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Together Chile’s left can do more

On 15th January 2006 Chile decided to elect its first female President Michelle Bachelet of the New Labour style Concertación coalition. Dario Kenner interviewed the radical left Presidential candidate Tomás Hirsch to discuss the nature of the left wing alternative offered by the Juntos Podemos (Together we can do more) coalition to the current domination of free market politics. Juntos Podemos is a coalition of fifty five organisations, including the Communist and Humanist Parties, that criticises the neo-liberal model and argues for the redistribution of wealth, participatory democracy and full justice in human rights.

January 1, 2006
6 min read

In the international arena Chile is presented as a prosperous country with a consolidated democracy. Why does Chile need the alternative offered by Juntos Podemos?

The dominant neo-liberal model has been excellent for a minority but has also contributed to one of the most unequal distributions of income in the world. The image of prosperity is presented by a media controlled by large companies and financial groups. This image would not be as positive if workers and pensioners were to have their say.

The Chilean Socialist Party forms part of the governing centre-left Concertación and supports the implementation of the neo-liberal model. So Juntos Podemos is needed to create and propose an alternative project that puts human development before economic growth. This means firstly ensuring the benefits of economic growth are distributed between all society. And secondly democratising the country and guaranteeing six human rights for the Chilean family – education, health, employment, housing, protection of the environment and an adequate pension – that are undermined by the current system.

You received 5.4 per cent of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election on 11 December. Does Juntos Podemos have little support in Chile?

We got few votes because the majority of people in Chile only vote for the coalition that has a chance of winning. However, we did get the highest vote in the Presidential election for a left wing candidate since Salvador Allende; nearly 400,000 people voted for me because they really want change. But an important majority are still waiting to see if they will benefit from the neo-liberal model. On the campaign trail many people asked me why the prosperous Chile they were always told about had not reached their region. People have the impression that they have not been able to reap the benefits of the system because they are stupid or unlucky. There is a collective illusion promoted by the media that the neo-liberal model is the correct one.

You called upon those who voted for you in the first round of the Presidential election to abstain in the second round on 15 January 2006. But shouldn’t Juntos Podemos have supported Concertación candidate Michelle Bachelet to avoid the danger of the right-wing candidate Piñera winning?

I found this argument completely absurd. Our coalition does not share the programme of the Concertación and is promoting a very different agenda. The Concertación always asks the Left for support and then uses it to govern in the interests of the right. Why should we give our votes to the Concertación when their agenda deepens inequality and undermines democracy? I think to give them our vote hurts us because it undermines the coherency of the alternative we have constructed.

In Chile social organisations such as students, unions, women’s and human rights groups played a crucial role in mobilising to bring down the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1980s. Does Juntos Podemos have positive relations with these social organisations today?

A very interesting feature of Juntos Podemos is that we work closely with social organisations at the local level in Santiago and in the regions. The executive of Juntos Podemos is made up of ten political and non-political organisations that have equal weight who make decisions together. This is a new experience where political parties are not looking for pre-eminence over social organisations as they did in the past. We are looking for parity. Groups such as trade unions, housing groups, public health groups, indigenous peoples and popular artists supported our electoral campaign.

Did these social organisations participate in the decision to abstain?

Yes, thirty political and social organisations came together for a meeting where we decided to call for abstention. The Communist Party and Christian Left have decided not to abstain and we respect their decision.

Before taking office the Partido do Trabalhadores (PT) in Brazil promoted internal democracy and ethical politics. We now know that they used corruption to obtain and keep power. What can the Juntos Podemos coalition learn from this experience about winning power and sticking to your principles (the project)?

The PT’s problems began three months before the election (I presume he means 2002) when Lula signed an agreement with the IMF accepting their demands. That act ended the revolutionary project of the PT and bound their hands. I was also horrified to discover the PT had an agreement with the multinational VISA for special credit cards where each transaction gave about one Real to the party. So when it came out there was internal corruption I was not surprised at all.

The fact that there is no internal democracy also does not surprise me because the cupula controls the party. For Juntos Podemos this is a very difficult issue because we are a coalition of 55 organisations, and there is no way of avoiding having to deal with this in the future. I think we must fight against these problems every day by practising internal democracy and making transparent decisions.

With regard to my own Humanist Party we believe that as individuals we must act ethically before we can make political changes as a party. That is why in the twenty one years we have had representatives at many levels of government they have never been corrupt.

Finally, what do you think of the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela and the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia? Can these governments help increase Juntos Podemos support in Chile?

I think what Chavez is doing is very interesting. He is the first Venezuelan President to be actively tackling poverty. He has made great progress in integrating the energy sector and developing the areas of communication, culture, health and education. Importantly he is promoting regional integration and the idea that no country can solve its problems by itself.

The election of Evo Morales is very promising because Bolivia will finally have an indigenous President, in a country where 97 per cent of the population are indigenous or mestizo, who will fight for the interests of the people. However, we will be watching to see if his government becomes social democratic and ends up in pacts and compromise like the PT. We hope he stays true to the course and becomes an important signal for Latin America that countries don’t have to follow the neo-liberal model and US pressure, and instead focuses on dealing with his people’s problems and regional co-operation. They can help Juntos Podemos by being an example for Chileans of what is possible.

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