Far-right presidential candidate José Antonio Kast has received much media coverage in light of his radical proposals. But a look in his program shows that it includes lots of progressive plans for the carceral system and the environment. While not immediately dragging Chile back into Pinochet-era dictatorship, Kast’s Chile would resemble new authoritarian states like Poland or Hungary.
Analysts must dispense with the notion that the new poster boy of Chile’s right-wing, José Antonio Kast, is the local Trump or Bolsonaro. His program betrays such lazy comparisons.
While Trump and Brazil’s Bolsonaro promised to take their countries to an invented glorious past, Kast proposes a program for the next 40 years, looking far beyond the government term.
Kast, running for Republican Action party, has surged after the implosion of center-right Sebastián Sichel’s campaign. The protégé of incumbent Sebastián Piñera was supposed to be the face of a more liberal right-wing that acknowledges equality and rights articulated during the social uprising.
Sichel’s fall shows what the end of the post-dictatorship era means on the right. Fed up with protests and facing the prospect of a new Constitution, key figures of governing party National Renewal and its supposedly liberal partner Evópoli have defected to Kast, as have members of his former home, Independent Democratic Union.
Kast hails from a family of German Nazis that fled to Chile after World War II because allied prosecutors were preparing a trial at Nuremberg. Various offspring have made it big in Chilean politics, especially during the dictatorship. While José Antonio Kast has referred to Augusto Pinochet as a beloved general previously, he has been careful to not mention him during the campaign.
Kast’s program starts like the right-wing fever dream, diagnosing a massive totalitarian transformation triggered by Marxists in academia and the media, who invent rights and groups like the “oppressed” or “minorities” to divide the population and bring the state with all its traditions down.
French philosopher Michel Foucault is cited as a key figure, because he mentioned “starting a war by declaring rights.” Based on these machinations, “a fallacious discourse of neo-Marxist nature about sexes, races, sexual orientations, corrupt visions of human rights, of interpretation of science, harassment to the Christian faith” has overtaken the country, according to the program.
Even if schizophrenic, this frame provides an explanation to the changes underway citizens can work with, and a solution to the country’s problems, which Kast astutely identifies.
Much of the program is progressive when it comes to environmental preservation and green energy, which Trump and Bolsonaro repeatedly savaged as socialist nonsense.
Destruction of public green spaces would be penalized. Such a law could be easily used to curb protests, of course, as happened in Turkey. But Kast also wants to invest heavily in renewable energies, including green hydrogen. His program mentions a massive decrease on dependency on coal, a policy which is unthinkably left-wing in many industrialized countries.
Overall, the budgets for forest department Conaf and environmental initiatives would increase, according to the program.
Read the entire program here:Programa Kast
High-flying cosmopolitan liberals often ridicule right-wing authoritarians as isolationists. Nothing could be further from the truth with Kast. His program states that Chile keeps international cooperation, while international financial and technical institutions can stay. He also wants to increase cooperation with the UN security council, attract foreign investment, and improve free trade.
Also, he wants to increase commercial ties with the US, UK, Germany, Japan, and Asia-Pacific countries. Curiously, is program doesn’t mention China, which has turned Chile into its Latin American beachhead.
Free trade will have limits, however, when it conflicts with national law, even when ratified treaties are involved. If Kast will review treaties remains unclear. His opponent, left-wing Gabriel Boric, recently caused a stir among experts working for Yasna Provoste, the center-left candidate, because he promised to review all treaties Chile signed to find out if they impede sovereignty.
But Kast also wants to cut some ties, namely with Cuba and Venezuela. These countries are seen as the source of all evil and national social problems across the right. Kast also wants to leave the UN human rights council because Cuba and Venezuela are members. But he wants to boost institutions like the Organization of the Americas.
On international security, he mentions the recent upheaval in Colombia as an organized event, recreating the playbook that caused the social uprising in Chile. He sees these protests as result of trans-border left-wing collaboration, not popular demands, and wants to create an international anti-left alliance. This sounds very much like a new Operation Condor, under which right-wing governments in the region, with the help of the US, persecuted opposition members in the 1970s. It resulted in hundreds of executions, torture, and the first foreign terror attack on US soil, the killing of Chile’s Orlando Letelier in 1976.
At first, Kast’s program reads like advocating iron fist policies on public security. Referring to the iron bars families have erected to secure their houses, the program states that these bars will be used to build prisons. Criminals, not ordinary families should be behind bars.
