Ten years ago, Gabriel Boric was a 25-year-old young man with long hair who led thousands of noisy students through the streets of the Chilean capital with a megaphone in hand, demanding free education for all.
Boric was part of a radical generation of student leaders who were catapulted into the limelight in 2011 during an uprising against disparities in the Chilean education system.
These protests radicalized a generation and are now seen as a precursor to the wider epidemic of social unrest that exploded across the country in October 2019.
Today, after two terms in Congress, Boric has embarked on the Chilean presidential race, winning over 60% of the vote to become a candidate for the country’s left-wing coalition in the November elections.
Boric won more than a million votes in Sunday’s primaries, winning a decisive victory over Communist Party candidate Daniel Jadue, and vowed to lead the assault on the Chilean economic model of the Pinochet era.
“Something beautiful and exciting is happening here, my friends,” he said on a small stage outside his campaign headquarters in the capital, Santiago.
“We are from social movements [and] were shaped politically by the struggles that have been built throughout history … If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave! he proclaimed, his fist raised in the night sky.
Boric, a law graduate from Magallanes, Chile’s southernmost region encompassing the spectacular fjords and islets of Tierra del Fuego, pledged unity and inclusion.
Meanwhile, former Social Development Minister and state bank chairman Sebastián Sichel faced competition from a conservative mayor and two other former ministers to win a four-way right-wing primary.
Sichel and Boric’s victories suggest that while many Chileans want change after a tumultuous 18 months of protests and quarantines, they were unwilling to look to extremes on either side of the political spectrum.
“This is just the start for the leaders of the 2011 protest,” said Javiera Arce, political scientist at the University of Valparaíso. “Boric learned from the mistakes of the past and sought to forge agreements – this is an incredibly important generation in Chile’s political history. “
Leaders of the 2011 student uprising, including Boric’s political adviser Giorgio Jackson and Communist Party politicians Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola, joined Boric in congratulating him on his victory.
All four are serving their second terms in Congress, having entered politics shortly after leaving college.
Chilean politics have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis since October 2019, when a wave of protests saw millions of people flood the streets to denounce the inequalities and injustices plaguing society.
Boric came under criticism in some quarters for his willingness to break bread with the established political class when he signed an inter-party “peace deal” in November 2019 – a process that began this month -this.
His campaign succeeded in mobilizing a significant number of people to vote for a political project focused on social welfare, state decentralization and a more equitable distribution of Chile’s resources.
In the November vote, Sichel and Boric will face the far-right Republican Party candidate José Antonio Kast; Paula Narváez, from the Socialist Party, former government spokesperson; and the centrist Yasna Provoste, president of the Chilean Senate.