Historical leader of the Chilean left since the Government of the Popular Unity of Salvador Allende, when he was a prominent secondary leader, Camilo Escalona (Santiago de Chile, 66 years old) has been for decades one of the main faces of the Socialist Party. Leader in exile, in the clandestine struggle against the dictatorship – along with Michelle Bachelet – and in the transition, where he was a deputy, senator and president of his formation.
Together with the Christian Democrats, his party formed the backbone of the center-left Concertación that governed Chile between 1990 and 2010, after the military dictatorship. It is a time that the new Chilean left – led by the Broad Front in alliance with the Communist Party – strongly criticizes, in a phenomenon that has a strong component of generational replacement.
In this political dilemma, however, a good part of the parties and leaders of the extinct Concertación, whose own candidate (Yasna Provoste) did not go to the second round, since Sunday night have supported Gabriel Boric, who will be measured in the December 19 with the ultra-conservative right wing of José Antonio Kast. Ricardo Lagos, president between 2000 and 2006, whose management has been a main target of the new left, publicly supported Boric this Wednesday, who came in second place to the ballot with 25.83%, compared to 27.91% of the leader of the Republican Party.
“Lagos has shown enormous political stature,” says Escalona in this telematic conversation, in which he says that he has only spoken with Boric twice: when they happened to run into each other on a television program and when they spoke on the phone a few months ago. It is a sample of the distance that has existed between the different lefts in the South American country.
Question. What happened on Sunday in Chile?
Answer. There are three candidacies that are linked to the right and the center-right: Kast, [Sebastián] Sichel and [Franco] Parisi. The sum of the three gives a support greater than 50%. His discourse is not about structural transformations, but about changes in immediate and everyday life, which aim to preserve the model and not to change it. Basically, his speech focuses on the issues of order and security, especially Kast’s. And they were successful with it.
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R. Because there cannot be a state of permanent instability. Since the outbreak of October 2019, two years have passed and society by its very nature needs a government proposal in which the changes are inserted in the recovery of stability. It is the main challenge of the second round. And this is a particular requirement for Boric’s candidacy, because it is at this point that he is at a disadvantage in relation to the discourse of public order – smooth, flat, rough, harsh – that Kast’s candidacy has.
P. In his speech on Sunday, Boric tried to signal: “We will be relentless against drug trafficking.” Is there already awareness of this matter?
R. I cannot speak for Boric’s campaign, although as the socialist president said on Sunday night, faced with the dilemma of an ultra-conservative force that represents Kast and a force located to our left, we support Boric’s second option.
P. It is the left that has disagreed on substantive matters with you …
R. Many times he has strongly disagreed with us, but shares with socialism the ideals of freedom, democracy and social justice. The Socialist Party is not part of any kind of political link, that is, no negotiation has been made, which does not mean that we can have an opinion: we have a tremendous deficit in our speech before the country.
P. What do you mean?
R. In the communes of Arauco, where I was a deputy between 2001-2006, where the forces of the old Concertación had a majority of more than 60%, where the situation has been destabilized [por el conflicto mapuche], Kast had 60% of the votes. So, it is clear that an important segment of the popular electorate in Chile has moved to extreme right positions. And it would be a serious omission that could lead to defeat, if Boric’s candidacy does not have the capacity to respond to that challenge.
P. Does this deficit explain the restorative wave, just two years after the social outbreak?
R. There is a serious problem of understanding the national situation. We need to integrate into our vision of the country a proposal that allows the popular sectors to regain the normality of their living conditions. People have to eat and to eat they have to work and they are subjected to a level of deterioration of their conditions, because it negatively confuses the activity of legitimate social protest – such as the demand of the Mapuche people for a plurinational State – with the proliferation of groups. criminals both in the rural and urban world that decisively affect the lives of citizens. It is a problem of the state of the first order and the progressive forces of the left and center-left have not had a response to this phenomenon. The responsibility for public order lies with the current Government, but the absence of a coherent discourse on public order finally shifted the responsibility to the progressive forces that are not in the Government, paradoxically.
P. Is it possible to correct this issue in Boric’s candidacy, when a substantial part of the story of this sector is based on the spirit of social revolt?
R. It must be corrected, even in part. An omission of this challenge with respect to the conduct of the State can be completely decisive in the result.
P. Would it be credible at this point?
R. The candidate in this matter has had positions that have been modified: he started in favor of the anti-barricade law and then against the anti-barricade law, for example. That is why it is more essential that Boric be able to establish before the country a criterion, a judgment, a categorical response regarding what the State of Chile is going to be when he assumes, in the case of winning. You have to have an answer. If it will be credible or not? The nature of that response will tell. What cannot be is an omission.
