Gabriel Boric was elected president of Chile on December 19th. In an LRB article about his campaign, he was said to be embarrassed by one of the parties that supported him, when it welcomed Daniel Ortega’s re-election in Nicaragua the previous month. LRB published the letter below in its issue of January 27th, in response to the December article.
Writing before the impressive victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile’s elections, Michael Chessum refers to the ‘embarrassment’ felt by Boric’s supporters when the Chilean Communist Party welcomed Daniel Ortega’s re-election in Nicaragua, ‘given Ortega’s ruthless repression of the opposition’ (LRB, 16 December 2021). This requires some disentangling.
Following the lead of the Biden administration, most of the mainstream media, including in Latin America, have dismissed November’s poll in Nicaragua as a ‘sham’ because of the arrest of rival candidates. Yet none of those arrested was being formally considered as a candidate; several weren’t even members of a political party. More important, all have been charged with criminal acts that could have resulted in arrest had they been committed in the UK or the US. One set of charges relates to the receipt of large sums of money from the US government for ‘democracy promotion’, which many regard as a euphemism for regime change. Several of those arrested had approached the US administration, or appeared at international forums such as the Organisation of American States, demanding economic sanctions and even military intervention against their own country. Some were involved in the violent destabilisation of Nicaragua in 2018, which resulted in many people being killed. One of those arrested, Medardo Mairena, had been convicted of orchestrating an armed attack on a rural police station in July 2018 which left four police officers dead: as part of the post-coup reconciliation process, he and others had been released from prison under a conditional amnesty.
Given the political violence in Nicaragua in the recent past, many feared a recurrence in the run-up to the election and either welcomed or were indifferent to the arrests. On polling day, no one was surprised when the public ignored opposition demands that they abstain from voting, and there was a 66 per cent turnout. Ortega, with 75 per cent of the vote, defeated five rivals. Arguably, a key reason for his victory was the government’s successful drive to reduce poverty and invest in public services since it took power in 2007. As Chessum points out, this is a challenge that now faces Boric.
Boric joins Xiomara Castro in Honduras as a left-wing leader cleanly elected in a recent election, who for the time being is probably immune from US destabilisation attempts. But, as every Latin American knows, this immunity will not last long. He might at some point need the support of other progressive governments in the region, even those he currently wants to keep at arm’s length.
Original letter: London Review of Books.