Fifty Years After the Coup That Ended Allende’s Rule in Chile, the Marxist’s Granddaughter Is Defense Minister — But the Political Pendulum Is Swinging Rightward

Polls and voting results show a different Chile already growing skeptical of its new socialist leaders and showing a softer view of Pinochet and greater appreciation of conservative values.

AP/Esteban Felix
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Chile's leftist president, Gabriel Boric, at Santiago, Chile, August 18, 2023. AP/Esteban Felix

Fifty years after a military coup toppled Chile’s Marxist president, Salvador Allende, it might seem that this long strip of a nation on South America’s Pacific Coast is going “Allende Lite.”

Chile’s leftist 37-year-old president, Gabriel Boric, the youngest in the Americas, likes to be photographed with a heroic bust of the Chilean leader who died during the September 11, 1973 coup.

To run the military, the bearded Mr. Boric appointed as defense minister Maya Alejandra Fernández Allende, daughter of a Cuban diplomat and granddaughter of the former president.

In his 24-member Cabinet, three ministers are leaders of the Chilean Communist Party. One is Camila Vallejo Dowling, the government spokesman. Last month, Ms. Vallejo and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York toured Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

The museum honors victims of the regime of rightist dictator Augusto Pinochet. The two politicians made a joint appeal, in Spanish, asking the American government to open up the files on Washington’s involvement in the coup that ended Allende’s presidency and brought Pinochet to power.

Then again, too, opinion polls and voting results show a different Chile. They indicate a growing skepticism of the country’s new socialist leader, a softening of views about Pinochet, and bedrock support for conservative values.

In July, a poll found that 66 percent of respondents agreed that, in government, firmness trumps concern over  individual rights. That is double the 32 percent who took that position four years ago when asked the same question by the same company, Santiago’s Center for Public Studies.

Chile's President Gabriel Boric talks to Chile's Army Commander, Gen. Javier Iturraga, right, next to Chilean Defense Minister Maya Fernandez Allende, left, during a military parade to celebrate Independence Day in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Chile’s leftist president, Gabriel Boric, talks to General Javier Iturraga, right, as Chile’s defense minister, Maya Fernandez Allende, stands at left at Santiago, Chile, Monday, September 19, 2022. AP/Esteban Felix

Earlier this year, a separate poll by Mori Chile found that that 36 percent of Chilean respondents believe the military “freed” Chile “from Marxism.” Only 42 percent said the coup destroyed democracy, the lowest number since 1995.

“There should be an overwhelming majority of Chileans who denounce the dictatorship and the military coup and acknowledge that the military destroyed democracy,” Mori founder Marta Lagos told the AP. “That would be the normal situation in a normal country. But that’s not the case.”

In elections, Chileans are not going the socialist way. After a wave of bombs disrupted a center-right government in 2019, some 78 percent of voters chose to replace the country’s Pinochet-era constitution. Left-wing delegates dominated the constituent assembly.

Their proposed constitution would have declared Chile a “plurinational” state, creating nations within the nation, with different legal systems applying to different groups. The main intended beneficiaries, though, the Mapuche indigenous group, were not impressed. A Center for Public Studies poll of Mapuches found 70 percent opposed.

Following Mr. Boric’s lead in naming a majority female cabinet, the proposed constitution mandated reserving for women at least half of all major government jobs. Despite campaigning by Mr. Boric, almost 62 percent of voters rejected the ‘progressive’ constitution.

After a hiatus, a second vote was held for a new constitutional convention. This time, conservatives dominated, winning a veto-proof three fifths majority. In December, Chileans are to vote on a document that preserves the free market elements of the Pinochet constitution.

Voters, it seems, want to keep collecting Chile’s golden eggs without killing the goose. Last year, Chile received $21 billion in foreign direct investment. As measured as a percent of GDP, this is the highest in Latin America, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and the second largest of lithium. Reaching across the Pacific, China now is Chile’s largest foreign investor and trading partner. Last year, Chinese vehicle battery maker BYD Chile SpA10 won a major lithium exploitation quota. Half of Chilean households now pay their electricity bills to a Chinese company, State Grid.

“Chile’s once-pioneering relationship with China is turning into dependency,” Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies warns in a paper on the trans-Pacific relationship. Half a century ago, Chile’s left obsessed over imperialismo Yanqui. Today it has mixed feelings about China’s new economic dominance. “The current government,” warns the Mercator Institute’s paper, “has given a key role” Chile’s Communist Party, which “is very close to the Chinese Communist Party and takes a favorable view of China.”

While Pinochetistas write Chile’s new constitution, conservatives on the other side of the Andes are also having a rebound. With annual inflation at 113 percent and the black market value of the peso worth half of its official value, the surprise winner of Argentina’s three-way presidential primary last month was Javier Milei, a self-described libertarian and “anarcho-capitalist.”

Señor Milei promises to privatize state companies, dollarize the economy and cut Argentina’s budget deficit to zero. His economic models are Australia, Ireland, Israel, and New Zealand. He names his English mastiffs after libertarian economists: Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Lucas.

If elected in November, Mr. Milei promises a radical break with the center-left party that has held power in Argentina for 16 of the past 20 years. He tells supporters of his Liberty Advances party that  it knells for the politics of the former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

“We’re not only going to end Kirchnerismo,” Mr. Milei says, “but we’re also going to end the useless, parasitic, criminal political caste that is sinking this country.” He described Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, as “a Jesuit who promotes communism.”

Last Monday, his vice presidential running mate, Victoria Villarruel, enraged the left by holding an event in Buenos Aires “honoring victims of terrorism.” The daughter of a counter-insurgency commander in Argentina’s “dirty war” of the 1970s, Ms. Villaruel invited as speakers relatives of people killed by leftwing guerrillas during the 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.

From Brazil, a retired UPI reporter, Steve Yolen, has watched South America’s political pendulum swing back and forth over the last 50 years. “Here in Brazil,” he says, “we have seen military come and go, and then come back and go again — it’s cyclical.”

Mr. Yolen has watched veteran socialist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva move over the last two years to the presidential palace from a prison cell. “With Lula back, my neighbors are saying ‘My God, they are going to seize our property and seize our money.’”

The New York Sun

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