Gabriel Boric has assumed this Friday as the new president of Chile. It has been a ceremony crossed by the epic and full of symbolism: only ten years ago, Boric was a student leader who demonstrated in the streets for free education. Today, at the age of 36, he leads the emergence in La Moneda of a new left in Chile, with leaders born in democracy and willing to turn the page on the legacy of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The South American country thus enters an unprecedented political stage in Latin America, fraught with challenges due to the magnitude of the promised structural changes. Chileans hope that Boric will bury the neoliberal legacy of the 1970s and advance towards a more equitable country, with a greater presence of the State in basic issues such as health, and promote the defense of the environment and a feminist agenda.
Punctual at noon in Chile, Boric climbed the steps of the National Congress, located since 1990 in Valparaíso, about 110 kilometers from the capital Santiago. There, the Chilean tradition of changes of command and its historic republican rites were followed, such as the transfer of the five-pointed star – a relic that bears the name of the liberator Bernardo O’Higgins – considered the true symbol of power in Chile and hanging from the presidential sash. Boric then promised “before the people and peoples of Chile” to faithfully carry out the post of president. He looked happy and excited and, as is often seen since he was elected, in a suit, but without a tie.
In the audience was her family and her partner, who will be Chile’s new first lady from today, Irina Karamanos, a feminist activist from Boric’s party, Social Convergence. In the front was, as tradition indicates, the outgoing president, Sebastián Piñera, and both exchanged a few brief words. Upon leaving the building, the first person Boric greeted was the newly elected senator Fabiola Campillai, the woman who was blinded by police action in the context of the 2019 social outbreak. He was followed by former presidents Ricardo Lagos and Eduardo Frei, who They entered the Congress together, and the former president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was specially invited to the ceremony by Boric. There was also the presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who arrived along with the Argentine delegation. President Alberto Fernández was the only one who spoke to the press. Out of protocol, the Argentine said that he thought he would get along very well with Boric. “We think alike,” he explained. The presidents of Colombia, Iván Duque, and of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, were absent. King Felipe VI, representative of Spain, was one of the last in the long line of official cars that formed in front of Congress.
“Know that we are going to do our best to rise to the challenge we have as a country. It is difficult to find the words”, were Boric’s first statements as president, in an impromptu meeting with the press. This afternoon he will give his first speech since La Moneda.
The military bands received each of the guests. But outside the Congress, the atmosphere was soulless, without an audience or “vivas” for the new president. Only the song of the seagulls was heard. The people who tried to approach the building, as has happened in each of the transfers of command in Chile, found themselves with a police fence placed about 300 meters from the place. Four women were the only public present in front of the steps. They had arrived very early, when security was still minimal, and they settled there. “They wanted to kick us out, but we are women and no one is going to kick us out. They made excuses for us: that the covid, that the security, but here we are”, they repeated in a hurry when they were asked how they had managed to circumvent the security cordon.
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Away from the police, Boric’s supporters accused the outgoing president, Sebastián Piñera, of isolating Congress to neutralize the protests against him. “Here, in Valparaíso, many wanted to fire Piñera not from good people,” says Andrea Cortés, an employee of Congress. “Before, one could get to one side of Congress, to demonstrate, but today there is such discontent against Piñera that many want to hold him accountable for human rights and his mishandling. But the police continue to protect him,” adds Silvio Cúneo, a 46-year-old teacher. Beside him, Luigi Antonucci, a chef from Valparaíso, was following the ceremony from his cell phone. “Now we have a real president,” he said as Boric donned the presidential sash. And Boric finally approached the people. Leaving Congress, he drove 100 meters in the official convertible car, ordered it to stop, walked to the security gates and greeted his supporters.
This was the closing of the ceremony, before returning to Santiago. The day had started early in Cerro Castillo, the presidential rest residence in Viña del Mar, next to Valparaíso, where Boric and his partner stayed Thursday night and had breakfast on Friday with a group of social leaders. It was a symbol of the opening of the palace to the citizens, in line with the signs that Boric has given since he was elected on December 22. In the gardens of this residence, the president and his 24 ministers – 14 of them women – took their official photo.
Boric’s arrival at La Moneda marks several milestones. For the first time, a woman, Izkia Siches, will be Minister of the Interior, a frontline portfolio in charge of political leadership and public security. Salvador Allende’s granddaughter, Maya Fernández, will occupy the Ministry of Defense, in a symbolic and political gesture considering the tragic military coup of 1973. With the new Government, in turn, the Communist Party returns to the front line of political power, a space that it had not occupied since the Popular Unity of Allende. She will do so with Camila Vallejo as spokesperson, one of the most important positions in La Moneda, and with the integration of two communist militants at the head of the Science and Labor portfolios. Boric’s Executive debuts in turn with the incorporation of the socialist world, which does not belong to the bloc of origin that led him to the presidency, but which has been included in this new coalition that debuts this Friday, still without a name.
The new government will have to deal with the great expectations that it has generated -it was elected with 55% of the votes-, and with enormous immediate challenges, such as a declining economy, the migratory crisis in the north and episodes of violence in Araucanía , In the south. To reduce right-wing fears of an administration that will have the Communist Party among its partners, Boric put the economy in the hands of Mario Marcel, a moderate socialist respected across the political spectrum. Boric will also coexist at the start of his mandate with a constitutional convention that should have the text of a new Constitution ready in July. If it is finally approved in a referendum, it will represent a profound change to the current constitutional framework –which dates back to 1980, from the Augusto Pinochet regime, although with multiple reforms– and, therefore, to all the current institutions.
One of the first decisions of the current Government, anticipated on Thursday night, was to withdraw the 139 State Security Law (LSE) complaints filed in the framework of the social outbreak against people detained for violence, some accused or convicted of serious crimes. . The decision, in line with campaign promises, provoked criticism from the current opposition: “It’s a bad sign to justify violence,” lamented Jaime Bellolio, who until today was Piñera’s spokesman.
The ceremony in Congress was the first step in a journey that will end tonight, in front of the Palacio de La Moneda. Boric will have the mass bath there that he did not have in Valparaíso: when the sun is setting, he will go out to the balcony of the Government headquarters and speak to the crowd. It will be his first public act as president of Chile.
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