A bad week for Chile, a worse week for its people

A drunk councilman, illegal payments from large institutions, corruption at municipalities, and lies within the Constitutional Convention: last week, scandals chased each other like Formula 1 race cars. The damage to public confidence has been massive in a country where many have already stopped trusting those who lead them. The result? Society is more polarized and more extreme political views have won traction. 

One scandal after the other emerged last week. Politicians, the police, the military, convention constituents, and presidential candidates were all implicated. The scandals indicate that corruption and illicit behavior run deep in Chile: morality is constantly swept aside when personal gain lays at the horizon. While the scandals differed in background and size, they all shared a common consequence: public confidence, already thin and shaky, continued to disintegrate and be replaced by angry, disappointed citizens evermore pushed in the welcoming arms of extremists.

Whether it’s former Vitacura mayor Raúl Torrealba, who finds himself in the eye of a widespread corruption investigation in which he stands accused of receiving payments from a company he gave construction permits during his term as mayor, or councilman Rodrigo Sutter from San Pedro de la Paz, who crashed his car drunk on a Concepción bridge this weekend and fled the scene, only to be arrested a short time later that same night.

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Whether it’s the recent investigation opened against police officers who paid parking lot workers to help them tow and auction cars or the military division “investing” in a non-existent housing project in Coyhaique, enabling them to funnel over US$3.6 million.

Whether it’s presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami being removed from the race by the Metropolitan Electoral Court as his role in a major fraud case is still being investigated, or constitution constituent Rodrigo Rojas lying about having cancer, an illness that catapulted him into a well-known protester and even gave him a platform to later campaign for constituent.

Lying, cheating, fraud, corruption: it seems all institutions and public officers, even those who promise fresh starts and change, have no problem deceiving those they must lead or protect. A primary cause is impunity. A primary effect is a loss of trust in public institutions and processes.

Those disappointed, those angry, and those hoping for radical change will more likely head towards radical, anti-establishment figures who promise to put an end to the status quo – a development already seen in other countries, where populist leaders mine the emotions of voters disappointed by the power-hungry elite and ruling class. Every case of corruption,  every theft, every deceit is a gift for people like José Antonio Kast and his Republican Party. It’s easy to lose voters. It’s hard to win them back.

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