Chilean leftist Gabriel Boric was sworn in as president on Friday, vowing to listen to all sides while warning of the challenges ahead, as the Andean country marked the sharpest shift in its politics since the return to democracy three decades ago after the bloody dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
At the Congress building in the port city of Valparaiso, Boric, a 36-year-old, tattooed former protest leader and lawmaker, took the presidential sash from outgoing billionaire President Sebastian Pinera, making him the country’s youngest-ever elected leader.
“The road ahead will be long and hard,” Boric said during his first speech as president from a balcony at La Moneda government palace, overlooking a mostly masked and flag-waving crowd.
In a wide-ranging address that touched on economic inclusion, immigration and climate change, Boric energetically pledged to lead a government that represents all citizens, stressing he will reach beyond his leftist base.
“I will always listen to the proposals of those who think differently from us,” he said. “I’ll be a president for all Chileans.”
Boric’s rise has sparked hope among progressives in Chile, long a conservative bastion of free markets and fiscal prudence in volatile South America, but has also stoked fear that decades of economic stability could come undone.
The leader of a broad leftist coalition including Chile’s communist party, Boric has vowed to overhaul a market-led economic model to fight inequality that sparked violent protests in 2019, though he has moderated his fiery rhetoric in recent months.
The copper-producing country is also in the midst of redrafting its Pinochet-era Constitution, which has underpinned growth but been blamed for stoking inequality.
“We need a constitution that unites us,” thundered Boric. “A constitution that’s different from the one imposed by blood, fire and fraud of the dictatorship.”
Pinochet, whose shadow still looms large over the country, ousted socialist President Salvador Allende, who committed suicide in 1973 during a military coup. Boric has often praised Allende’s legacy and did so again in his inaugural address.
“He reminds me of Allende, but I hope it has a happier ending,” said Marigen Vargas, 62, who traveled all night to be at Boric’s inauguration. “We want a more united, happier Chile.”
‘TASKS LIE AHEAD’
Boric faces a raft of challenges from an economic slowdown, high inflation and a split legislature that will test his deal-making abilities to push through reforms in healthcare and pensions, while toughening environmental regulation.
Carlos Ruiz, an academic at the University of Chile who taught Boric, said Boric would have to deal with a rising ultra-conservative bloc that did well in elections last year and find consensus to push through his reforms.
“These are now the tasks lying ahead of Boric,” he said.
Boric’s female-majority Cabinet was also sworn in on Friday, as delegations from the United States, Spain, Argentina, Peru and others looked on.
Among a sea of suits and military garb, a part of the Senate was filled with representatives of Chile’s various indigenous communities in traditional attire.
“It’s a sign that it’s going to be an inclusive government,” Cecilia Flores, an indigenous Aymara told Reuters in the chamber, adding it was the first time representatives from each indigenous group have been present at the inauguration.
“It’s going to be a government that will make the social changes the people of Chile have been fighting for, especially indigenous groups.”
High hopes may quickly butt up against a divided electorate and legislature, split down the middle between the right and left. Lawmakers will face sharply competing visions on fighting crimeanddealing with waves of migrants, as well as indigenous rights.
“I wish him success in his future government,” the outgoing president, Pinera, said in his final address, while citing concerns about identity politics, weakening of the judiciary, and crime. “But also the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong.”