This point is a huge deal. In every neighborhood, poor or rich, houses have turned into parameters secured by electrified razor wire. This is among the saddest developments of the last five years. But it’s rational, given that violent home invasions, carjackings, assaults and killings have become normal, even during daylight and in heavily frequented places. While many of Kast’s supporters identify the social uprising as the start of rising crime, the social fabric and with it public security institutions have been deteriorating for a long time, primarily due to an ideology under which good economic policy equates good social policy. Additionally, high-ranking police and military officials have robbed their entrusted institutions blind for decades.
Kast also proposes easier self-defense and ability to impose a state of emergency. But he also advocates large-scale social programs for inmates. While they would have to work to pay for their stint – Kast’s Chile would effectively introduce forced labor – they would also gain access to resocialization and anti-drug addiction programs. Criminal youth would benefit from initiatives among the state, the Churches, and civil society organizations to prevent a slide into hard crime.
#ToleranciaCero | Rojo Edwards: "Una noche de terror como la que tuvimos el 18 de octubre no volveremos a tener y vamos a entregar las herramientas suficientes para interceptar comunicaciones cuando se requiera".
— CNN Chile (@CNNChile) November 1, 2021
Relatedly, Kast proposes to abolish the minors’ service, Sename, whose current form is unjustifiable in any case. Supposedly helping troubled youth and orphans, the state institution facilitates massive abuse and helps pushing children into crime, while private actors get paid for any child they retain. Sename children live in hell but don’t have a lobby or protest, so their rights are political bargaining chips when opportune. If Kast keeps this promise, he would be the first president to seriously try at correcting that wrong.
On the problem in La Araucanía, where militant indigenous and paramilitary groups, in addition to corrupt police and in a context of militarization have created conditions akin to civil war, Kast proposes armed forces intervention. To help the force, he’d abolish ILO convention 169 on indigenous rights, authorize undercover agents and reform the anti-terror law.
Developed during the dictatorship to eliminate the opposition by legal means, the law has been applied regularly in democracy too. Kast proposes to incorporate “special techniques to identify participants with suitable evidence.” He does not specify which special techniques, which could mean anything from torture to intrusive surveillance.
But Kast also wants to strengthen indigenous culture and proposes incorporating Mapuche New Year in the regional calendar. Such measures could help defuse criticism of escalating violence in response to stepped up armed forces intervention.
Social Rights and Immigration
Overall, the Kast program acknowledges social rights within the frame of the heterosexual family. His government would abolish even the current highly restrictive abortion policies, which would lead to even more back-alley abortions and threaten women’s health.
But he also wants to establish entities that help women who fell victim to violence, and he wants to boost female participation in politics and business. Another entity would focus on universal access for those with disabilities, even preparing them to run for public office.
Apart from digging a ditch on the border with Bolivia, Kast wants to step up military presence in Colchane to take down immigrants. He also wants to create a force similar to the US’ ICE, which hunts down illegal immigrants across the territory, and establish a camp to prepare illegal immigrants for deportation. Civil society organizations that advocate immigrants’ rights would be outlawed and prosecuted. In theory, that would include the Christian Churches, which Kast also promises to promote, however.
These measures seem inspired by the draconian policies of the US, Australia and Hungary. While human rights violations would be kept out of public view with camps along the border, prosecuting civil society organizations bodes ill for the liberty Kast supposedly advocates. Such measures give carte blanche to vigilante groups and feed society’s most racist impulses. Ditches and camps won’t deter immigration, especially not in a world that’s increasingly ravaged by climate change, so his proposals are populist at best.
Kast’s program oscillates between radical right-wing fever dreams and a bright and green progressive future. It would be easy to dismiss the latter as fig leave, but the space and detail the program offers green and social initiatives suggests some level of seriousness.
The problem is that authoritarianism doesn’t have to be outrightly crude. These times are over. But the new authoritarianism is still authoritarianism, even if it’s environmentally sustainable and boosts female participation. Kast’s program provides ample reason to be worried. Being an experienced politician, he correctly identifies many ills that plague the citizenry, like crime, pollution, and distrust in secretive international trade negotiations.
Much of the problems, however, aren’t attributed to the system but to scapegoats. The solutions Kast proposes are radical and would lead to finger wagging by the business press if they came from a left winger. But Kast doesn’t attract such attention. He’s an authoritarian of the progressive age.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).