Chilean President Gabriel Boric. (AP)

Chilean President Gabriel Boric. (AP)

Great Expectations: Gabriel Boric's First 100 Days in Chile's Presidency

By Chase Harrison

The millennial president has had to face three major challenges: economic woes, security issues, and high demands to deliver.

Expectations were sky high for Gabriel Boric when he took office as Chile’s president on March 11, 2022. Back during the 2021 election, the 36-year-old from the far south of the country was hailed as a representative of the political potential of millennials and the flagbearer of a new Latin American left. But his inauguration came at a time of upheaval, pushing the one-time student activist toward the center, much to the chagrin of some members of his own coalition and leftist supporters. And after years of protests and unrest, Chile is in the process of rewriting its Constitution, which could transform the country’s institutions.

Marking one hundred days on June 19, how is Gabriel Boric’s government faring? It hasn’t been easy, given that the new president and his cabinet of largely political newcomers face a fragmented Congress and a learning curve in executive management. Moreover, Boric inherited a sluggish economy, high inflation, and persistent social unrest in the south. His approval rating—50 percent at the time of his inauguration in March—sank to a low of 35 percent in April, per pollster Cadem, below levels seen by his two processors at the same point in their terms. His support has since rebounded to 44 percent as of June 10, but the bumpy ride reflects the challenges confronting the leader as he actualizes his ambitious agenda and convinces skeptics of his leadership. “There have been difficulties and there have been mistakes,” Boric said to La Tercera at the start of March.

Economic action

From the start, Boric’s government has had to contend with the kind of economic woes facing much of the region. In April, the International Monetary Fund dropped 2022 GDP growth expectations to 1.5 percent, down from 2.5 percent in October 2021. Consumer prices were up 11.4 percent year on year due to rising fuel and food costs, and the inflation rate sits at 7.5 percent. These figures put Chile in the middle of the macroeconomic pack in Latin America.

In April, Boric proposed a $3.7 billion economic recovery plan outlining 24 measures designed to stimulate the economy and create 500,000 jobs. The package consists of $1.3 billion going directly to individual citizens through programs like subsidies for parents, one-time payments to cultural workers, and unemployment insurance; $1.4 billion allocated to job creation in sectors such as infrastructure works; and $1 billion dedicated to providing financing to small- and medium-sized businesses, especially those that are unbanked.

Many of the package’s initiatives aim to support working-class Chileans through the Covid economic recovery. That includes a freeze in the prices of public transportation. In May, Congress approved a minimum wage hike, considered a major plank of the package, from $413 to $472 a month, by August.

Some of the measures require congressional approval while others simply need executive action. As of June 10, 17 of the 24 measures were completed or were in the process of being executed.

Boric announced additional economic measures during his June 1 state of the union address, including student debt relief measures. He also proposed a universal minimum monthly pension for the elderly, which comes in the wake of a pandemic-era move allowing Chileans to make withdrawals from their pension accounts three times, leading to worries of thinned savings.

To fund his economic programs, Boric said he will introduce new taxes on high earners and the mining sector. The tax reform will be presented at the end of June. The president also announced plans to invest $90 million in exploration and $86 million for innovation in the state-owned copper company Codelco, and he announced plans to establish a national lithium firm.

Security flare-ups

One thorny issue for Boric has been the protracted conflict with the Mapuche indigenous group in the south of the country. In demonstrations focused in the Araucania region, the Mapuche have engaged in large-scale demonstrations to advocate for their autonomy and have attacked the equipment of agriculture and logging companies that work on lands they claim. Boric’s predecessor Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency and sent in the military in October 2020 to this region to pacify the situation. Those troops were withdrawn March 27. 

Boric campaigned for Mapuche rights and criticized Piñera’s actions. But during a March 15 visit to Araucania, Boric’s Interior Minister Izkia Siches was met with gunfire and had her trip cut short. After a spate of arson attacks, Boric declared a state of emergency in the region in May and redeployed troops, backtracking on a campaign promise. 

Polls have shown security and crime are a top concern for Chileans, and that’s meant Boric has had to build bridges with policing forces he criticized as an activist. During his state of the union, he announced new measures to rein in crime, such as the creation of a Ministry of Public Safety and plans to build new police stations across the country.

Foreign affairs

With the outsize international attention he’s received, demonstrated by his appearance on the TIME 100 list, Boric has become a figure known on the world stage in his first three months in office. At the IX Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June, Boric spearheaded a pact signed by nine countries to protect the Pacific Ocean through the creation of large interconnected marine preserves.  

Since taking office, Boric met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the environment, trade, and coordinating responses on Russia and Venezuela. In his first foreign meeting—a visit to Argentina—Boric focused on gender equality and remembrance of dictatorship. 

Constitutional debate

One reason Boric may have stalled on proposing major reforms is that the country may soon see an overhaul of its political system if a new draft constitution is approved on September 4. The document is the result of a process that saw Chileans vote in a plebiscite in 2020 and then elect a Constitutional Convention in May 2021 to draft the document over a period of 10 months. If approved, the document would replace Chile’s current constitution, a Pinochet-era document.

Before assuming the presidency, Boric was a staunch supporter of writing a new constitution and many of the themes prominent in the draft document—such as gender and environmental rights or crafting better representation for Chile’s regions—are also signature issues for the president. Still, as an executive, Boric is hamstrung with how much he can participate in campaigning for the approval of the document, as he must remain officially neutral.

No matter the result, Boric’s legacy is tied to the outcome. Either his government will coincide with implementing the 499-article document, which includes major institutional shifts like replacing the Senate with a Chamber of Regions. If, however, the document is rejected, Boric will have to forge a way forward, given that, in an October 2020 plebiscite, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favor of drafting a new Magna Carta.