SANTIAGO—The woman responsible for bringing the firefighting supertanker airplane to Chile two years ago is now becoming an increasing influence on Twitter, providing a platform to the former (and likely future) far-right presidential candidate, José Antonio Kast, to spread his ideas and attacks. The convergence of their views on the social media networking service could be the first step toward a future political alliance that might reshape the political landscape with substantial funding to Kast’s insurgent conservative force.
Lucy Ana Avilés Hernández would be just another Twitter user if it weren’t for two different but linked factors: she is the wife of one of the heirs to the Walmart business empire, Benjamin Walton, and she was a major player in the 2017 wildfires crisis.
During that crisis, she became a nationwide figure by donating US $2 million to bring to Chile the now famous Boeing 747 SuperTanker airplane that played a central role in the fight against the forest fires that scorched the south of the country two summers ago.
This act of philanthropy was not her first for the country. She has a history of multiple charitable contributions both in Chile and in the US, through her company Zoma Lab (which she runs with her husband).
Active presence on Twitter
Thanks to the SuperTanker, Avilés became a Twitter “influencer” with a very active account with more than 49,500 followers and more than 14,200 tweets. Indeed, she began to express her opinion on different topics, attacking and mocking women’s, gay, and minority rights. Thus, very often, her views align with the views of the new referent of Chile’s right-wing, José Antonio Kast.
Among them, for example, are the clear conservative views in her Twitter statement to stop “showing again and again what happened 40 years ago,” regarding the September 11 remembrance. This, of course, is a convenient statement coming from the daughter of Víctor Manuel Avilés Mejías, a collaborator of dictatorship intelligence agencies, among them Gestapo-like DINA.
After numerous backlashes for her controversial views, Avilés changed strategy and began to share the statements of those saying what she supposedly can’t, and her favorite is Kast, the former congressman and presidential candidate—and a sure candidate for 2021. His account has received more retweets in the last 10 months from Avilés, including a post to promote the political movement Kast founded in 2018, Acción Republicana (Republican Action).
Using Kast’s opinions, Avilés has amplified the core issues of the far-right, like the critique against the “popular university” opened in Recoleta by communist mayor, Daniel Jadue; Gabriel Boric’s trip to Paris, where he met with former left-wing insurgent and convicted assassin, Ricardo Palma Salamanca; the violent incidents during an evangelical march; and the right-wing’s rejection of the Gender Identity Law.
The possible alliance
In 2018, Avilés announced that she and her family would relocate to Chile for three years to dedicate themselves to their philanthropy work through their Zoma Foundation.
Because Avilés is married to the grandson of Walmart’s founder and the son of Walmart’s former president, Rob Walton, she is just centimeters away from the clan’s estimated US $47 billion fortune. Just a fraction of that, if it is donated to a political party or candidacy, could be a game changer in the coming municipal, gubernatorial, and presidential elections—like the contributions from the former CEO of the Líder supermarket chain and defender of the Chilean dictatorship, Nicolás Ibáñez, did in the 2017 parliamentary and presidential campaigns. In that instance, Ibáñez donated to candidates of Chile Vamos (Let’s Go Chile), the coalition currently in power, becoming one of the main financiers of the political right.
This is worth considering, especially after a recent survey showed Kast leading the polls with 12% of the spontaneous preferences for president. This makes his 2021 candidacy an increasingly good bet.
Billionaires with an agenda
As the New York Times award-winning journalist, Jane Mayer, describes in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, many right-wing billionaires in the US (like the Koch Brothers) heavily fund far-right candidates to fight regulations, and political and cultural reforms.
The possible alliance between Avilés and Kast could follow this logic. To the extent that it does, the Chilean political system faces a new urgency: the need to regulate the influence of individual millionaires and billionaires with political agendas—individuals who, in a small country like Chile that has a relatively young electoral system, can shape the political future in ways we can’t anticipate.
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Tomás (29) studied a degree in History and obtained his professional degree as a journalist, both at the Universidad Católica. He did his internship at the International section of El Mercurio and worked as a columnist at El Definido. Tómas is passionate about international news, meeting different cultures and trying to understand the world in which we live.