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Chile: The Citizen’s History

The Chilean succession with Gabriel Boric is not just another one: it is the perfect metaphor for political change in Latin America.

Chilean president Gabriel Boric gives his first speech after assuming the presidency. Photo: EFE | Confidencial

Rafael Rojas

19 de marzo 2022

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The young president Gabriel Boric has been sworn in Santiago. The presidential sash, sewn by women from a textile union, was handed over to this leader of the new Latin American left by Sebastián Pinera, a tycoon and politician of the neoliberal, post-Cold War right. The Chilean succession is not just another one: it is the perfect metaphor for political change in Latin America.

Boric comes to power with a cabinet of fourteen women ministers, among them stand out Izkia Siches, the first woman to head the Interior Ministry in Chile’s history, Antonia Urrejola, who will be in charge of the Foreign Ministry, Maya Fernandez, granddaughter of Salvador Allende, who will assume the Defense Ministry, and the academic Marcela Rios, who will be the new Minister of Justice.


His government will debut a new Constitution and his program and electoral mandate are clearly committed to a wide range of social demands, including the reform of public education at all levels, the full recognition of the historical rights of the Mapuche community, the extension of social security benefits and an immigration policy that removes incentives for racism and exclusion.

This presidential inauguration coincides—although perhaps not entirely coincidentally—with the publication of the book “Historias para la ciudadanía” (History for Citizens, 2021) by historian Rafael Sagredo Baeza, a graduate of El Colegio de Mexico, professor at the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile and Director of the Diego Barros Arana Research Center of the National Library in Santiago.

Sagredo’s book is an exercise in historical dissemination, based on the most up-to-date historiography on Chile’s experience, in all areas. He dwells on the “end of the earth” condition of the elongated geography, trapped between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, of the South American country, on the evolution of its natural and economic resources, on the demographic changes of its society, on the wars that founded and re-founded the nation-state that emerged from independence, on the republic and its presidency.

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Against easy narratives that differentiate Chile’s democratic traditions, in the Latin American context, Sagredo refers to the weight of authoritarianism in the history of the South American country. During long periods of Chile’s republican history in the 19th and 20th centuries, authoritarianism took shape through the concentration of presidential power, the cult of order and stability and the solid powers of the Church and the Army. The historian speaks of three dictatorships: that of Diego Portales in the 19th century and those of Carlos Ibanez del Campo and Augusto Pinochet in the 20th century.

In contrast to an image of the epic homeland, traditionally based on the war of independence and the popular struggles of the left that led to Salvador Allende’s project in the 1960s, this book highlights the importance of other wars, that of the War of the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation in 1830, that of Chile and Peru against Spain between 1865 and 1866 and that of the Pacific between 1879 and 1884, which shaped the “national honor” of the old republic.

Along with honor, another sentiment that Sagredo reconstructs is fear: the “fear of the future” during the separatist heroic deed and the “fear as a political practice” in several elections of the 20th century: the 1920 election won by Arturo Alessandri, the 1938 election won by Pedro Aguirre Cerda and the Popular Front and the three in which Salvador Allende contested, in 1958, 1964 and 1970. Every time a leftist nomination was consolidated, there was always a campaign of terror.

There was also in the last elections, but freedom overcame fear and Boric won. The citizen history proposed by Rafael Sagredo, far from a strongman or oligarchic approach of the old rights and old lefts, accompanies the upcoming debut of the new Constitution and the new government in Chile.

*This article was originally published in La Razón, of México and traslated by Habana Times.

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Rafael Rojas

Rafael Rojas

Historiador y ensayista cubano, residente en México. Es licenciado en Filosofía y doctor en Historia. Profesor e investigador del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) de la Ciudad de México y profesor visitante en las universidades de Princeton, Yale, Columbia y Austin. Es autor de más de veinte libros sobre América Latina, México y Cuba.

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