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The Battle for Boric's Soul

In Caracas, Havana, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires, the standard-bearers of Latin America's radical left have celebrated the result of Chile’s presidential election, apparently viewing the millennial leftist as one of them. But they might end up being disappointed.

MEXICO CITY – Chile has long been something of a bellwether in Latin America. So, when Chilean voters elected the left-wing Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old former student leader, as president on Sunday, the rest of Latin America wanted to know: What does this mean for Chile – and for us?

First, it is worth taking a closer look at the result itself. With nearly 56% of the vote, Boric won by a margin of more than ten percentage points – huge by Chilean standards. Since 1989, when democracy was restored, most presidents have secured only four- or five-point leads. And yet, the far-right runner-up, José Antonio Kast, not only won the election’s first round, but also secured a substantial 44% of the vote in the run-off.

In fact, the results of the latest election mirror those of the 1988 plebiscite on whether Chile’s dictator since 1973, Augusto Pinochet, could extend his rule for another eight years. Pinochet’s supporters lost, but the country’s far right was – and remains – alive and well. Run-off elections are always polarizing, but the split among Chileans seems particularly sharp, fairly even, and remarkably durable.