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Elections in Chile: A Loss for the Left?

Elections in Chile: A Loss for the Left?

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Published by: SolidarityUS on Jul 28, 2010
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Two weeks ago, in a relatively closerun-off election, the ‘center-right’Alianza por Chile coalition edged theincumbent ‘center-left’ Concertaciónwhich has ruled Chile since the returnto democracy in 1990. Progressives who fol-low Latin American politics are lamenting Chris-tian Democrat Eduardo Frei’s loss, fearing it portendsa swing in favor of the region’s conservative neoliberalforces. Some have taken this ‘setback’ as an indicationthat the tide of reformist governments and rising popularmovements across the region has exhausted itself. Thisinterpretation is awed on many counts.The Concertación, led by the Socialist Party and Chris-tian Democracy, elded Frei, a former president and adull candidate who failed to mobilize the needed votesto stem the right-wing opposition’s rst presidential vic-tory in the post-Pinochet era. The winning candidate,Sebastián Piñera, belonged to the Alianza, which wasformed by Renovación National (RN), representing themodern and ‘democratic’ entrepreneurial right, andUnion Democrátic In-dependiente (UDI), withorigins in the ultra-con-servative, old oligarchicand pro-Pinochet elite.Piñera is a member of Chile’s new billionaireclass who benetedhandsomely from the1980s privatizationsand the pro-businesspolicies that have fol-lowed uninterrupted.Though Piñera supported
Elections in chile:
 a loss for the left?
-- by Rene Rojas, February 3, 2010
Page 14:
massive earth-quake shattersmyth of chileanexceptionalism:
deep class fault-lines ExposeD
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Solidarity: a socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization
the return to democracy in the country’s 1988 plebiscite, the lead-ing role of UDI in his coalition, along with his family’s ties to themilitary regime, have contributed to fears of a democratic reversaland the beginnings of a new phase of unbridled capitalism gov-erned directly by businessmen.In the end, Piñera, who led all candidates in the rst round with36% of the vote, beat Frei quite handily in the run-off, reachingalmost 52%. Frei, who disappointed throughout, failed to capi-talize on the unfading popularity of president Bachelet (SP) andmanaged to scramble together 48% in the run-off, compared tothe lowly 29% he received in the rst round. The candidacy of ‘independent’ Socialist, Marco Enríquez Ominami or MEO, madethese elections more interesting than past ones. MEO broke fromthe Concertación ranks and obtained just over 20% in the rstround, having successfully tapped into the current frustration withChile’s neoliberal model and the Concertación governments thathave managed it. And, Jorge Arrate, an old-school Socialist (albeitwith strong ties to the Concertación) ran on the Communist-ledticket, getting a respectable 6.2% of votes cast. As Arrate’s voteswere already committed to Frei, the second round largely becamea contest over MEO’s followers.But what do these results really mean? A number of incorrect (orat best incomplete) conclusions, often stemming from question-able assumptions about the current regime, have been reached.Treating Piñera’s win as simply a win for the right and a defeatof the ‘center-left’ fails to clarify what has actually happened inChile since 1990 and what direction the country may now movein. What follows is a short analysis of the elections and Chileanpolitics in general which might help correct some of the errone-ous views that have been offered in the aftermath of the January18 run-off.
1. The loss of the Concertación should not be viewed interms a right wing backlash or reassertion against the re-gion’s ‘Pink Tide’.
The Concertación has very little to do withthe ‘Pink Tide’ phenomenon, both in terms of its social bases,its domestic policies, and its position on hemispheric affairs. It iswith good reason that the US foreign policy establishment viewsthe Concertación as the prime exemplar of the ‘good left’ in LatinAmerica.
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elections in chile:
 a loss for the left?
While the Concertación governments have enjoyed majority elec-toral support since 1990, business has been a key pillar of the gov-ernments and their stability. In fact, maintaining business con-dence is the Concertación’s paramount concern. Moreover, it hasruled in an openly exclusionary way. This is best illustrated by itsapproach to demands of the Mapuche indigenous minority andtheir actions in the south of the country. The coalition govern-ments of the SP-PPD (party for Democracy, a Socialist Party cre-ation)— CD (Christian Democrat) governments have severely re-pressed Mapuche communities in their ghts to reclaim land fromforestry and energy companies, many of them multinationals. Infact, the government has deployed its repressive apparatuses un-der the guise of a Pinochet era anti-terrorist law. And it has doneso quite effectively, imprisoning scores of activists and killing nota few.The regime also excludes large chunks of the working class fromeven formal incorporation. Recent estimates show that well overhalf of Chilean workers are under-employed, informally employedor generally employed in jobs considered ‘precarious’. The per-centage of workers in unions and those covered by collectivelybargained contracts have actually shrunk since 1990, from 10%and 12.5%, to 8.5% and 11%, respectively. This should come asno surprise as under the current regime, Pinochet’s regressive la-bor law remains in effect. To this day, industrial unionism is notallowed (workers can only bargain at the rm level) and the broadlayers of informal and subcontracted workers enjoy no legal pro-tections. Similarly, the peasants have not only failed to recover theland which the 1967-1973 land reform process granted them andwhich the coercion of the market or the military took away, small-holders continue to lose their lands to highly capitalized exportfarmers and transnational food conglomerates. The recent worriesexpressed by Concertacionista Viera-Gallo that Piñera might optfor repression when dealing with Mapuche grievances is nothingshort of absurd. When adjudicating between claims on natural re-sources disputed between indigenous communities and large capi-tal, the Concertación consistently responded with brutal coercionagainst the Mapuche!The Concertación has pursued unadulterated Pinochet era neo-liberal policies. Privatizations advanced dramatically under Alwynand Frei (rst two Concertación administrations), services contin-ue to by decentralized or ‘municipalized’ (and thus severely un-

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