The power arithmetic behind Chile’s latest cabinet reshuffle

A cabinet change included significant concessions. But the government seems to have succeeded in softening the opposition, at least for now, and it consolidated a suite of alpha officials. That’s a strong message in its own right.

The latest reshuffle of President Gabriel Boric’s cabinet can be summarized in four acts.

First, the resignation of Social Development Minister and key ally Giorgio Jackson. The opposition had targeted Jackson ever since he entered government. He was disliked over his acid criticism of elite politicians who led the country for the last 30 years and his role in the social outbreak of 2019.

Second was Boric inviting his predecessor Sebastián Piñera to share a plane on the way to the presidential inauguration in Paraguay. Shortly after, opposition coalition Chile Vamos signaled willingness to discuss reforms – which it outrightly had refused for months.

The third act commenced 48 hours later, with the announcement of the reshuffle, which included yet another prize for the right: the head of Education Minister Marco Antonio Ávila. Although Ávila confronted a constitutional accusation process flawlessly, his homosexuality and solid job performance irritated the right-wing forces.

Finally, Boric received Chile Vamos members, who instantly said the meeting was tense and frank. But Boric seemed to have pried a door open into pension reform and a fiscal pact. The latter would free resources the government needs to finance its program. Crucially, Boric did not invite members of the far-right Republicanos party, which dominates the current constitutional rewrite.

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Taking Initiative

It’s still too early to see if Boric’s approach bears fruit, but he certainly regained initiative after having been battered by a scandal involving government-allied foundations receiving public money with little oversight. The scandal is now reverberating into right-wing strongholds, which, it turned out, feasted on the state’s trough at least as well but for longer. That’s why the issue will fade from the frontpages of Chile’s oligarchic mainstream media.

The reshuffle sent clear signals. Chief among them is that Boric seems to have freed himself from certain bonds. He removed his friend and punished his closest allies, the Revolución Democrática group, harshly, so much that its leader, Juan Pablo Latorre, resigned.

But the mining sector got the biggest surprise. The minister, the undersecretary, and the head of state mining company Enami were engaged in a power struggle – and Boric removed them all.

The Alphas

On the other hand, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá emerged stronger, and the Communist Party got the education ministry, which it had long coveted.

More subtly, a group of alpha officials consolidated. Among them are Tohá, spokesperson Camila Vallejo, Labor Minister Jeannette Jara, and Aurora Williams, now mining minister, who served in that position in Michelle Bachelet’s administration.

It’s important that the alphas are women because Republicanos are trying to weaken women’s rights in the constitutional draft. Boric sent a strong signal, not just to Chile but also to Argentina, where Javier Milei could become president, promising to eliminate the Women’s Ministry.

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