Chile: new government in office

On Friday (March 11), Gabriel Boric took office as President in a ceremony in Congress. The 36-year-old candidate from the left-wing party alliance Apruebo Dignidad clearly prevailed over the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast in the run-off election on December 19 last year. Boric received the most votes for a Chilean president in the country’s history.

The ceremony also saw the swearing-in of members of the new cabinet, which is made up of 14 women and 10 men, including several former prominent leaders of the student movement – former fellow students of the current Chilean President. [1]

Ministers and state secretaries of the centre-left government

The two state repression apparatuses, the military and the police, which have been responsible for the brutal crackdown on the social protests since 2019, which have left 36 dead and several thousand injured, are now in the hands of two left-wing women.

At the head of the Ministry of the Interior is the doctor Itzka Siches. She comes from the communist youth and was the first woman to be elected president of the Chilean medical association Colegio Médico. As campaign manager for the left-wing alliance Apruebo Dignidad, she played a major role in Boric’s election victory.

Maya Fernández Allende is Chile’s defense minister and is a granddaughter of former socialist President Salvador Allende, who was ousted by the military in 1973. Fernández Allende is one of four key members of the Socialist Party. Boric is thus trying to strengthen his support in parliament, where his party alliance Apruebo Dignidad only has 37 of the 155 seats. The former head of the central bank, Mario Marcel, who is associated with the Socialist Party but does not belong to it, is supposed to calm down the neoliberal elites at least somewhat as finance minister. However, they may have noticed with horror that Nicolás Grau, a proven critic of the neoliberal model, is now in charge of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

In any case, Mario Marcel is balanced in the economic field by a left-wing economics minister and the communist minister for labor and social affairs, Jeannette Jara. And the new climate minister, Maisa Rojas, physicist and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emphasized that Marcel must know that climate protection requires a restructuring of the entire economic system.

Chile Vallejo BoricWith Camila Vallejo from the Communist Party and Giorgio Jackson from the left-wing Revolución Democrática, Boric has brought two comrades-in-arms with whom he led the student protests against neoliberal reforms in 2011 into the influential General Secretariat of the Presidency.

Before entering the Chilean presidential palace, the Moneda, Boric made a small detour outside of protocol to pay his respects to the statue of Salvador Allende. In any case, his cabinet gives hope that Allende, who was already in progress in his last speech during the coup, said: “In this dark and bitter moment, when treason prevails, you should know that sooner or later , very soon the wide avenues will open up again, along which the worthy man goes towards the construction of a better society. (…) History belongs to us, it is the peoples who make it!”

The new government is linked to expectations of comprehensive economic and social reforms that have emerged from the social protest movement against Chilean neoliberalism, which has become known worldwide as “Estallido social”.

With a view to the need for far-reaching reforms to break up the strictly neoliberal economy, the President called for patience and participation in his speech in front of the Presidential Palace. “We’re going slowly because we’re going far,” stressed Boric. His government wants to complete the Allende project, redistribute the country’s wealth, nationalize the large reserves of natural resources such as copper, gold and other raw materials, reform private health and pension systems, introduce a fair tax system and strengthen workers’ rights.

“If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, so will it be its grave”.
Gabriel Boric

Nevertheless, the definition of a “left government” does not really fit Gabriel Boric’s government. “I think this is essentially a center-left government that has a program that includes aspects of European social democracy,” says Camila Vallejo. Economist Carlos Ominami argues that “Chile during this period is trying to deepen democracy and to overcome neoliberalism through institutional routes. In short, a kind of new ‘Chilean route’ to something that needs precise definition but necessarily contains elements of social democracy that unites ecology and feminism”.

In any case, the left-wing government will have to contend with enormous resistance from parliament, business and the security apparatus.

Chile’s lithium in the wrong hands

One example is the mortgage that the outgoing Piñera government left to the new government with a decision in January. With one foot already out of Moneda – just two months before Gabriel Boric took office – Piñera ordered the allocation of two quotas of 80,000 tonnes of lithium each for a period of 27 years to the Chinese company Byd Chile Spa and the Chilean Operaciones mineras del Norte Sat on.

Chile Demo NationalisierungWith this decision, the old government ignored the obligation to prior consultation of the indigenous peoples living in the area, the ongoing discussion in the constitutional convention and Gabriel Boric’s request to suspend the tender and let the new government deal with the issue.

Lithium is the white gold in the age of electric mobility. Chile accounts for 32% of world production. Demand related to the manufacture of batteries for electric cars is expected to increase by 21% by 2030.

Boric spoke of a “wrong decision”, announced a review and reiterated the goal of “creating a national lithium company that works in agreement with the communities and contributes to the productive development of the country”. But the hurdles are high. “We did not find any legal flaws. The next government will have to respect a decision that was made through institutional channels,” said Boric’s adviser Diego Pardow after the lithium mining privatization.

However, the new government will have to crack down on lithium exploitation, not least given the severe and irreversible damage to the ecosystems of the Atacama Desert, where groundwater extraction by lithium companies Albemarle and Sqm (the latter controlled by Pinochet’s son-in-law Ponce Lerou) is estimated at 2,000 liters per second, which is having a devastating impact on the water resources used by communities.

Against this backdrop,” biologist Domingo Lara warns, Boric’s plan to create a state-owned lithium company risks adding only a new actor to environmental destruction unless “some of current production quotas” are expropriated and “the relationships to the communities”.

In the meantime, civil society has taken a stand as part of the process of involving the population in the work of the constitutional convention: the popular initiative for the “nationalization of copper, lithium and gold mines” supported by an alliance of associations has already been approved for treatment in the convention required number of signatures exceeded.



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