Chile presidential election: Frente Amplio success

chile student

The first round of Chile’s presidential elections held on 19 November 2017 produced a surprising political result. Despite a low turnout of 46.7%, the new grassroots coalition Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front), led by Beatriz Sanchez, obtained 20.3% of the vote, winning 21 of the 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. FA was not predicted to get more than 15%. Former right-wing president Sebastian Piñera led the field, with 36.6% rather than an expected 44%, while social democratic standard bearer Alejandro Guillier was runner-up, creeping past Sanchez with 22.7%. The run-off between Piñera and Guillier is taking place on 17 December. The chances are that Piñera will again don the presidential sash, although this will depend on whether FA supporters decide to vote for Guillier in the second round or abstain.

FA’s political origins lie in the past decade of student protests which began in 2006, when secondary school students took to the streets in their school uniforms to demonstrate against poor state-provided education coupled with expensive private education and high bus fares – the so-called Penguin protests. In 2011, protests erupted again, this time involving higher education students as well: schools and universities were occupied, and there was a broader dimension as the whole education system came under attack with demands to nationalise all private provision (see FRFI 223 – ‘Chile: Student revolt challenges the Pinochet order’). Other movements joined in as anger spilled over at the appalling privatised pension system, poor state healthcare provision, the constant attacks on the indigenous Mapuche people, and a continuous assault on the environment sanctioned by successive governments in favour of mining multinationals. From this came a call for a constituent assembly to write a replacement for the dictator Pinochet’s 1980 constitution: this was a central element of FA’s platform.

 

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11 September 2013: 40th anniversary of Chilean Coup

40 years ago on 11 September 1973, the democratic government of Chile led by President Salvador Allende was crushed in a brutal military coup led by General Pinochet. Three years in preparation, the coup would have been impossible without massive covert backing from US imperialism, the hegemonic power in Latin America at the time. 4,000 militants were murdered or disappeared in the years that followed. The fate of over 1,000 remains unknown. The legacy of the Pinochet years today lies in massive inequality and an economy controlled by a handful of enormously wealthy families dependent on the export of copper. The article below was published on the 25th anniversary of the coup in 1998 and examines the lessons of the Allende government.


Chile: lessons of the coup

FRFI 144 August / September 1998

1973-1998

25 years ago, on 11 September 1973, a military coup deposed the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In the ensuing blood bath, thousands of communists, socialists, workers and peasants were murdered, Allende amongst them. The national stadium in the capital, Santiago, was turned into a concentration camp, where hundreds were tortured and shot whilst the ruling class celebrated with champagne parties.

 

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Chile: student movement faces more repression

After a winter and spring of protests, strikes and demonstrations, the Chilean student movement faces new challenges. Tens of thousands of people were mobilised for two days of national strikes on 16/17 November, protesting outside the National Congress building in Valparaiso. Yet six months of struggle have not moved the millionaire government of Sebastien Piñera, who spares no effort to praise the movement when out of the country but presents a very different face on his return. Now the ruling class, which for much of the time has been on the back foot, has started a counter-offensive with a time-honoured mixture of repression and bribes to split the movement.

The government is trying to secure approval of its 2012 education budget in Congress. This involves playing a political game with the majority opposition Concertacion, in order to find enough money to buy off the university students. Concertacion wants an extra $1bn beyond that proposed by the government ($11.8bn, a mere 3.8% increase in real terms on the 2011 budget); the government has offered a miserly $350m. Even if the Concertacion proposal were accepted, the budget would remain the lowest as a proportion of GDP amongst OECD countries. Part of the proposed increase would subsidise a reduction of interest on university student loans from 6% to 2%, and the introduction of a system of grants for the poorest university students. There is however nothing of consequence for the three million secondary school students. At present families have to find an average of $400 per child a year to pay for secondary education, 40% of the annual cost, in a country where 60% earn less than $500 a month. Students are not just demanding free secondary schooling but an end to a system where 30% of schools are run privately, most of them for profit.

 

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Chile: student revolt challenges the Pinochet order

For over five months now, since the end of April 2011, Chile has been convulsed by huge student protests at the quality and cost of secondary and university education. The Chilean right-wing coalition government led by billionaire President Pinera, a former supporter of General Pinochet, has failed to head off the revolt. Student and teacher unions alike dismissed its offer of talks at the beginning of September as the government rejected central demands such as the abolition of profit-making in schools and universities. Robert Claridge reports.

