Op-Ed: Will voters choose to make Chile worse again?

Ever since my hometown of Chile regained democracy in 1990 after 17 years of brutal dictatorship, I have been worried that those dark times might come back. No matter how frequently this fear is proven how the Chilean people keep their distance from the horrors of the past-denying the execution, torture and mass exile of dissidents under the leadership of the strongman General Augusto Pinochet-I cannot Shake this feeling. One day, my country is surrounded by crises and may tolerate a retreat to authoritarianism and repression.

My fears were greatly eliminated two years ago when the largest social justice protest in Chile’s history resulted in 80% of voters voting to replace Pinochet’s fraudulent 1980 constitution, which has always restricted essential reforms. The Constituent Assembly held since July has been reimagining a highly democratic government, which seems to indicate that improper institutions and dictatorship advocates are being perpetually reduced to ashes and irrelevant.

I should not be so optimistic.

Chile conducts a poll on Sunday to elect a new president, and a runoff between the first two candidates may be held in four weeks. The campaign saw the possibility of extreme-right populist José Antonio Kast (José Antonio Kast) becoming the country’s next president, and he considered Pinochet to be his hero.

When Castell, the son of a Nazi officer who had served Hitler, began running for the election, most left- and right-wing observers and I believed that his campaign was doomed to failure. His opposition to divorce, abortion, and gay rights, and his dress-up response to global warming, are in stark contrast to the thinking of most people in the country. Custer has also worked hard to uphold the old, authoritarian constitution, and supported the pardon of Pinochet’s worst torturers, murderers, and other agents who are now in prison for long periods of time for human rights violations.

So, how did this crypto-fascist finally become the next president of Chile?

Custer has been using the intense anxiety of what he called Chile’s “silent majority” (the shadow of Nixon and Trump!) to guide and relentlessly incite fear and anger about the country’s future and its identity.

Since 2014, more than 1 million immigrants (mainly from Haiti and Venezuela) have arrived in Chile (population over 19 million). Custer’s proposal to close the Chilean border, prohibit the entry of “illegal immigrants”, and build trenches to keep them out, was warmly welcomed by nationalist voters, who blamed these economic refugees for the increase in poverty and crime.

Crime is a related issue for the family, which has to do with the fierce demonstrations that led to the Constituent Assembly and the surge in violence in the area, where indigenous communities have struggled for the land and water rights stolen from them for centuries. Suddenly, a “law and order” militarist candidate became ominous and attractive.

The pandemic has worn away Chile’s bonds of solidarity. Many citizens are tired of turbulence and uncertainty, and are eager to believe in any instigator who promises to return to “traditional values.”

There are other candidates running for president. Only one, Gabriel Boric, a tattooed and attractive 35-year-old left-wing congressman, is expected to get enough votes to trigger a runoff with Custer.

Boric is a follower of Salvador Allende, who was democratically elected socialist president of Chile. He was overthrown in the 1973 coup and Pinochet came to power. He embodies the huge social movement demanding an inclusive republic in which the livelihoods and dreams of most people are not dominated by the interests of a few privileged individuals. This is a new story about where the country should go.

The forward-looking Boric kept pace with the reactionary Castell in the polls. In elections that increasingly tend to be safer than innovative, I find that Boric’s most attractive qualities-his willingness to admit mistakes and his openness to dialogue-compared with Kast’s reassuring image of a father, often make He appears to be inexperienced, a traditional Catholic, with nine children.

I am passionate about Boric’s plan, which is one of the most advanced in the world today — feminist, ecologically sound, worker-oriented, committed to indigenous rights, committed to democracy and participation — but I know He needed great dexterity to appease his powerful Communist allies on the left while recruiting progressive center-left parties that had spent most of the post-dictatorship in Chile.

Faced with the grim choice between a terrible past and a future that has yet to be planned-and to deal with the dissatisfaction and challenges faced by many countries, including the United States-what decision will Chile make?

I can only hope that my motherland will provide a lesson for the world to teach them how to overcome the phantoms of fear and find the courage to build a better and more just social order when our hard-won democracy is in danger. Retreat to the shadow of authoritarianism.

Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman of “Death and Maiden” recently published novels “Caution” and “Indemnity Bureau.” He lives in Chile and Durham, North Carolina, and is professor emeritus of literature at Duke University.

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