Chile's new 'socialist' president

January 26, 2000

By Jorge Jorquera

In the January 16 second round of Chile's presidential election, the far-right Alianza Por Chile presidential candidate, Joaquin Lavin, was defeated by the Concertacion's candidate, Ricardo Lagos, with 51.31% to Lavin's 48.69%. While not a convincing victory, Lagos managed to stretch the less than 0.5% margin he had on Lavin after the first round on December 12.

Alianza Por Chile was primarily an alliance of the two major Pinochetista parties, the Union Democratica Independiente and the Renovacion Nacional. The success of Lavin's campaign, accumulating the highest ever far-right vote in Chile, represents a reaction against the impact of 10 years of neo-liberal Concertacion government.

Many of the most marginalised and unorganised sections of the Chilean working class, not only in the countryside but also in the capital Santiago, voted for Lavin. In the poorest suburbs of Santiago, Lavin's vote was 14% greater than the far right's vote in the previous election.

Despite some far-right concern about the "socialist" character of the Lagos camp, the Chilean ruling class and United States imperialism has welcomed Lagos' victory.

While Lagos may have been former Chilean Socialist Party president Salvador Allende's chosen ambassador to the Soviet Union, he has long ceased to be anything more than a social democrat. The shell of the party he leads, the Partido Por la Democracia, was a right-wing split from the Chilean Socialist Party tradition.

The now united Socialist Party, the real backbone of the Lagos campaign, is itself only a shell of Allende's Socialist Party. At its last congress, it was a struggle for the old-timers just to keep a verbal reference to the socialist objective. The Socialist Party is just like its European counterparts: without internal democracy or politicised activism and led by a pragmatic leadership whose goal is to better situate Chilean capitalism in regional and international markets.

From the 1930s, the Chilean Socialist Party tradition coincided with elements of radical nationalism, tied to the interests of the most economically tenuous layers of the Chilean middle class. The anti-imperialist tendencies that sometimes emerged from the middle class fostered a radical tradition that fed the left wing of the party tradition. Today's Socialist Party is tied directly to the interests of imperialism and the Chilean ruling class.

Lagos' program reflects this. Its foundation is "dynamism of exports and investment" and "fiscal discipline". According to Lagos, all social welfare elements of his platform depend on sustaining 7% annual economic growth. No social policy commitments will be allowed to put growth and stability at risk.

Likewise, labour rights are dependent on achieving "labour market flexibility". Consumers will be given further legal protection against the unscrupulous companies that now run essential services, but privatisation will not be reversed.

The thousands who attended Lagos' victory rally represented the most politically active elements of the Chilean working class — unionists, students and others mobilised mainly by the Chilean Communist Party. They expect much more than Lagos will deliver.

When Lagos repeatedly characterised his victory as a "defeat for no-one" and a "victory for all Chileans", the crowd responded with jeers. He continued, "Today we are together, those who have triumphed and those who did not".

Lagos asked his supporters to work with those who voted for Lavin. When the crowd demanded justice for Pinochet's crimes, Lagos replied that his government would only do "what the tribunals say".

Lagos' new minister for the economy sent an immediate message to business community leaders and organisations: don't worry, policy will continue as before.

Allende must be turning in his grave at the sight of this "socialist" president.

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