Photo credit: Agencia Uno
Leopoldo López visited Chile in December, in the final days of the presidential campaign, to support the candidacy of José Antonio Kast, a supporter of the Pinochet dictatorship and son of a German Nazi militant. Kast’s resounding defeat on December 19, by center-left Congressman Gabriel Boric, therefore also became a setback for the Venezuelan right wing, which has seen several of its allies in South America leave power in the last two years.
What did Kast represent for Venezuelan immigrants? Chile is their third destination, behind Colombia and Peru, with more than 500,000 Venezuelan residents. They are mostly humble workers who have crossed more than 7,000 kms taking buses, walking and working seasonally in intermediate destinations. In Chile they face growing hostility. A right wing mob on September 25 launched a violent attack in Iquique, on the northern border, in which they burned the meager belongings of hundreds of Venezuelan and Haitian immigrants, whom police had evicted the night before from their sleeping quarters. Kast supported the violent action, criticizing President Piñera for failing to stop “illegal immigration”. “Our commitment is clear: close the borders and accelerate the expulsion of illegal immigrants,” he declared in open support of the xenophobic mob’s demands. One of Kast’s emblematic electoral proposals was to build a trench on the northern border to prevent the entry of immigrants.
These positions did not dissuade López and other Venezuelan right wingers from supporting Kast. There is, however, nothing new in this betrayal of the Venezuelan diaspora that has had to flee the economic and social disaster created by the Bolibourgeoisie in the last 8 years. For years, the Venezuelan right wing has said that Venezuelan emigration can export problems such as criminality to the rest of Latin America, in tune with the racist and xenophobic right wing of the region. On the other hand, despite claiming to be “democratic”, they have supported the repression against protests and popular outbursts in the region, stirring the conspiracy theory that they are mobilizations directed and financed by Chavismo. In October 2019, Guaidó claimed that “Maduro finances protests and vandalism in Latin American countries to destabilize the region”, referring to popular protests in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. They then repeated the same allegation during the national strike in Colombia, in 2020, and even against the Black Lives Matter protests in the US.
These reactionary positions have contributed to isolate the resistance of the Venezuelan people against the Boli-bourgeois dictatorship from Latin American solidarity, due to the false identification that has spread between the popular opposition to Maduro and that right wing leadership.
A “traveler from the future” who could not predict Kast’s defeat
During his visit to Santiago, Leopoldo López employed conspiracy theories similar to those Guaidó used to disqualify the 2019 social outburst in Chile, but to refer to Venezuelan history itself. He assured that El Caracazo, the 1989 rebellion against the government of Carlos Andres Perez and the IMF shock measures, was not genuine and spontaneous but the product of “manipulation”. According to this conspiracy theory, this event was planned by local and foreign left wing conspirators.
Using the commonplace argument of the regional right wing, which affirms that any questioning of the extreme inequality and exclusion suffered by the popular majorities under capitalism leads to “the venezuelan model”, López tried to lecture the Chilean people on how to vote: “I come from a future where a new model was implemented”. Kast reinforced this line of argument: “Leopoldo comes from that future to which we do not want to go as Chileans”.
Ignoring Boric’s public criticism of Maduro, López assured that “Boric is very close to the continental political project that Maduro represents”. He also drew a parallel between the ongoing process to replace Pinochet’s constitution and the drafting of a new constitution in Venezuela in 1999: “when we are asked when the tragedy began, it was when a Constituent Assembly was installed”. With a nostalgic air, and as if the social outburst of 2019 and the brutal repression meant nothing, López praised Chilean neoliberalism: “I hope that Chile continues to be what it has been in recent years. A reference for all of Latin America… of progress, of respect for liberties, a referent for the wellbeing of its people”.
Sectors of the diaspora linked to the right organized a “1×10” campaign, ironically following a campaign format popularized in Venezuela by Chavismo, consisting of each Venezuelan activist contacting ten Chilean voters to persuade them to vote for Kast, warning about experiences under Chavismo and drawing parallels with Boric.
In the end the Pinochetista candidate, who really represented the biggest anti-democratic threat in the election, lost. The winner, Boric, is a center-left politician with a track record as a conciliator, from whom no major changes in favor of social justice are to be expected. On immigration, one of his first pronouncements has been to rule out the possibility of a migratory amnesty and to disqualify the promise of his migration commissioner to resolve the situation of people living in state shelters within six months.
But as the political and social process initiated with the popular outburst of 2019 is still open, the Chilean people can advance through their own mobilization and attempt to bury the socioeconomic legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. For that effort, the Venezuelan workers and popular sectors who resist the Maduro dictatorship should only feel sympathy.