Latin America Advisor

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What Does Boric’s Cabinet Say About Chile’s Direction?

Among the cabinet members that Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric has tapped is Izkia Siches, a physician who is to head the country’s Interior Ministry. // File Photo: @izkia via Twitter. Among the cabinet members that Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric has tapped is Izkia Siches, a physician who is to head the country’s Interior Ministry. // File Photo: @izkia via Twitter.

Leftist Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric announced his cabinet selections on Jan. 25, with more than half the seats filled by women and an overall mean age of 49. While the cabinet includes some new and young faces in Chilean politics, Boric has selected widely respected veterans as well, including Mario Marcel, the current head of the central bank, whom Boric tapped as his finance minister. What will the new cabinet mean for the success of Boric’s policy proposals, and who will be the most pivotal ministers in the first months of his presidency? What do Boric’s choices for ministers indicate about the pace of change to expect in Chile and the potential for major disruptions to the nation’s economic outlook and business climate?

Sergio Bitar, nonresident senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue and former Chilean senator and minister of education: “Chile has a great historical opportunity. An intense popular movement that shook the foundations of society has been institutionalized. Seven elections were held in 2021 for municipal leaders, governors, a plebiscite, convention representatives, primaries, parliamentarians and the president in an impeccable manner. And Gabriel Boric obtained an overwhelming electoral majority. He leads a new generation that shows the aspirations for the future, with equality, participation and diversity, that is also green, digital and feminist. He has shown the political capacity to turn to the center-left and make his government viable. That center-left, which has governed for 24 of the last 32 years, gave him its support in the second round and will support him. The new government will face significant obstacles. There are four fundamental challenges. The first is that a new constitution be approved with support from two-thirds of the members of the Constitutional Convention. Second is to reduce the gap between expectations and fiscal constraints. Third is to contain the violence and loss of state authority in the public order. The Araucanía region will require dialogue and action against violent groups. The penetration of drug cartels has spread in the cities, and it must be firmly combated. The fourth challenge is to overcome the parliamentary minority, relying on the Christian Democrat party and exploring sectors of the moderate right. Success is not assured. It will require agreements, step-by-step reforms and majority support. It will be complex, because a sector of the right will be tenaciously opposed, and a sector of the left will oppose gradualism. However, Chile has a realistic president, a progressive citizen conscience, a solid institutional base and a sustainable growth program with social inclusion. It will be essential to strengthen the government to make the changes that guarantee long-term democratic governance.”

Jorge Heine, research professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and former Chilean cabinet minister: “The rise in the value of the Chilean peso as well as that of the Chilean stock market indicates the favorable reaction of markets to the new cabinet. The initial alarmist reaction of the business community to Boric’s election gave way to an expectation for real, but measured, step-by-step changes. Notably, the cabinet’s ‘inner core’ (that is, those ministers with offices in La Moneda) is much younger than the rest, and they have an average age of 34. As recently as 2011, these officials—Izkia Siches, minister of the interior; Giorgio Jackson, secretary-general of the presidency; and Camila Vallejos, government spokesperson—were all student leaders. They are all rumored to have presidential aspirations, which may make for some complex dynamics in the palace. Nobody could question their talent at mobilizations, communications and elections. The question is whether they also have what it takes to run a government. At other ministries, Boric will count on several old hands who know the Chilean bureaucracy and should deliver. For Mario Marcel, 62, the incoming finance minister, the main question is whether he will rise above the traditional ‘nay-saying’ role of his predecessors. Carlos Montes, 75, the veteran socialist senator, will have his work cut out for him in housing, as will Juan Carlos Muñoz, 51, in transport, whose commitment to sustainable modes of transportation has raised much hope. Many eyes will be on incoming foreign minister Antonia Urrejola, a past chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and what sort of foreign policy proposals Chile’s new government will put on the table at a time when Latin America is more fragmented than ever.”

Santiago Cantón, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Inter-American Dialogue: “On March 11, Boric will become the youngest Latin American president in modern history at age 36. His triumph represents a generational change and the end of a political era born out of the opposition to Pinochet. With 14 women, 10 men, two openly LGBT ministers and broad political and regional representation, the cabinet reflects his views of a more diverse and inclusive Chile. In the coming months, the work of three key ministers will offer a hint of the new Chile. Izkia Siches, the first woman to head the powerful Interior Ministry, will be responsible for addressing the recurrent conflict with Mapuche communities. In recent interviews, she has promised a switch from violence to dialogue, but how she plans to accomplish this remains to be seen. Antonia Urrejola, the incoming minister of foreign affairs and former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has been very outspoken about human rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Hopefully, she will continue to do so, and her voice will be a positive influence with other regional center-left governments that have provided solace to authoritarian leaders. The selection of Mario Marcel as finance minister brought calm to a financial market rattled by the election results. Appointed to Chile’s central bank by center-left former President Bachelet, and confirmed by center-right President Piñera, the decades-long policy of fiscal responsibility seems secure. However, the pragmatic minister may struggle to find ways to respond to Boric’s promises to expand social rights, and political tension inside the fragile government coalition will likely emerge.” 

Pamela Figueroa, professor in the Institute of Advanced Studies at Universidad de Santiago de Chile: “The announcement of a cabinet is always very relevant as it includes several signals. In this case, it was even more relevant given that it shows how far Boric will expand his electoral alliance further beyond Apruebo Dignidad, a political alliance that brings together the Broad Front and the Communist Party. Boric’s cabinet has been considered a political success for three reasons. First, it expands his political alliance toward democratic socialism in a concrete way. Second, it shows he recognizes female leadership by appointing women to a majority of the cabinet posts. Third, it guarantees diversity, moving away from the country’s traditional political elites, with recognized specialists in each of the areas committed to the government program. There are three central appointees: Izkia Siches, a doctor and a key figure in Boric’s electoral victory; Giorgio Jackson, a long-time close friend of Boric; and Camila Vallejos, who is part of the new generation of the Communist Party. At the same time, the appointment of Mario Marcel as finance minister was read as confirmation that Boric’s government will seek a gradual path.”

Patricio Navia, clinical professor of liberal studies at New York University and professor of political science at Universidad Diego Portales in Chile: “Gabriel Boric’s cabinet confirms that the president-elect is not yet sure as to which direction his government will go–the more radical version of the first-round campaign or the more moderate approach of the runoff campaign. The appointment of Mario Marcel in finance would point to the more moderate Boric, but the appointment of radical activists in the ministries of labor, education, health and environment signals that Boric remains committed to some of his more radical ideas. More worryingly, the cabinet lacks diversity in key dimensions. It is welcome news that there are 14 women and 10 men, openly gay ministers and people from outside Santiago. Several ministers also share Boric’s professional and political trajectory. The three key political ministries are going to people who rose to prominence with Boric as former members of the university student movement. Successful past Chilean governments have combined diversity in terms of age and political trajectories. Thus, while there is some welcome news in Boric’s first cabinet, it seems that the new president is making the same mistake as outgoing president Piñera in that his closest group of ministers fails to represent the diverse walks of life that exist in Chilean society.”

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