Gabriel Boric takes office as Chile’s new president

The inauguration of the progressive Gabriel Boric marks the beginning of a new era of social justice in Chile

March 14, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Gabriel Boric, of the left-wing Approve Dignity coalition, was sworn in as the president of Chile on March 11. Photo: Gabriel Boric/Twitter

Gabriel Boric of the left-wing Approve Dignity coalition was sworn in as the president of Chile on March 11. 36-year-old Boric became the youngest president in the country’s history, after winning the presidential run-off in December 2021.

During the investiture held at the Hall of Honor of the National Congress, in the city of Valparaíso, Boric received the presidential sash from the president of the Senate, Álvaro Elizalde, and O’Higgins’ pickaxe from outgoing president, Sebastián Piñera, symbolizing the transfer of power. Following his inauguration, his majority women ministerial cabinet also took office. The young progressive leader and his team will govern the Latin American country for the next four years.

For many, Boric’s electoral victory consolidated the process of change, which was initiated during the October 2019 social uprising against decades of neoliberal policies and deep-rooted social inequalities, and his inauguration marked the beginning of a new era of social justice in Chile.

In a brief response to the media following his inauguration, while leaving the Congress, Boric said that “Know that we are going to do our best to rise to the challenges that we face as a country.”

Boric’s swearing-in ceremony was attended by delegations from more than 20 countries from across the globe. Argentine president Alberto Fernandez, Bolivian president Luis Arce, Colombian president Ivan Duque, Dominican president Luis Abinader, Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso, Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry, Paraguayan president Mario Abdo Benitez, Peruvian president Pedro Castillo, Spanish King Felipe VI, and Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle Pou were among the heads of state who attended the inauguration event. Additionally, Brazilian vice president Hamilton Mourao, Costa Rican foreign minister Rodolfo Solano, Cuban foriegn minister Bruno Rodriguez, and Panamanian vice president José Gabriel Carrizo also attended the ceremony. Delegates from Curacao, Guyana, Honduras, Ireland, Japan, Morocco, Palestine, and the US also joined.

First speech as president

In his first speech as president, from the balcony of the presidential palace in Constitution Plaza in the capital Santiago, Boric highlighted the importance of popular participation in the process of change to face the great challenges. “It is important that you (the people) are part of this process, because we cannot do it alone, let us walk together on the path of hope and build a more just country,” he said.

He reiterated that he would work to improve the public education and health sectors. He said that he would pay special attention to the fight against COVID-19, and continue the successful vaccination strategy. He also said that his administration would strive to consolidate and recover the economy, but with sustainable growth and the redistribution of the wealth produced by Chileans. He promised to confront crime and insecurity by combating social inequality and reforming the police.

With respect to his foreign policy, Boric said that his administration would not subordinate itself to any power. “We will practice political autonomy at the international level without ever subordinating ourselves to any power, and always safeguarding coordination and cooperation among peoples,” he said. He called for more unity among Latin American countries and peoples, and at the same time, stressed that his administration will condemn any government in any country where human rights are violated, regardless of its political ideology.

Boric condemned the human rights violations recorded in the country, during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and during the social rebellion of October 2019 under former president Piñera’s government, and vowed that it would never happen again.

He recalled the 1973 coup d’etat against then-president Salvador Allende, Latin America’s first elected Marxist president, when the Air Force bombed the presidential building. “These walls have been witnesses to the horror of a past of violence and oppression that we have not forgotten nor will we forget. Where we speak today, yesterday rockets entered and that can never be repeated in our history,” he emphasized.

Boric closed his speech with a quote from Allende, paying homage to the revolutionary leader. “As Salvador Allende predicted almost 50 years ago, we are again compatriots opening the great avenues through which free men and women will pass to build a better society,” said Boric.

A new era begins

With the arrival to the government of a former student leader and deputy from the Magallanes and Antarctic region, a new generation of command arrives at the La Moneda Palace, marking the end of the neoliberal era.

Chile is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America. One percent of the country’s population owns about a quarter of its wealth. During his election campaign, Boric promised to introduce radical reforms to the current free-market economic model, and bring the citizens’ demands raised during the 2019 social outbreak to the halls of government.

During his victory speech in December 2021, Boric once again vowed to bury neoliberalism. “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it would also be its grave,” he said. He also ratified his commitment to reducing the glaring disparities in the country by increasing spending on public services. “We no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality,” he added.

In January 2022, when he announced his cabinet, he said that the cabinet’s priorities were recovering the economy from the post-pandemic crisis, encouraging economic growth along with social inclusion, and ensuring the adoption of a new constitution.

The country’s current constitution was adopted under Pinochet’s dictatorship, and is widely seen as sidelining the poor and working classes. It is now in the process of being redrafted by the Constitutional Convention, an achievement of the 2019 mass protests. Boric’s government has the enormous responsibility of overseeing the conclusion of the drafting of the new constitution, the organization of exit plebiscite and the implementation of the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the Approve Dignity alliance plans to strengthen the State in order to address the citizens’ demands. The alliance has pledged to increase wages and pensions, improve public education and healthcare sectors, introduce progressive taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals to pay for social reforms.

Besides the challenge of carrying out a series of reforms to materialize the election promises, the new government also faces other challenges, such as the territorial conflicts with Indigenous communities in the south of the country, and the migration crisis in the north. Boric had announced that he would resolve the issues by promoting dialogue with communities and increasing cooperation with neighboring countries.

Prelude to new era

Transformations in Chile began even before Boric assumed office. In January 2022, the announcement of his cabinet received widespread national and international recognition. His cabinet, for the first time in the country’s history, replaced middle-aged male elites with young women and former student leaders. 14 out of 24 ministers in Boric’s cabinet are women. Seven of the Cabinet members are in their 30s, and the average age is 42.

Among the newly appointed ministers is the Communist Party legislator Camila Vallejo, who participated in student protests alongside Boric in 2011-2012. She serves as the government’s spokesperson. Congressman Giorgio Jackson of Boric’s own Broad Front coalition, another of Boric’s companions in the student struggle for improved education, is secretary-general of the presidency. Izkia Siches, a prominent doctor and head of the national medical association, is the head of the Interior Ministry. Maya Fernández, the granddaughter of Salvador Allende, is Boric’s defense minister.

Last week, on March 7, Boric appointed Lieutenant Colonel Cecilia Navarro Luque of the national police force the Carabineros as aide-de-camp to the Presidency, making her the first woman to assume the position.

Boric had announced, in his victory speech, that women, who made a significant contribution to his victory, would be “protagonists” in his government that will “leave behind once and for all the patriarchal inheritance of our society.”