Since the struggle started, at least 200 secondary schools and universities have been occupied and over 100,000 students have been on strike. At one time there were more than 20 secondary school students on hunger strike. There have been vast demonstrations in the capital Santiago – 100,000 at the beginning of June, 150,000 on 9 August, at least 250,000 on 21 August and 350,000 four days later at the end of a two-day general strike. Tens of thousands have protested in other cities, with up to 70,000 in Valparaiso and Concepcion. The state response has been brutal, the paramilitary carabineros deploying water cannon and firing tear gas and rubber bullets in constant running battles with the students. Yet public support for the youth ranges between 65% and 80%, whilst that for Pinera has slumped to 26%. Student leaders such as Camila Vallejo (a communist), Giorgio Jackson, Sebastian Farfan (the most radical) and Camilo Ballesteros have become national figures, eclipsing government ministers and spokespersons whenever they appear on TV.

 

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Chile: Student protests rock the government

chile_student_protestOn Thursday 4 August tens of thousands of secondary school and university students defied a government ban on protests to march in cities and towns throughout the country. The centre of the capital Santiago was closed off as riot police used water cannon, tear gas and horses in a vain effort to disperse the youth. Over 800 were arrested yet the police were completely unable to control the situation as barricades appeared on major intersections in Santiago. The students have overwhelming popular support, and through their actions are giving birth to a new movement. Billionaire President Sebastian Pinera has the lowest ratings ever for a president since General Pinochet relinquished power in 1990 with only 20% support.

The revolt has been led by students from the University of Chile, the largest and most important university in the country. The issues at stake are little different from elsewhere in the world: the level of student fees and the drive to privatisation. On top of this are five demands of the secondary school students which includes the nationalisation of the education system. In 1980, Pinochet had handed over control of secondary schooling to local municipalities which meant that richer areas provided a better education than poorer areas.

 

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Chile: lessons of the coup

FRFI 144 August / September 1998

1973-1998

25 years ago, on 11 September 1973, a military coup deposed the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In the ensuing blood bath, thousands of communists, socialists, workers and peasants were murdered, Allende amongst them. The national stadium in the capital, Santiago, was turned into a concentration camp, where hundreds were tortured and shot whilst the ruling class celebrated with champagne parties.

 

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Chile: Pinochet gets rich from bloody dictatorship

Over the past few weeks the Chilean press has developed a renewed interest in the so-called ‘Pinochet Trials’ after the Washington Post revealed on 15 July this year that the US Senate was investigating the Riggs Bank, suspected of money laundering, and harbouring the loot of dictators and ex-rulers.

Augusto Pinochet, the ex-Chilean dictator, seized power in 1973 after a bloody coup (backed by the CIA) which ousted the legitimately elected President, Salvador Allende. He subjected the Chilean people to 16 years of brutal oppression, where opposition faced assassination, disappearance, torture and exile. In 1998, in response to an extradition appeal from a Spanish judge, Pinochet was arrested on one of his regular shopping visits to Britain and detained for over a year. He was finally released by Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on the ‘humanitarian’ grounds that he was old and sick.

 

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Chile: Bachelet victorious

In a straight fight against the right wing multi-millionaire candidate Sebastian Pinera, Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party took 53% of the national vote on 15 January to become Chile’s first woman President. She stood on a platform of workers’ and indigenous rights, calling for a reform of the state welfare system and the privatised pension scheme. Whether in practice she is any different from her Socialist Party predecessor Ricardo Lagos remains to be seen. Lagos pursued an aggressive neo-liberal policy of privatisation; that Chile’s economy continued to expand was mainly due to rising copper prices and rising demand for its agricultural exports. Politically, Lagos had sought to distance Chile from Venezuela and Cuba. Yet in 2003 it refused to support the US in the Security Council over the invasion of Iraq and its UN offices were amongst those that the US bugged in an effort to obtain advance information about their voting intentions. It subsequently refused to send troops to Iraq. In 2005, it nominated former foreign minister Jose Miguel Insulza as candidate for Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) against the US’s favoured candidate, Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico. Insulza won the election, the first time the US’s candidate had lost. Whatever policy Bachelet follows internally, it is likely that Chile will follow an increasingly independent path internationally.
Robert Claridge

FRFI 189 February / March 2006

 

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