A lot of unsavory figures are filling congressional seats – if they can be bothered to show up to work, that is. Whichever angle is used to look at the problem, it becomes apparent that Chilean politics places a premium on show and mockery. It’s a sad situation, with no remedy in sight.
Many politicians’ behaviors are exceeding by wide negative margins the actions of members of the Constitutional Convention (which wrote the constitutional draft that was rejected by 62 percent of voters in September 2022) that were harshly criticized by public figures and the media.
For perspective, one convention member voted while taking a shower at home, others showed up dressed as children’s characters, and one even lied about suffering terminal illness just to gain access to economic resources.
However, a TV report showed that lawmakers routinely arrive late to key debates and votes. Others leave seconds after they arrived. The explanations are bizarre. Gaspar Rivas, formerly of right-populist PDG party, said he arrives late because of a cleaning compulsion. “I delay getting there because I clean my phone, the cable, the screen,” media quoted him as saying.
It’s shameful. Normal Chileans cannot afford to leave their jobs or be late without receiving sanctions or having part of their salary taken. Rivas also calls himself the sheriff, brandishing a star on his jacket, like in the wild west. His antics were too much even for his party, which expelled him.
A Lower House lawmaker recently arrived as chef to ironize political agreements, which were cooked up behind closed doors, he told reporters. Another one went with a guitar to government palace La Moneda to mock President Gabriel Boric, alluding to a Chilean adage that very roughly translates to ‘singing is easy, but it’s a different thing with guitar.’
Far-right lawmaker Gonzalo de La Carrera has hit colleagues on the floor; Johannes Kaiser questioned the female right to vote and opposed a bill to create a pension for families of femicide victims because they would become a privileged group; Maite Orsini, of left-wing Revolución Democrática, called a police general to defend a friend, while radical populist Pamela Jiles wore a superhero cape and simulated flying across Chile’s august lawmaking grounds.
On the other hand, Rodolfo Carter, the mayor of Santiago’s La Florida district, emulates El Salvador’s pop-authoritarian Nayibb Bukele, exploiting concerns about public safety to put on a show for the gutter TV each morning, destroying what he calls ‘narco homes,’ houses in which alleged drug kingpins go about their business. Carter doesn’t care about the stigma he reinforces about poor neighborhoods or about the effectiveness of the destruction or whether a home belongs to criminals or their relatives. Overall, the rating prevails and gaining pole position in a presidential campaign that’s still years away but is shaping up to become most brutal in a narrative and a physical sense.
Another level of crudeness is the case of María Luisa Cordero, who started as commentator on celebrity TV shows and claims to be a psychiatrist. Yet, she acts without any respect for medical ethics and gives diagnoses via television, even though she’s never really practiced psychiatry.
Unfortunately, that exposure helped her win a congressional seat. She often disqualifies anyone who crosses her path, insulted soccer heroes Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal with racist slurs, and routinely dispensing other barbarities.
Recently, she published a diagnosis of Boric, claiming he was mentally ill, based on confidential data she allegedly had access to. The professional she claimed had provided that access vehemently denied any involvement. Cordero was previously expelled from the medical college for issuing fraudulent medical licenses.
Cordero crossed all red lines when she claimed Senator Fabiola Campillai, who lost her eyesight due to police firing a tear gas canister at her in 2019, even though she was only a bystander in a protest, wasn’t actually blind. In addition, Cordero made a point of refusing to apologize because that was just how she rolled, she said. Cordero not only caused tremendous damage but amplified the brutality by mocking her victim.
Spectacle has taken Chilean politics again, just as it was before the social uprising of 2019. Those claiming to represent the public fall into four categories. First, some firmly believe they don’t have any work obligation and deserve all the perks simply because they are lawmakers. Second, some use populism to win cheap votes, exploiting voters’ anxieties. Third, some aren’t any better than the Constitutional Convention members that were mocked and criticized by journalists and politicians. Fourth, some feel free to insult, assault and mock others, taking advantage of their public platform.
They should not have a place in Chilean politics. But that’s perhaps a bit naïve.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.