In Chile there is no official residence for presidents, as is the case in much of the world. The last time that a president occupied the Palacio de La Moneda as his residence was in the middle of the 20th century, during the dictatorship of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo (1952-1958). Since then, each time a politician comes to power, he continues to live in his lifelong family home (as happened with Patricio Aylwin in 1990 or Eduardo Frei in 1994) or he changes to a rented one, which the police force selects from according to security requirements (as happened with Michelle Bachelet in 2006, who went from her apartment, bought by her family in the early 1970s in the municipality of Las Condes, to a house in the same area).
It is one of the peculiarities of Chilean presidentialism, marked by a certain austerity, which is again in evidence with a view to the change of government. President-elect Gabriel Boric, 35, hails from Punta Arenas, in the extreme south of Chile, where he lived with his parents and siblings. Currently, as a deputy, he lives with his wife in an apartment in the center of the capital, in the touristy Bellas Artes neighborhood. But his residence as of March 11, when he takes office, is still unknown, although his circle has even explored the possibility of residing in La Moneda, as no president has done for 70 years.
“In the middle of the 20th century, living in the center was not very pleasant. The air was polluted, there were few gardens and few squares. Very old historic center, not very residential ”, explains Miguel Laborde, specialist in urban and architectural history of Santiago. The chronicler allows himself to give Boric some advice: locate his new residence in the traditional Yungay neighborhood, in the very center of Santiago, but more towards the west. “It was the first neighborhood to be created in the Republic, designed by the first official architect of the Government, José Vicente Larraín. It was always the welcoming neighborhood, for provincials and immigrants. And today he has good health and public education, as well as good-sized houses, ”says Laborde.
The Palacio de La Moneda was founded in 1805, but not as a seat of government, but as a Mint. It was, therefore, the structure that housed the coin-making workshops, with only a few rooms occupied by three high-ranking officials from this still colonial era. Its origin has therefore marked the appearance of this palace: it has neither great luxuries nor is it characterized by its spaciousness, which usually surprises foreign visitors. It was not until 1846 when La Moneda became the seat of the Government and the residence of the presidents. And it happened by decision of the president of the time, the conservative Manuel Bulnes. Or, rather, by the vision of his wife. Laborde explains it: “Enriqueta Pinto was the one who thought that the president of Chile should have a dignified residence. Moved in power[era hija de presidente] and makes a tremendous contribution, with the creation of a gathering just installed in La Moneda. Those who were thinking about the country attended, like Andrés Bello. And it is not by chance that institutions such as the University of Chile, for example, were born from these gatherings. She was the host ”.
The Mint continued to operate in the same place until 1929, when it was moved to the Quinta Normal. And the successors of Bulnes occupied it for decades as a home. Laborde says that another golden period of the Palacio de La Moneda was at the end of the 19th century, under the presidency of José Manuel Balmaceda: “It was a very interesting time. Balmaceda was a proactive state promoter. And, once again, La Moneda is once again the setting for the most attractive social gatherings in the country. Rubén Darío arrives in Chile attracted by this gathering “, assures the author of titles such as Streets of old Santiago The Santiago, places with history.
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It was Ibáñez del Campo who decided to move from La Moneda, although in his second government he came to live for a time in the central palace. “Ibáñez concludes that the Executive needed more office space,” says Laborde, recognized for his work in rescuing and safeguarding Chilean heritage. Later, Jorge Alessandri (1958-1964) lived in a flat in the Phillips passage, on one side of the Plaza de Armas and used to walk to the seat of Government, which was only a few streets away. The Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970) continued to live in his family home, on the mythical 683 Hindenburg Street in Providencia, which currently houses a museum around his figure. The socialist Salvador Allende, for at least a year lived in his house of all his life on Guardia Vieja street, in Providencia, a classic mansion from the middle of the 20th century, where his daughter, Senator Isabel Allende, still lives, which even conserves furniture from the time when his father led Chile. But it was Allende, in 1971, who decided to install a house that would serve for the presidents of the Republic. It was acquired by the State and was located on Tomás Moro street, in the municipality of Las Condes, where the same doctor moved and lived for about two years. While he governed, the socialist was a regular at the El Cañaveral foothill refuge – owned by his secretary, known as Payita-, where the president used to spend weekends with his circle of trust.
