Two years after the 2019 social upheavals in Chile, a complex phenomenon that combined great violence with demonstrations in demand for quality social goods, the Chilean conservative right may come to La Moneda. This Sunday the presidential elections are held and José Antonio Kast – a 55-year-old lawyer born in Santiago, with nine children and an adherent of the Schönstatt Catholic movement – has burst into the race.
In the orbit of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, although without their fanfare, it combines an effective deployment on social networks with controversial projects, such as offering economic incentives to married couples. Kast, part of the doctrinal right that has not broken with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, has a real chance of going to the second electoral round, according to the polls, and being measured on December 19 with Gabriel Boric, leader of the alliance between the Frente Broad left and the Communist Party. They are the faces of a polarized Chilean politics, in which the moderate sectors have collapsed.
“They say I’m extreme. Extreme in what? In loving the homeland. In loving the nation and the national symbols. In defending friends. In protecting the entrepreneur. In what am I extreme? To the right of the coalition of the current president, Sebastián Piñera, Kast was a deputy of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), which he resigned to found the Republican Party two years ago. It barely has a handful of close associates and parliamentarians. But his speech has permeated different segments of the population, not just the wealthy and right-wing class.
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This part of the electorate is fearful of the agenda of profound changes that Boric promises, a leader in a sector that has often had difficulty condemning violence and making central issues for citizens, such as economic growth or public safety, their own. Carolina Tohá, leader of the extinct center-left Concertación that governed Chile from 1990 to 2010, explained it a few days ago: “The conservatism that is rising today in Chile is not a fascist monster, but concerned people who ask to be heard.”
It is the second time that Kast reaches the ballot, with a speech that pushes the reduction of the State, appeals to authority, seeks to repeal the abortion law in three cases and rejects homosexual marriage. In the 2017 elections, when Piñera won, he obtained 8% of the votes. This second attempt was, above all, a strategy to promote the candidates of their formation in the parliamentarians this Sunday, where they could form a bench of a dozen deputies, according to some projections. But in the midst of a highly volatile political scenario, the race for La Moneda has become extreme and Kast has gained strength. He will surely have to moderate his extravagant government program if he is to win. His campaign (“Dare with Kast”) appeals to embolden the public to support his project, the most conservative and right-wing since the Pinochet dictatorship, with which Kast has not cut off. Just a few days ago, he compared the recent elections in the Daniel Ortega regime with the first democratic presidential elections in Chile in 1989, with Pinochet still in power, and praised that in Chile “political opponents were not locked up.” The matter hides a fundamental issue: the relativization of the Chilean dictatorship, where for 17 years human rights were systematically violated, in exchange for what Kast considers a good transition and good economic results. The statements generated such controversy that they almost overshadowed the internal confrontation of the front village, also caused by Nicaragua. Shortly after the elections in the Central American country, the Chilean Communist Party – which maintains its full adherence to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine – backed Ortega and his electoral process, almost unanimously rejected by the international community. Candidate Boric parted ways with his main allies to get to La Moneda, like some young communist leaders, but suspicion is hovering in the air, because the party did not officially withdraw.
If Boric looks at Podemos, Kast looks at Vox, the Spanish formation in which he is recognized. At the beginning of the month, the Chilean candidate – who does not like to be described as extreme or ultra – wrote on Twitter, addressing Santiago Abascal: “They say that we are xenophobic, homophobic and anti-communist. Neither xenophobic nor homophobic, but I recognize that I will do everything in my power to save Chile from communism ”. From the other side of the Atlantic, Abascal, whom he met in Spain in 2019, answered: “Count on me for that battle. Spain and Chile must work together in the defense of democracy, the rule of law and democracy against the communist assault ”.
Win or lose, Chile must live with Kast and what he represents. Chile, the country that easily forgets that, after 17 years of bloody military dictatorship, in the 1988 plebiscite 44% of the voters said yes to Pinochet.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.