Ten years ago, Gabriel Boric was a long-haired 25-year-old who led thousands of screaming students through the streets of the Chilean capital, megaphone in hand, demanding free education for all.
Boric was part of a radical generation of student leaders who came to the limelight in 2011 during a revolt against the inequalities in Chile’s education system.
Those protests radicalized a generation and are now seen as a harbinger of the wider outbreak of social unrest that exploded across the country in October 2019.
Now, after two terms in Congress, Boric has stormed into Chile’s presidential race, winning over 60% of the vote to run for the country’s left-wing coalition in November’s elections.
Boric won more than 1 million votes in Sunday’s primary, won a decisive victory over communist party candidate Daniel Jadue, and pledged to lead the attack on Chile’s Pinochet-era economic model.
“Something beautiful and exciting is happening here, friends,” he declared on a small podium outside his campaign headquarters in the capital Santiago.
“We come from social movements [and] were politically shaped by the struggles that have arisen throughout history… If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism, it will be its grave too!” he exclaimed, fist raised in the night sky.
Boric, a law graduate from Magallanes, Chile’s southernmost region, encompassing the dramatic fjords and islets of Tierra del Fuego, promised unity and inclusion.
Meanwhile, former Social Development Minister and state bank president Sebastián Sichel fought off competition from a conservative mayor and two other former ministers to win a quadruple right-wing primary.
Victories for Sichel and Boric suggest that while many Chileans want change after a tumultuous 18 months of protests and quarantines, they were unwilling to look at the extremes on either side of the political spectrum.
“This is just the beginning for the protest leaders of 2011,” said Javiera Arce, a political scientist at the University of Valparaíso. “Boric has learned from the mistakes of the past and tried to make agreements – this is an incredibly important generation in Chile’s political history.”
Leaders of the 2011 student uprising, including Boric’s political adviser Giorgio Jackson and Communist Party politicians Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola, joined Boric in congratulating him on his victory.
All four are serving their second term in Congress, having entered politics shortly after leaving college.
Chilean politics has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis since October 2019, when a wave of protests saw millions flood the streets to denounce inequality and injustice in society.
Boric was criticized in some quarters for his willingness to break bread with the established political class when he signed a cross-party ‘peace accord’ in November 2019. But the agreement eventually paved the way for Chile to replace the 1980 Pinochet-era constitution. — a process that began this month.
His campaign was able to mobilize significant numbers of people to vote for a political project that focuses on social welfare, decentralization of the state and a more equitable distribution of Chile’s resources.
In the vote in November, Sichel and Boric will confront far-right Republican party candidate José Antonio Kast; Paula Narváez of the Socialist Party, a former government spokesman; and the centrist Yasna Provoste, the president of the Senate of Chile.