P. Was Chile’s demand for a change of model?
R. There is a structural problem: inequality. It is the essential. The conditions of inequality in Chile undermine the democratic regime, which accepts and tolerates and promotes completely different living conditions between 90% of the population and 10% of the population, which requires fundamental modifications. But it is not a state of permanent instability, as has been understood.
P. How intense should the changes Chile needs have? Is it a gradual reformism or with the foot on the gas?
R. The most revolutionary of the projects must be gradual, because there is no possibility that the transformations in Chile will be simultaneous in the different areas. For example, if a new pension system is to be established, it will not be able to be established in a single act.
P. Does Boric interpret this gradualness of which he speaks?
R. You don’t have to have complexes. The two candidates that are in the second round represent less than a third of society each. A candidate must openly and transparently state that his program is undergoing a reevaluation process, collecting what was the result of the election to make the necessary corrections. And he couldn’t be punished for that, because he didn’t have a majority.
P. From the Communist Party – the main partner of the Broad Front of Boric – they have said that they are going to monitor that the program is carried out …
R. There is no right to veto. Neither party has it. Salvador Allende was rigorous with the program that allowed him to win the presidency of the Republic, neither more nor less. But it is not the reality that we are living. Whoever wants to win the second round has to be able to present to the country a proposal that allows it to obtain more than 50%, which today it does not have. And there is no party that can veto him in that effort, it would be absurd. The parties that support Boric must give him the necessary freedom for him to make the decisions that allow him to win.
P. Is a new Constitution, like the one being discussed by the Assembly, the remedy that Chile’s disease needed?
R. A new Constitution is a fundamental part of the process, but due to its gradual nature, too. It doesn’t happen overnight.
P. Is the new Constitution at risk?
R. As long as the votes of the exit plebiscite are not counted [del segundo semestre de 2022]This is a factor that has always been present, although it may now have been accentuated. The very high vote of the ultraconservative sectors naturally that increase the challenge of the constitutional convention to present a majority text.
P. Why in a recent column do you speak of “wealthy middle class ruling groups” that are around Boric?
R. I do not define them as an institution, because the Broad Front and the PC are a political bloc. I refer to the leading nuclei. Observing is not prohibited and if one looks closely, the whole graph that emerges from Boric’s command is that they are nuclei of well-to-do middle-class professionals and intellectuals. It is a matter of looking at the photo. I am stating a fact.
P. And is that a drag?
R. I do not disqualify them because of their origin. I am saying that they have a serious insufficiency. For example, the commune of La Pintana, an area where we always had 70%, a popular municipality where in 1989 the right wing had no representation, today there is no supermarket because they were all burned in the outbreak and the people have a serious supply problem . What I see is that these wealthy middle class leaders have a proposal with a structural weakness: we must be aware that the president who is elected on December 19 takes charge of this current state, not the future. And it has to respond to the conditions of peace and dignity that the majority of the country today is asking for.
P. In the same column he refers to the leaders of this “left radicalism” …
R. It seems radical to me because of the contempt that they have systematically had regarding the process of re-implantation of democracy in the last 30 years, with the very unfortunate slogan, which has finally fed the right and Kast, the great winner of this phrase: “ It wasn’t 30 pesos, but 30 years ”. That is, to hold the democratic regime responsible for economic inequality and the hardships of a profoundly unequal society. When you try to establish that the responsibility lies in democracy and not in the structural conditions in which the democratic regime was installed, it is clearly a look that is part of left-wing radicalism in Chile, I don’t know in other countries.
P. How do you explain, then, that the PS supports a candidacy that criticizes the work of the center-left Concertación that socialism itself led?
R. Socialist militants are going to do what they always do, with complete freedom. They are going to demonstrate in the streets and squares of the country, door to door, with great enthusiasm, that Kast’s candidacy represents a danger of authoritarian regression that can be very dangerous for Chile. And on that basis they are going to back Boric. We do not want positions or bureaucratic discussion of power quotas, but only support. We do it because of our responsibility with Chile, we do it because of our history. We do not ask for anything in return, it is our history that is at stake.
P. Why does Kast pose the danger of authoritarian regression?
R. It is an authoritarian regression in the field of sexual diversity, labor rights, market issues — it accentuates inequality — in the conception of the armed forces and public order. If it has a cat face, cat shape, cat ears, cat tail, and cat body, it is a cat.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.