Democracía Viva scandal keeps growing, erodes trust in Boric Administration

The Democracía Viva scandal, in which high-ranking government officials are suspected of nepotism and exploitation of political power, remains the talk of the town in Chilean politics. Two government officials resigned, while investigations into others involved are ongoing. Meanwhile, the scandal seems to negatively affect the public’s trust in the government of President Gabriel Boric.  

The National Federation of Workers of the Ministry of Housing (Fenatravi) commented on the Democracía Viva case. The scandal, in which the husband of a high-ranking government official was given profitable permits for a housing project in Antofagasta, has put the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism and the Boric Administration as a whole in a bad light.

“We would like to roundly condemn the actions of the Regional Ministerial Secretary of the Antofagasta Region [Carlos Contreras], and those responsible. With their actions, they have sullied the name of the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism,” can be read in a statement.

“For us, it is very painful to see the political exploitation, cronyism and nepotism that transcends the [Ministry]. We feel hurt, disappointed and upset, since the actions of corrupt authorities deeply damage the prestige and morale of the institution, which is built and formed by those officials who have dedicated years of work and professionalism to the service of all Chileans,” they added.

The Federation’s statement came on the same day that the Minister of Housing and Urbanism, Carlos Montes, traveled to Antofagasta to meet there with the Public Prosecutor. He will personally deliver the information gathered on the ties between Democracía Viva and the government officials.

The Democracia Viva case

The Democracía Viva case involves officials, on both the national and regional level, of the government party Revolucíon Democrática (RD).

Every ministry has a Regional Ministerial Secretary (Seremi) in each of the 16 Chilean regions. In the northern Antofagasta, the Seremi of the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism was RD member Carlos Contreras.

Earlier, Contreras was a close advisor to Catalina Pérez, the former President of RD, current representative for the Antofagasta region in the Chilean Lower House, and until recently the vice-President of that Lower House.

In his role as the Seremi of Housing and Urbanism, Contreras personally assigned three contracts (worth over half a million US dollars) to the non-profit housing foundation Democracia Viva, for the construction of affordable houses in Antofagasta’s campamentos (shantytowns).

In an earlier instance, Democracia Viva obtained its legal status in the Ñuñoa municipality, which is under the direction of  RD-mayor Emilia Ríos.

A salient detail is that Democracia Viva is headed by Daniel Andrade, the husband of former RD-President Catalina Pérez. Therefore, the foundation has a direct link with the government party.

When the details about the three building agreements leaked on June 16, 2023, Contreras stepped down from his position as Seremi. “I am very sorry for not having taken into account the malicious misinterpretation and manipulation that would be made of an agreement with a non-profit organization, with which I have no conflict of interest whatsoever,” he stated upon his resignation.

Oppositionsparty Unión Demócrata Independiente filed a complaint for fraud to the Treasury and influence peddling. Other opposition parliamentarians requested the creation of an investigative commission in Congress. Thereupon the local Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation into “influence peddling, fraud against the Treasury and embezzlement of public funds.”

During the weekend of June 24 the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism Tatiana Rojas announced her resignation from her position. Rojos, also a member of the RD, admitted to have known about the controversial agreement, but to not have informed the minister about it.

Meanwhile, RD-representative Catalina Pérez maintained that she is free of any blame. She sent an official request to the government Comptroller, “to clear any doubt” that she took part in the making of the agreement. “I will not tolerate that, without any proof whatsoever, they seek to muddy my work by placing a cloak of doubt on my management,” she stated on June 20.

Effects on the government

The scandal is a serious hit in the face of President Gabriel Boric. With his wave of young and progressive government officials, Boric promised to put an end to the nepotism and old-boys networks that have influenced the government’s decision-making process for years.

On June 25, Boric spoke on the case for the first time, saying that “I will not put my hands in the fire for anyone. There is not going to be any kind of corporate defense of anyone [involved].”

Speaking on the fact that the controversy affects his own government, he stated that “we have to apply to ourselves the same standards that used to judge and criticize the moral wrongdoings of our adversaries in the past.”

According to the most recent Cadem polls, taken over the weekend of June 24 and 25, President Boric’s approval rates have fallen for the third week in a row.

According to the same poll, 50% of the respondents have heard the Democracía Viva case. 86 percent believe there is corruption, while only nine percent suspect an administrative error. In addition, 78 percent disapprove of the way in which the Government has managed this situation.

Also read:

No country for young men: Why Chile’s Boric failed but could still come out on top 

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