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Latin American Brief (Dec. 17, 2021): Chile chooses president, national narrative

Chile chooses president, national narrative

Fifteen million Chileans will head to the polls on Sunday for the second, decisive round of Chile’s presidential election to choose between far-right candidate José Antonio Kast and his leftist rival, Gabriel Boric. Boric has a marginal lead in opinion polls, but Kast obtained the most votes in November’s first round.The results of this weekend’s vote in Chile will determine the country’s direction in the next few years, as well as the political dynamics of the region, writes Evan Ellis in Global Americans. “It is a highly symbolic contest, posing a positive, if selective, narrative about Chile’s past and its remarkable transformation, against a new generation’s discontent with some parts of that transformation and the problems it has generated or failed to resolve.”
Indeed, following trends in the rest of the region, including the U.S., “the struggle over national identity and what it means to be Chilean now overshadows traditional bread-and-butter issues,” writes Michael Albertus in the Washington Post.
“At stake is not only the immediate future of Chile, the world’s largest copper producer, but also the verdict on four decades of free-market economic policies which were imitated around the world,” according to the Financial Times.
Mainstream media has portrayed the race as one between two equal extremes on the right and left, but the characterization is inaccurate, argued Robert Funk in a recent Americas Quarterly piece. In fact, he says Boric represents a new kind of left in Chile: he is critical of the center-left Frente Amplio, but he has also “frequently opposed positions that the Communist Party supports (or vice versa) – from his opposition to the Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan regimes, to his support for the November 2019 cross-party agreement that set in motion Chile’s current constitutional process.”
And the mainstream narrative also downplays the extent of Kast’s extremism, reports the Guardian. “The prospect of a four-year Kast presidency has horrified many in Chile and across the region and fueled fears that one of South America’s most prosperous and stable democracies could be on the verge of being captured by Steve Bannon-style extremists.” Funk told the Guardian thatinsufficient attention was being paid to the links between Kast and the conspiracy-filled, anti-semitism-laced, anti-globalist hard-right “world of Steve Bannon”.

Chilean women, especially younger urban professionals, are shaping up to be a clincher in the race, reports the Associated Press. Several opinion polls indicate that women are flocking in droves to Boric — a millennial who uses non-binary pronouns — out of concern that Kast will roll back womens rights.

Lucía Hiriart, the widow of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and a hugely divisive figure, died this week. Her death sharpens the focus on the choice facing voters on Sunday – and the deep and persistent divisions within Chilean society, reports the Guardian. Yesterday crowds gathered to celebrate in Santiago’s main plaza, but others view her as a philanthropist who dedicated her life to the service of the Chilean people.
Either winner will face legislative gridlock, and will need to negotiate support for his agenda with a minority of seats in Congress, notes Ellis in a separate Global Americans piece.
More Chile

  • A study by Fundación Ciudadanía Inteligente found that Kast has made dozens of statements indicating authoritarian leanings, compared to four by Boric, an analysis based on the methodology of “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. (Ciper)
  • The two candidates have diametrically opposed stances on migration, and the election will have major implications for the tens of thousands of Haitians who now live in Chile after fleeing their country in recent years, reports the Wall Street Journal. It will also have implications for the U.S., where officials were overwhelmed in September with an influx of Haitians on the U.S. border who had abandoned Chile after facing hostile conditions.
  • Coercive adoptions were widespread in dictatorship Chile, where General Augusto Pinochet actively encouraged overseas adoptions to reduce poverty in the 1970s and 1980s, according to investigations in recent years that found the process was abetted by a vast network of officials — including judges, social workers, health professionals and adoption brokers, reports the New York Times. Judicial officials in Chile are investigating roughly 650 cases of irregular adoptions, and investigators are looking into the circumstances of about 8,000 overseas adoptions that took place from 1970 to 1999, a number that could increase to 20,000 cases.

News Briefs
Regional

  • It’s unlikely that Facebook can, on its own, solve the use of the platform for sophisticated disinformation campaigns that have had significant political impact in Latin America, whistleblower Sophie Zhang told Rest of World: “Facebook is a company. Its goal is to make money. We don’t expect Philip Morris to solve tobacco addiction or Exxon Mobil to solve climate change.”
  • Some analysts say Latin America’s left is making a new resurgence, pointing to Xiomara Castro’s recent win in Honduras as part of a “progressive tide.” The “millenial left” is more focused on gender issues, feminism, and environmental concerns, rather than the socialist-inclined “pink tide” governments that characterized the 2000s in Latin America, according to Al Jazeera.
  • Extortion is the backbone of criminal activity in Latin America, according to a new research paper by Lucia Dammert. (Florida International University)

Migration

  • A crash that killed more than 50 migrants this week highlights the dangers that they face in Mexico, and how U.S policy to deter them isn’t working, reports Vice. (See Monday’s briefs.)
  • Migration from Central America to the U.S. is on the rise, including a record number of Guatemalan youths. Ahe recent surge is caused by a compounding political shift and crises WOLA’s Adam Isacson described as “a perfect storm” of pandemic, violence, and economic turmoil, in an interview with the BBC.
  • Worldwide authoritarian governments are increasingly leveraging migrants to their advantage, an approach Central American governments could adopt in negotiations with the U.S., reports NPR.

