Tension in the south, a proposal for amnesty and an environmental agenda: Gabriel Boric’s start in Chile | International

Chilean President Gabriel Boric gestures during a press conference with accredited foreign media in La Moneda on March 14.IVAN ALVARADO (REUTERS)

The installation of President Gabriel Boric in La Moneda has been full of symbolic gestures –especially to women, native peoples and sectors with fewer resources–, in line with the high citizen expectations that his management arouses. This Monday, when the second week of the Government began, La Moneda has presented a bill that seeks amnesty for prisoners in the framework of social unrest, which has limited options for approval in Parliament. But the landing in the front line of power of a new generation of politicians has been marked by a central and unprecedented event: the complex visit last Tuesday of the Minister of the Interior, Izkia Siches, when she was ambushed in La Araucanía, in the southern part of the country, where the Chilean state has been in conflict for years with the Mapuche communities that demand ownership of the land.

“The government should be more careful. Enthusiasm is observed, but there have been signs of ignorance. This desire to want to go to La Araucanía, but without taking the necessary precautions, is a difficult problem, which no previous Administration has been able to solve, but it was avoidable that this fact marked the public agenda for the first week”, assures the political scientist Javiera Arce. “The government’s honeymoon is fine, but the thread should not be so tense. This administration is getting us used to living off symbols – youth, proposals, women in power, for example – but it cannot be abused, because symbols do not make a political narrative survive. It is necessary to make strong decisions and the management of expectations must be substantive, ”adds Arce, from the Network of Political Scientists, who speaks about the Government from Instagram, in relation to the taste of this new Administration in this social network.

The ambush has been the most relevant event of the first 10 days of the new left-wing administration that is trying to change the paradigm to resolve a historical conflict over ancestral lands in the area, which in recent years has grown in intensity and violence ( in 2021 there were at least 1,200 attacks and in 2022 there have been eight homicides). In search of dialogue and demilitarization, Siches encountered resistance from groups that do not agree with that path.

The visit to La Araucanía de Siches produced several consequences. First, the controversy over his statements, where he referred to “political prisoners” of the Mapuche ethnic group, which was nuanced by the Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Giorgio Jackson. Later, the matter was corrected by his Undersecretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve. “They are not political prisoners,” assured the socialist.

The conflict in La Araucanía led to another controversy for Minister Siches, who chose not to report the violent acts, despite the requirements of the law, given that the Prosecutor’s Office had opened an investigation ex officio. There was a third consequence: regarding the conflict, Siches announced the preparation of a manual of good practices to refer to the Mapuche people– which drew attention, especially from the press–, although he later clarified that it would not be the purpose of his future manual serve as censorship to the media.

The visit of Philip VI

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One of the issues that marked the beginning of the installation was the controversy that President Boric himself opened with Spain by criticizing King Felipe VI because, according to the Chilean president, he delayed the change of command ceremony on March 11, which it was refuted by the Royal House. The chancellor, Antonia Urrejola, referred to the controversy this Monday and, on behalf of the Chilean government, assured that what Boric said “was a communication error and should not have happened.” Despite this incident, the sociologist Axel Callís, director of the site Tuinfluyes.com, thinks that “the silence that Boric has maintained” in this start is valued, as a counterpoint to his predecessors, Sebastián Piñera and Michelle Bachelet, with a marked media presence. “The presidential word is limited to what is important and not to the situation,” he says.

At the same level of international relations, Boric ratified the Escazú Agreement, which seeks to improve access to information, Justice and public participation in environmental matters in Latin American and Caribbean countries. The agreement was not signed by the previous government, that of Piñera, on the grounds that it could expose the country to international lawsuits, among other issues. If approved in Congress, Chile will be the 25th country in the region to join.

The issue of public order, one of the main challenges of the Boric government, has quickly appeared on the agenda of La Moneda. Ministers Siches and Jackson defended in Congress the extension of the State of Exception in the northern part of the country, where irregular migration appears as one of the main emergencies, while in La Araucanía it has been decided so far not to renew the measure. when the one decreed by Piñera ends on March 26.

Last Friday, when the president had only been in office for a week, demonstrations were repeated in Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests since October 2019. The communist mayor Daniel Jadue, who lost in the presidential primaries of the left against Boric , criticized the newly assumed Administration for what he called “police repression.” For the communist militant –a party that makes up Boric’s original bloc–, “the government has the responsibility to civilly intervene the police so that they carry out their work in accordance with international human rights treaties. Not to disappoint the people! ”, He wrote on social networks.

That is the framework of the proposed amnesty for the so-called prisoners of the outbreak. Boric’s government seeks to fulfill its promise to those who supported it at the polls. This was announced on Monday by Minister Jackson after a meeting with the newly elected senator Fabiola Campillai, who was blinded by the police action. Before, the Minister of Economy, Nicolás Grau, had apologized on behalf of the State of Chile to the merchants in the Plaza Italia area for the destruction of their premises during the social outbreak.

The issue of public security will have another complex date on March 29: the commemoration of the Day of the Young Combatant, in memory of two brothers assassinated in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Historically it has been a difficult day due to the protests that take place in different areas of the country, but especially in the popular neighborhoods of Santiago. It is not clear whether with Boric in La Moneda the waters will calm down during the day, when the Government intends to deploy an agenda focused on human rights.

It will not be the only great immediate challenge. In the next few days, the Boric Executive will have to show his political ability in different instances. In Congress, part of his own bloc approved this Monday to discuss a new withdrawal of 10% of pension funds, which the Minister of Finance, the socialist Mariol Marcel, has rejected due to its negative consequences for the economy. The new Administration will have to convince Parliament and the citizens of the inconvenience of the measure, despite the fact that when he was in opposition, Boric himself supported as a deputy the withdrawals of pension savings. “It is the government’s first challenge, because if its own bench messes it up, it will have complex consequences in the future,” says political scientist Javiera Arce.

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