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Chilean President Gabriel Boric recently apologized to thousands of women who were forcibly sterilized over the years because they were HIV positive. As Al Jazeera reported, activists greeted the apology with a massive sigh of relief and a sense of vindication.
The move was one of many that Boric, a 36-year-old leftist elected in March, has been making in a bid to leave behind the conservative, pro-business government that has dominated Chile from the ascent of late dictator Augusto Pinochet following a coup in 1973 through the reestablishment of democracy in 1990. Boric’s rise coincided with mass protests against subway fare increases that ballooned into expressions of general discontent.
In his first state of the union address, wrote Reuters, Boric pledged to enact a 40-hour workweek, legalize euthanasia, increase spending on education, healthcare, housing and other infrastructure, reform the country’s pension system, cancel student debt and alter the tax system to address inequality.
It would, as the Wall Street Journal noted, grant sweeping social rights, including to the Indigenous, and “change the economic course of a country considered a model of development in Latin America.”
“I feel the strong and undeniable sense of historic responsibility to consolidate in peace this process of change that we’ve embarked on,” Boric said, according to Bloomberg. “There is so much injustice and abuse that we have to leave behind.”
But perhaps Boric’s most dramatic policy initiative involves a proposed new constitution. Chile’s current constitution reflects the perspective of Pinochet’s junta. As the Washington Post explained, critics say the document stokes inequality, undermines the social welfare safety net and gives the private sector too much power over the public sector.
Voters are slated to vote on the new constitution on Sept. 4. In a 2020 vote, around 80 percent of Chilean voters supported the concept of writing a new constitution. But recently that number has decreased to less than 40 percent as the reality of such a change has sunk in. But more than a third of voters are still undecided.
Chileans might be skittish because global economic conditions have changed significantly in the past year, while, as the Associated Press noted, Boric’s approval rating has plummeted as his ambitious political agenda has slowed amid the exigencies of governing.
Economic decline comes as other issues have emerged, too. Drought has reduced water levels in the country. More than half of Chileans faced “severe water scarcity” last year, according to the Guardian. In the country’s south, indigenous groups have launched attacks against the government, reported Merco Press. Truckers have staged blockages to protest the government’s lack of action to stop it, Deutsche Welle added.
Change can be good, sometimes. But, as Boric is discovering, it’s usually not easy.