But the plans for the official residence of the presidents in the house of Tomás Moro were also truncated with the 1973 Military Coup: the Armed Forces not only bombed La Moneda on September 11, but also the president’s residence, which burned on fire as the seat of government itself. The dictator Augusto Pinochet, in the 17 years of the regime, always resided in a large house on Presidente Errázuriz Street, in Las Condes, which was the official home of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Currently, it is a neighborhood of well-to-do families, traditional schools, a beautiful park with playgrounds, lots of dogs and runners. The dictator and his family always lived in this house between 1973 and 1990 –when democracy was installed, with Aylwin–, except for a period of a few months, when Pinochet left the house to be remodeled.
Aylwin and Frei, later, stayed in their respective houses when assuming. It was in those residences of professional families of the mid-twentieth century, without great luxuries, where they received dozens of personalities in their years of Government. And there were great anecdotes. Frei was no longer president when he received former Argentine president Carlos Menem, with whom Frei was a friend, at his home in a private dinner that was not so much: the Argentine arrived at the hands of his new girlfriend, the Chilean Cecilia Bolocco, and the The press of the heart overflowed the Frei residence and its small courtyard, to the horror of Frei’s wife, Martita Larraechea.
Housing austerity became visible again with the socialist Ricardo Lagos, in 2000, who during his term studied the possibility of projecting a stable presidential house, in the Cerrillos area, in a project that was frustrated by the economic crises that affected him. they touched. When Lagos took office, he stayed living in his apartment in Providencia, in the same building where his mother, who was already very old, lived. Only in the middle of his mandate did he rent a home from a great Christian Democrat politician –Gabriel Valdés– in the same municipality of Providencia, on Amudsen street. When he left power in March 2006, however, he returned to his old flat. In Chile, it is still valued that presidents, after leaving public service, return to their lives as ordinary citizens with the same normal lifestyle as before leading the Government.
“Piñera, however, was already coming from his mansion as a millionaire, so he stayed there,” says Laborde about the current president, who won the elections for the first time in 2010. Piñera, a businessman who has one of the country’s main fortunes , has lived since the mid-nineties in a house installed on a large plot of land, in the exclusive area of San Damián, in Las Condes. Since the riots in October 2019, protesters have targeted the house on several occasions. It happened in November of that year, for example, when hundreds of cyclists gathered in the center of Santiago to pedal to the president’s house, in protest and threat, in an unprecedented gesture in the recent past.
Meanwhile, the Boric home remains a mystery. The partner of the president-elect, Irina Karamanos –32 years old, feminist leader of the Broad Front, with whom the future president lives–, told this Tuesday in an interview with a Chilean newspaper that they have not yet started looking for a house. But he gave certain definitions: “It is certainly a relevant conversation. It is important to us that there is transparency and care regarding what the spending will be, how close it will be to La Moneda, that we can maintain as normal a circulation as possible and not move to very well-off sectors of the city, “said the next first Lady. “We want to see that the protocols are complied with, without exaggerating in any way the conditions or the comforts of the home,” said Karamanos.
But the chronicler Laborde does not even consider it appropriate to stay in the Bellas Artes neighborhood (“it is too cool, the screams are heard until dawn and, in the morning, the streets are full of beer cans and sidewalks soaked with urine ”), nor does moving to La Moneda:“ It is difficult to settle there. It would be a punishment to live among banks, insurance companies and commerce, in a neighborhood that dies at the weekend ”, Laborde assures about the surroundings of this palace where the president works and, where until now, there is the tradition of a small and discreet bed next to the office.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.