The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
– Che Guevara
Che Guevara would be a happy man today. Born in Argentina, he fought for the Cuban revolution. He left his position as industries minister in Havana, his family and friends, his wife and children, to bring a revolution in another country. He died young, in the forests of Bolivia, murdered by CIA mercenaries. His last picture is still starkly vivid: lying on a slab in his guerilla fatigue, dead, his handsome face peaceful and soft, like a rain-soaked stone.
He would be happy and so would be Fidel Castro, and all their comrades, because it was a hard journey through the rocky mountain terrain of Sierra Maestra, a hideout of many rebels and many rebellions since the 16th century, from where the guerillas led the struggle against Batista’s dictatorship in Cuba. Apparently, Castro was carrying Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ in his back pocket then, having already read several philosophical texts in prison earlier. Che was asthmatic, smoking his cigar, often breathless, lagging behind, while his comrades pushed forward.
From there to Congo, India, Bolivia, the journey of Che, and their comrades, has been a remarkable synthesis in original rebellion, with shifting sands on changing shores. Were they communists like the Bolsheviks and Maoists? Not exactly. This is because Latin American revolutionaries and freedom fighters created their original, open-ended hypothesis of knowledge and liberation, often not dogmatic, crafted from their indigenous lands, cultures and communities, and influenced by their local heroes and legends, from Simon Bolivar, to the Zapatistas, to Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda. Till the time, they, themselves, became legends. Like Che and Castro.
And they have been flexible. From the ‘revolution of the bullet’, to the ‘revolution of the ballot’, they have marked their great leap forward with consensus and imagination. The brilliant victory of young Gabriel Boric, 35, marks the decisive end of the brutal inheritance of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the democratically elected government of Allende with an American-backed military coup. He thereby presided over a ruthless capitalist machine accompanied by mass murder, torture, disappearances and imprisonment of thousands, and the suspension of all fundamental rights. That is why the massive uprising of 2019 in Chile, demanded, among other demands, the redrafting of the Pinochet Constitution. Boric was a leader of this mass movement.
That is why Boric, who has read his Marx and Hegel, among other texts, declared on the fabulous night of his primary win, “Chile was the birthplace of neo-liberalism, and it shall also be its grave!”
That is why he said after his victory, as President-Elect, “I know that history doesn’t begin with us… I feel like an inheritor of the long trajectory of those, who, from different places, have tirelessly sought social justice.” The crowd roared back in approval. Irina Karamanos, his girlfriend, stood with him, as companion and comrade, on the stage.
Boric, the great grandson of a Croatian migrant family, is deeply attached to his childhood place, Punta Arenas, located at Magallanes, below the Patagonian ice fields. He reportedly created a students’ union in Punta Arenas when he was 14. Later, in 2011, as a law student, Boric led massive protests in multiple campuses seeking an end to the profit-driven education system and free education for all, across the class spectrum. Earlier, he had led a peaceful campus protest in Santiago, against a professor who was accused of corruption and plagiarism. He was elected as a Congressman from his home terrain in 2013, even as student leaders moved on to the higher realm of mainstream politics in a country entrenched with Rightwing Pinochet hardliners.
Over the years, the radical students seemed to have mellowed down a bit. They refuse to follow the extreme policies of either the Left or the Right, wanting to create their own, original niche, which takes along everybody. No wonder, Boric has thanked all those who voted, including those who voted against him. In the same vein, the outgoing president, and Kast, who was defeated by Boric, welcomed him warmly and promised to cooperate. That is why, his government is being called a radical social democratic government, with no strings attached, almost inspired by the Scandinavian model.
Boric has already instituted a 155-member committee to draft a new Constitution. Decisive action on climate change is on the cards. He has promised the complete dismantling of the old neo-liberal economic model and the cruel and murderous Pinochet model of governance. He has wowed to create a new economic system which provides huge benefits to the poorest and indigenous people, include women, push for an universal welfare state, and bring in massive hikes in the public sector, among other social sector reforms.
Indeed, he is doing exactly what Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has promised in Brazil where a thoroughly discredited Trump supporter, Jair Bolsanoro, branded as corrupt, inept, racist and supremacist, held responsible for 60,000-plus Covid deaths due to his dogmatic Covid-denial syndrome, is on his last leg. Lula is not only pitched to win massively in 2022, this electrician turned communist, put in prison on cooked up charges, has turned a new leaf — he is more a Left-of-Centre politician now, taking along the centrists, Left and Right, and open to consensus, including with the West. Between Lula and Boric, therefore, the flexibility of a new paradigm shift is typically Latin American, from ‘bullet to ballot’, to the innovating idea of an enduring, beautiful, better and brave new world!
Celebrating the victory in Chile, Lula put up a happy picture donning a baseball cap with Boric’s face. He said, he was really “happy for another victory of a democratic and progressive candidate in our Latin America”.
According to media reports, other messages of solidarity poured in from the neighbourhood, where Left or progressive-democratic forces have ousted Right-wing regimes, marking once again a ‘Bolivarist moment’, as Hugo Chavez called it. Peronist Alberto Fernández, president of Argentina, appealed to Boric to “work together to end inequality in Latin America”. Now the ruling government, elected yet again with a huge mandate, the inheritors of Evo Morales in Bolivia’s Movement towards Socialism (MAS), hailed it as “the triumph of the Chilean people”. The old-fashioned Leftist in America’s backyard, Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, expressed great “joy”. “The people of Chile had given an example to Latin America and the world,” he said.
Pedro Castillo of Peru, a teacher and Leftist, tweeted: “Your victory is shared by all Latin American people who want to live with liberty, peace, justice and dignity.” And Nicolás Maduro, the troubled inheritor of Chavez in Venezuela, hounded by the Americans, and branded authoritarian by the Western media, congratulated Chileans “for their resounding victory against fascism”.
Cuban president Miguel Diaz Canel was predictably guarded. Boric had earlier backed the protesters in Cuba. He hoped for better ties with the new government and the people of Chile.
Significantly, a former guerilla in Colombia, the imagined and real homeland of the fantastic magic realism of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, called Boric a “social democrat”, while branding his opponent as a son of a card-carrying Nazi. Well, this former guerilla is tipped to be the next president of Colombia in May: Gustavo Petro.
As Gabriel Boric embarks on his incredible journey as an inspiration and a role model, he has both history and time on his side. Surely, he and his student comrades would certainly remember the historic last speech by Salvador Allende, in 1973, when he was under siege, ready to die but refusing to compromise with the US-backed bloody coup led by Pinochet.
Allende had then said in a radio broadcast: “Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile!”