Chile swears in former protest leader as president

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former student leader Gabriel Boric was sworn in as Chile’s new president on Friday, promising to oversee the political and economic renovation of a nation rocked by repeated protests over inequality in recent years despite a relatively dynamic.

At 36, Boric is the youngest president in the history of the South American nation – the one who was just 4 when democracy returned after a 17-year military dictatorship that both bloodied and threw the bases of modern Chile.

Boric has vowed his young inclusive government will tackle poverty and inequality which he says are the unacceptable underbelly of a free market model imposed decades ago by General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990.

His four-year term begins when a constituent assembly draws up a new constitution for the country to replace the one adopted under Pinochet.

Socialist Party leader in the Senate, Alvaro Elizalde, draped the presidential sash over Boric’s shoulders during the ceremony in the legislative chambers of the port city of Valparaiso. Soon after, Boric was sworn in as leader of what he called a “feminist” cabinet – which includes 14 women and 10 men.

Ostensibly informal, the bearded young leader refused to wear a tie for the inauguration.

Boric won 56% of the vote in a December runoff against conservative Jose Antonio Kast.

While his election initially spooked investors, sending stock prices and the peso plummeting, he has since emphasized a pragmatic streak, promising to maintain fiscal responsibility and appointing a respected economist, the former President of the Central Bank Mario Marcel, as Minister of Finance.

“We are going to have to make the changes step by step because otherwise the risk of backsliding is too great,” he said recently – a position that could be reinforced by the fact that his left-wing coalition has only 37 of the 155 seats in Congress. Even adding other center-left parties, its allies are far from having a majority.

Chile has long been considered one of Latin America’s greatest economic success stories, buoyed in part by its vast mining industries. But it has been rocked over the past decade by repeated large protest movements – some led by Boric – demanding better education, pensions and health care, and a more equal distribution of wealth.

Boric also takes office at a time when large-scale immigration from Venezuela and other countries has caused unrest in northern Chile, while violent protests by some indigenous rights activists demanding historic territories have provoked clashes in the south.

It is also a time of international turmoil due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine.

Boric called for higher taxes on the wealthy to help fund better health care, education and a universal pension plan to replace a private system that has proven inadequate for many. He also pushed for a higher minimum wage and the creation of more jobs for women, in particular.

He also campaigned for greater environmental protection in a country famous for its huge copper mines. The assembly that drafted it must end this year, proposing it to voters for ratification or rejection.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric waves to the crowd after his swearing-in on Friday in the legislative chambers of Valparaiso. The former student leader, 36, is the youngest president in the country’s history, and he has vowed to tackle poverty and inequality which he called the unacceptable underbelly of a free market model imposed decades ago by General Augusto Pinochet. More photos at (AP/Esteban Felix)

Gallery: Chile swears in former protest leader as president

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