It wasn’t widely reported in the English language media but Gabriel Boric, the new leftist President of Chile has a Catalan mother, María Soledad Font Aguilera, who was originally from the working class area of Badalona near Barcelona. Instead, his father’s Croatian heritage was emphasised and I suspect this is not only because of the single family name.
A graduate of The British School in Punta Arenas, 35 year old Boric is the youngest holder of his nation’s most prized office, having gained just under 56% of the vote in Chile’s second round of elections last December. He defeated the right-wing José Antonio Kast, son of a veteran of World War II and militant in the German Nazi Party.
Boric’s party was able to earn a victory even after “a sudden blackout of bus services in Santiago and across the country forced voters to endure long commutes in the summer heat to express their basic right to a free and fair vote.
But against these efforts at voter suppression, the people of Chile offered their cars, vans, and motorcycles to assist their neighbours to get to the polls.” Most apparent was his support from younger voters and millennials, tired of the usual divisive political rhetoric.
Irina Karamanos Adrian, the new President’s “first lady,” has said she doesn’t want to be the country’s first lady, at least in a traditional sense. As a writer, anthropologist and militant feminist originally coming from Greek and German immigrants out of Uruguay, in her own right, she has also appeared on TV political debates before the presidential campaign.
(To me, if the new president had been a woman then we would have certainly seen a great deal of scrutiny of her life-partner/husband/wife/significant other, or whatever term you want to use. I have a distinct memory that just over a decade ago when Australia had its one and only female prime minister, Julia Gillard, there was a big hooha from conservatives about how she wasn’t even married to a man who had the supposedly “effeminate” job of a hairdresser.)
Boric himself came to wider attention after his message on Twitter following the independence consultation in Catalonia on October 1, 2017. He posted the words: “Images of police violence in Catalonia are shocking. A firm embrace from Chile to the Catalan people. More democracy, less repression”.
An electoral dark-horse and surprise victor, Boric is to be sworn into office this March in just one of the Latin American countries that have recently opted for left-wing presidencies; other examples being Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.
He was swept into power on an ambitious platform of practical changes like raising the minimum wage, reducing the cost of education, expanding the social safety net, fighting climate crisis and extending rights to indigenous people and gay and transgender individuals. He has even talked about creating a British-style national health service that is universal across Chile.
The big test for any progressive leader in power is what they do, not what they say, but if his manifesto is any indication then Europe too could do with plenty more like him.