Regional Relations

  • Mexico and the United States have begun work on the new framework that will govern their security relationship going forward and replaces the Merida Initiative, which had focused on building up Mexico’s capabilities to battle the drug cartels, reports the Associated Press.
  • More than half of the U.S. House Democrats urged President Joe Biden to implement promised changes in Cuba policy, reports the Washington Post.

Haiti

  • A New York Times report this week (see Monday’s post) adds one more theory to the possible motives for Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s July assassination — that he was compiling a dossier of drug traffickers. “Yet his anti-drug crusade was never all that ambitious in a country that does not play a major role in the regional cocaine trade,” according to InSight Crime.

Venezuela

  • Venezuela’s reality is dystopian, a regression in three decades that proves “development gains aren’t permanent. Mismanage an economy badly enough, and the progress achieved in a generation evaporates dizzyingly fast,” writes Moises Naím in the Wall Street Journal. “The scale of Venezuela’s implosion would suggest that the country had endured a war or a string of ghastly natural disasters. No such affliction came to Venezuela. Rather, it turns out that a country can endure wartime levels of destruction without a war—stemming from no force more destructive than the terrible policy decisions of its own government.”
  • Chatham House research paper by Christopher Sabatini and Walt Patterson examines the root causes of the power crisis in Venezuela in the context of the steady collapse of the state in the country, to provide a series of recommendations concerning rebuilding versus replacing existing infrastructure and priorities in Venezuela’s critical energy transition.
  • Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized as the country’s legitimate leader by the U.S., deployed a digital payment scheme to pay bonuses to healthcare workers in the country last year. The scheme channeled $18 million to more than 60,000 doctors and nurses, using Venezuelan funds frozen in U.S. bank accounts and bypassing obstacles placed by Venezuela’s Maduro government, reports the Financial Times.

Brazil

  • The Bolsonaro administration terminated the IMF mission to Brazil, after a series of disagreements over the organization’s economic estimates for the country, and negative remarks about Brazil’s economic outlook made by former central bank chief Ilan Goldfajn, who’s now taking over as the IMF’s director for the Western Hemisphere. While the move reflects long-brewing dissatisfaction with the IMF in the Bolsonaro administration, it is a political statement that is unlikely to affect their institutional relationship, according to Bloomberg. (See Reuters also.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has asked for the names of health officials who approved Covid vaccines for children, saying he planned to make their identities public despite previous death threats, reports Reuters.
  • “The IMF was useful in the past, but Brazil has done an extraordinary job in the fiscal area,” Economic Minister Paulo Guedes told CNN Brasil in an interview, “We don’t need it stationed in the country.” (Bloomberg)
  • As many as 17 million vertebrates – including reptiles, birds and primates were killed in wildfires last year in Brazil in the Pantanal wetlands, reports the BBC.
  • Brazil’s Ceará state offers a model for rebuilding schools after the pandemic, reports the Economist.

Dominican Republic

  • Activists in the Dominican Republic are fighting the country’s abortion ban, reports Jacobin.

Ecuador

  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced an expert commission to investigate and help end prison violence that has killed more than 300 people incarcerated in the country this year, reports Reuters. (See yesterday’s briefs.)
  • Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief features interviews with leaders at the forefront of Indigenous politics in Ecuador by Catherine Osborn.

Peru

  • Peru’s prime minister Mirtha Vasquez said that declaring a state of emergency would be a “last resort” to defuse a road blockade that led miner MMG Ltd to suspend operations at its Las Bambas copper mine for the first time, reports Reuters.

Colombia

  • Colombia’s Master Railway plan makes it clear that trains will be the primary mode of freight transit in the near future —  the next administration must decide whether to implement it or not, write Joseph Weiman and Sergio Guzmán in Global Americans.

Histories

  • Groundbreaking Caribbean historian Julius S. Scott died at 66. He was revered by scholars for his groundbreaking dissertation on the 18th-century Haitian slave revolt, which was rejected by mainstream publishers for three decades, reports the New York Times.

The Latin America Daily Briefing will take a break for the holidays, starting today. I’ll be back on Jan. 3. I want to thank all the readers for their support and encouragement. Wishing everybody a very happy end to 2021.

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