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News > Chile

Chile: The Direction of the Boric Government's Foreign Policy

  • In Santiago, hundreds of thousands flocked onto the streets to celebrate Gabriel Boric's victory.

    In Santiago, hundreds of thousands flocked onto the streets to celebrate Gabriel Boric's victory. | Photo: Twitter/@jwbartlett92

Published 22 December 2021

One of the questions about the future president-elect of Chile, Gabriel Boric, is what his foreign policy will be, in a context of a greater number of progressive and leftist governments in the continent, at the same time that there is a distance between some of them, and a global dispute that also impacts this part of the world.

Chile is closely observing the first steps of the new president-elect, Gabriel Boric. His victory last December 19 with an eleven-point difference over his extreme right-wing opponent, José Antonio Kast, closed an election that put the country on edge for weeks.

Now the next president, who will take office in March, begins to give institutional steps and political signals: a meeting with Sebastián Piñera at the Casa de la Moneda, on Monday 20, and a meeting with the president of the Constitutional Convention, Elisa Loncón, on Tuesday 21.


World Leaders Celebrate Gabriel Boric's Victory in Chile

There are still many questions, for example, about who will integrate his cabinet, something about which Boric affirmed that he will try not to go beyond January, in order to "give certainties" to the country. Another of the questions is about the international policy to be carried out by the government. On Monday 20, from La Moneda, Boric affirmed the "importance" of "having a policy of continuity in international relations," without further details, something that is part of what appears as a caution in the first days and period of the transfer of power.

Some possible lines of international engagement were outlined by the person in charge of international affairs in the campaign command, Senator Juan Ignacio Latorre, who stated before the press, for example, that they will work on "a multilateral policy based on human rights and the strengthening of democracy." What could be the translation of this road map in the continent and in a world with a global dispute between the United States and China?
"We want to articulate or help to articulate, because it is not going to be something only of Gabriel, a greater coordination from the south of Latin America looking to the world, to Asia and to powers such as China and the US, but with political autonomy," assured Latorre.

Boric won in a changing Latin America, at times unstable. His victory comes after the triumphs in 2021 of Pedro Castillo in Peru and Xiomara Castro in Honduras, both progressive or left-wing. The 2022 horizon presents in turn two important elections: in Colombia, in May, with the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro leading the voting intentions, and in October in Brazil, with the possibility of Lula da Silva returning to the presidency.

This continental map, which three years ago was much more adverse for progressive and leftist forces, now appears in the process of recovery of governments in the hands of actors of opposite sign to the right. The victory of Boric, who defined himself years ago, for example, as belonging to a "young and Latin American left," strengthened this tendency.

However, unlike at the beginning of the century, this group of political actors, not only governmental, is in turn marked by distances. On the one hand, there are presidents or political referents framed within the so-called progressivism, articulated, for example, in the Puebla Group, which met in Mexico a few weeks ago. There, figures such as the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández; of Bolivia, Luis Arce; former presidents such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador (2007-2017); Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (2011-2016), and former presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami, in the case of Chile, stand out.

The Puebla Group brings together progressive and left-wing actors, from Mexico to Argentina, with the absence of members from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. These three countries are the center, together with Bolivia, of the so-called Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a space for the integration of governments created in 2014. ALBA, in turn, has had greater political closeness with the so-called Sao Paulo Forum, made up of leftist parties, social movements, leaders, who have shown their support to the leaders of those countries.

The relationship between many progressive actors and ALBA members, with the exception of Bolivia, has been distant in recent years. Thus, for example, the Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who celebrated Boric's victory, recently stated in a debate that Venezuela is a dictatorship, and the Argentine government, for its part, criticized on several occasions the human rights situation in the Caribbean country.

The new president of Chile, whose party Convergencia Social is part of the Progressive International, as is his campaign manager, Giorgio Jackson, has also shown strong criticism against the governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, particularly focused also on the issue of human rights, which in turn has earned him debates and questioning within Chile by leftist actors.

"In 2021 Pedro Castillo won in Peru, Xiomara Castro in Honduras and now Gabriel Boric in Chile. In 2022 there will be elections in Colombia and Brazil, which will be decisive. New opportunities for regional integration may open up."

The Latin American map of progressive and leftist governments and leaders is currently fragmented, between ALBA, the Puebla Group, and governments such as Bolivia and Mexico, which maintain good relations with both parties. The space where all governments converge, except that of Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting in September in Mexico, a space of integration of states without distinction of political signs of the governments. Is that where Boric could focus his continental policy?

Boric won the presidency at the head of the coalition Apruebo Dignidad, formed by the Frente Amplio (FA) and the Communist Party (PC). In this pact, the FA obtained the presidency after the July primary election, and the PC is the largest party, as communist deputy Camila Vallejo stated this Tuesday 21st: "We are the largest party of the coalition, that is a reality, and we probably have some minister, but we do not have a hegemonic spirit or anything like that, but we are what we are, no more and no less."

The FA in turn is formed by Convergencia Social and Revolución Democrática, a force that has been part of the design of the possible international strategy, as through Latorre. For the moment, the senator did not confirm if he will be Chancellor: "I intend to support the Government from the Senate, there is an important role of articulation there, not only of the opposition, but also with the right wing, because we are tied and I intend to collaborate from there. Now, it is Gabriel who has to define his cabinet."

The foreign policy positions of the FA and the PC have not always coincided, for example, in the case of Cuba, where the latter has recently expressed its "solidarity with the Cuban government and people". How could this translate into the foreign strategy of the new government?

This debate will be, in turn, crossed by the space that members of center and center-left forces of the ex-Concertación, such as the Socialist Party, which joined Boric's support for the second round, could have within the cabinet. Chilean socialism, at the head of the government on several occasions, such as between 2006 and 2010 and 2014 and 2018 with Michelle Bachelet, was part of the Latin American integration process without claiming a centrality of that horizon. Another government part of the ex-Concertación, such as that of Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) of the Party for Democracy, even recognized the coup d'état against Hugo Chávez in 2002.

The internal balance within Boric's Government, between more left and more center sectors, will surely be reflected in terms of foreign policy. This situation will advance in a context of Latin American opportunity, both to strengthen Celac or, for example, to re-establish the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), as well as in a context of global dispute marked by the confrontation between Washington and Beijing.

"Chile must consolidate its relations with the US and China, based on criteria of political autonomy and, at the same time, converge with pragmatism in areas of mutual interest with both great powers. We must strengthen and highlight those links and areas of convergence as a long-term path, to be reinforced as part of our strategy of global insertion focused on and from the region", said Latorre in this regard.

At the moment the cabinet is in the process of being formed and several definitions, as well as measures, will be announced at a later date. Political times in Chile are fast and the next step will be marked by the drafting of the new constitution and the plebiscite that will follow in the second half of the year. The South American country is in a moment of exceptionality that will soon bring new events, a context in which a foreign policy will be developed in times of global dispute and a changing continent.

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