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Chile’s Version of Donald Trump Pulls Ahead in the Polls

José Antonio Kast is taking a page from the Republican playbook, with rants against “illegal immigrants” and appeals to “traditional values.” The far-right politician is approaching the head of the pack in Chile’s elections next month.

Nathaniel Flakin

October 26, 2021
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Chile is holding presidential and congressional elections on November 21 — the first vote under a new constitution. Far-Right candidate José Antonio Kast has gotten up to 25 percent in polls, just a few points behind the frontrunner, Gabriel Borić. Kast, whose support has mostly hovered around 10 to 15 percent, is benefitting from the crisis of the traditional Right that is aligned with current president Sebastián Piñera.

Kast was a member of congress for 16 years, as a member of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI). He ran for president as an independent in 2017 and won nearly 8 percent of the vote. This was the basis for founding his own party in 2019, called the Partido Republicano in a not-so-subtle homage to former president Donald Trump.

But even more than Trump, Kast’s role model is Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean general who came to power in a bloody military coup in 1973. Under Pinochet’s dictatorship, the Left and the workers’ movement were savagely repressed, and thousands were murdered. Pinochet turned Chile into a laboratory for neoliberalism, privatizing health care, education, and pensions.

Pinochet’s legacy lives on in Chile today: working people suffer from low salaries and pensions while billionaires (such as Piñera) enrich themselves. The 30 years since the end of the democracy saw no real improvements. This is why in October 2019, millions of people in Chile took to the streets. As a result, the constitution written by Pinochet has finally been replaced.

You might be interested in: Two Years After the Rebellion in Chile: Political Crisis, Constituent Assembly, and Elections

It is telling that Kast’s party was founded just a few months before the uprisings started. He represents the backlash against the rebellion, and the (minor) democratic concessions that were offered in the last two years. There has been, for example, a reckoning with Chile’s history of genocide against indigenous peoples — the flag of the Mapuche people was raised at all the protests.

In this context, Kast gives a voice to Chileans who want the “good old days” of the military dictatorship — much like Trump’s desire for the “good old days” of Jim Crow. Kast’s “traditional Chilean values” are based on violent repression of indigenous peoples like the Mapuche.

Similar to Trump’s talk of “Mexican rapists,” Kast tries to present immigrants in Chile as violent criminals. Instead of a wall, he has proposed that trenches be created at the Chilean border, and he wants to create an anti-immigrant police force inspired by ICE, as The Guardian reports. This is not just talk, either — Chilean racists have started pogrom-like attacks against immigrant families from Venezuela.

Kast might have a more restrained style than Trump or Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, but his supporters take their cues from Trumpism. Their right-wing marches include Confederate flags or even signs that read “Make Chile Great Again.” Kast also denounces inclusive language and makes thinly-veiled appeals to anti-vaxxers.

How could a far-right figure gain popularity in the context of a rebellion against neoliberalism that was demanding democratic rights? The secret of Kast’s success is that the movement was demobilized. After October 2019, the different parties of the reformist and institutional Left consistently worked to find a compromise with Piñera and the Chilean regime. The former center-left coalition known as the Concertación, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), and the so-called Communist Party worked together to prevent a general strike and push the movement into institutional channels — effectively saving Piñera’s corrupt government.

It was only when millions of people were no longer on the streets that an aggressive Right could raise its head with a racist and anti-working-class message. This is a very similar dynamic to what we can observe in the United States: the “progressive neoliberalism” of the Clintons and the Obamas is what allowed a racist billionaire to present itself as an “anti-establishment” force.

In Chile, however, revolutionary workers are offering an alternative to both the reformist Left and the semi-fascist Right. The Trotskyist factory worker Lester Calderón won 13 percent of votes when he ran for governor of the mining region of Antofagasta, and he is now running for a seat in congress. This is not an electoral phenomenon. The Trotskyists in Antofagasta played a central role in promoting self-organization during the rebellion. 

Back in May, the Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR) won over 50,000 votes nationwide. Now, a number of revolutionary socialist groups have formed a Front for Working-Class Unity and are running candidates across the country. “Taking up the banners of October” and fighting for a general strike, as their campaign proposes, is the only way to defeat the resurgent Far Right represented by Kast.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French. He is on the autism spectrum.

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