Friday, 20 January 2006

Chilean election portends hope for US progressives

Chile's election Monday of socialist and former political prisoner Michelle Bachelet is being largely ignored by the U.S. press, but it is quite significant and hopeful on several fronts. The right in America probably wants to ignore it because they fear it signals a continuing leftward shift in Latin American politics following the election of Bolivian populist Evo Morales and the continued popularity of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, whose anti-American and anti-Bush rhetoric has drawn not only outrageous commentary from Pat Robertson, but a consistently hostile treatment by a majority of printed opinion in the states.

Whether one buys the usual denigration of Chavez as a Castro-style ideologue or not, Bachelet is clearly cut from a different cloth, and could serve as a unifying force in acknowledging the importance of free markets, at the same time as insisting on fairness to those of less means.

My favorite part of this story is the clear about-face from the brutal dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-90. As a former victim of his brutality (Bachelet was imprisoned, then exiled to Argentina, and her father died in prison), the president elect, like Mandela did in South Africa, is speaking the language of reconciliation which is all too rare in politics:
Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance and -- why not say it -- into love.
American progressives would do well to study this victory as an antidote to the naysayers who contend that the Republican talking points of the last two decades have eliminated any chance of a true progressive being elected to the U.S. Presidency. Chile remains a quite socially conservative nation, and yet it has elected an agnostic, divorced, socialist woman as president. To me this shows that an electorate is able to think past simplistic formulas, and acknowledge forward thinking which may diverge from their own in the particulars. It is also worth noting that constitutional reforms have eliminated designated military senators, which should enable the new center-left majority in both houses to enact most of Bachelet's anticipated reforms. Maybe this can presage a development in the US in which a progressive's message can ring true to the electorate in spite of an association with a few particular ideas thought to be "out of the mainstream". The faulty equations which have gained currency here between liberalism and decadence, or progressivism and extremism, or conservative religiosity and morality won't be simple to break down, but they can be broken down because they are false.

Like Chile, America in her internal policies has a history of moderation, rather than fluctuating between violent extremes like so much of the world. The recent experience with Pinochet was an anomaly for Chile, sadly brought upon her with the complicity of the United States. Ariel Dorfman, in his essay The Black Hole speaks to his almost giddy anticipation in the wake of the election of Salvador Allende, before that dream was cut short by Pinochet's rise to power.
It was then, in the midst of that multitude of men and women I had never met and did not know, it was then, as I breathed in the air that they were breathing out, that I had an experience which I hesitate to call mystical but which was as near to a religious epiphany as I have had in my life.

Allende was making a brief speech, something about how we were now going to be the masters of our own destiny, the owners of our own land and the metals under the ground and the streets we walked through...
Times have changed, and Bachelet's brand of socialism is likely to more aggressively seek accommodation with capitalist partners, fending off any immediate backlash. Both Bachelet and her conservative opponent catered to the middle in this election, and the conservative opponent was even gracious in defeat.

What a dream that would be! Proponents of distinctly different policies competing democratically without stooping to demagoguery and ridicule. Oh wait! That's what we're supposed to have. Let's make it so!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You hit the mark in a few paragraphs Walker. Yes is my answer. Well done! Jaime

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