion is supported by the most recent poll by Citizen Pulse, which showed a 22.7 percent lead for Boric in the polls despite Kast having won a higher share of first-round votes.
Recent years have seen many Latin American nations displaying stark authoritative versus democratic contrast in their elections, most recently in Peru. Pedro Castillo was able to win against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of longtime dictator Alberto Fujimori, in the Peruvian election. The legacy of Alberto Fujimori, defined by human rights violations and mass forced sterilization, was enough to sway Peruvians toward Castillo. Chile must follow the lead of its northern neighbor and firmly reject the resurgence of autocracy.
To appreciate the severity of what a Kast election would mean, one only has to look at his contemporaries. Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have certain similarities with Kast, but Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is the most apt comparison — and that prospect should horrify Chileans. Bolsonaro also campaigned on a tough-on-crime approach to tackling poverty. After being elected, he followed through on these promises, leaving body after body as proof. In May 2021, 200 heavily militarized police officers targeting drug traffickers stormed into Jacarezinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, resulting in 28 deaths. With current Chilean president Sebastián Piñera having already implemented a state of exception in both the Araucanía and Biobío Regions, Kast would likely accelerate efforts to terrorize youth and Indigenous dissidents. Nothing is off the table with a Pinochet sympathizer — this includes systematic torture, murder, corruption and sexual abuse. Indigenous and left-wing opposition could be eradicated from Chile through murder and exile.
A victory for Kast would be a crushing blow to the Chilean left wing, which has seen a revitalization since 2019. Besides the disastrous policies a Kast administration would include, a general disengagement from young voters would likely occur, especially if they saw their progress in winning a new constitution immediately reversed. The ultimate choice for Chileans on Dec. 19 is between a devolution to the state violence and antidemocratic behavior that characterized the Pinochet years, or an inclusive, progressive future.
Nathan Sommer is a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law.