A controversy resulting from right-wing Independent Democratic Union’s (UDI) use of Víctor Jara’s anti-war ballad “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” reflects the crisis this party is experiencing. UDI is still nostalgic about the dictatorship, while Jara was detained at the national stadium during the 1973 coup and murdered five days later. UDI used his song in its campaign to reject a new constitution.
As the Oct. 25 referendum on a new constitution approaches, the Apruebo (Approve) and Rechazo (Reject) campaigns gather steam. Right-wing party UDI, whose founding member includes Jaime Guzmán, the architect of Pinochet’s neoliberal reforms, used “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” (The Right to Live in Peace) by Víctor Jara as campaign song for Rechazo. It’s defense that “nobody is the owner” of culture is equal to left-wing coalition Broad Front using – in theory – the music of iconic right-wing folk group Huasos Quincheros to promote Apruebo.
Of course, I agree that expressions of art have no “owner,” but they do have content and meaning. Hence, we identify with certain types of paintings, books, music, etc. But is the use of a figure that represents the opposite of what a person or institution stands for legitimate? Here we enter subjectivity. I believe that UDI leaders who held critical positions and endorsed human rights violations – including Jara’s execution – during the dictatorship, although the party did not yet exist, do not have the right to use for electoral purposes the work of a martyr against repression. It is not only unethical but outright provocation.
I also understand that this is a strategy of some publicists who only thought about the immediate effect. The fact that it has been so controversial and I am writing this column is the best reflection of the desired result. But once something catches our attention, we always get to the bottom of it. And the bottom line here is that those in charge of UDI’s publicity campaign were wrong. Whoever gave the go-ahead achieved the opposite: provoking a reaction that reinforces the Apruebo option.
UDI is once again associated with the issue of human rights. A mobilizer of many people.
The Long Decline
This clumsiness shows how bad things are in the party. Its members, once the most dogmatic, disciplined group that maintained the legacy of Guzmán and Pinochet, was suddenly trapped in one of those confusions that are related to identity and most difficult to resolve.
What is paradoxical is that the internal breakdown was caused by “the founders” – called colonels – who also created one of the biggest collectives in the country. And this collective is trying to manage the schizophrenia that comes from an (almost) presidential candidate – Las Condes mayor Joaquín Lavín – who declared himself a social democrat, promoted the 10% pension fund withdrawal, gets cozy with communist mayor and (almost) presidential candidate Daniel Jadue, and favors Apruebo.
Very little remains of that golden age when Lavín almost beat Ricardo Lagos in 1999. From then, a slow decline began. The decline became most awkward in 2013, when UDI presidential candidates Laurence Golborne and Pablo Longueira had to step aside on graft allegations while the campaign was in full swing. Evelyn Matthei had to pick up the shards with dignity, but won only 25% against Michelle Bachelet.
Blow after Blow
But the first major blow that destabilized its leaders came when it emerged that several of them were involved in illegal political financing. Jovino Novoa, Pablo Longueira, “El Choclo” Délano, Iván Moreira, among others, were all linked to the Penta and SQM cases, involving funneling money through financial services and the country’s biggest fertilizer and lithium producer. And ‘popular UDI,’ which surprised the left with its unifying ability, enabling it to penetrate the most deprived sectors, was also crumbling. To this added the collapse in public perception of a party that had enjoyed the privileges of being the community that, by far, had the strongest link to business.
Despite the rapid changes our society was seeing over the last decade, UDI had remained faithful to its harsh conservative doctrine, anchored in the dictatorship. However, after the social uprising of October 18, the party faced a dilemma: remain true to itself or adapt to the new times and assume the associated costs. On the other hand, the emergence of José Antonio Kast – the leader of the ultra-right Republican Party – was viewed with sympathy by UDI’s harshest wing, which tried to bring both sides together.
And certainly, the main course was still missing.
Because if the defeat government palace La Moneda suffered with the 10% pension withdrawal project was hard already, the consequences for UDI were catastrophic. The party leadership tried to sanction the five representatives who voted in favor of the withdrawal in the first round. Three of them resigned before having to face the party court. The move was an own goal, since in the following rounds more parliamentarians voted in favor.
From then on, things began to get extremely complicated for UDI. First the somersaults regarding the plebiscite on the new constitution. The most spectacular came from Jaime Bellolio, who was for Apruebo and even paid the political cost for this stance, but suspiciously switched to Rechazo a few days before being appointed government spokesperson.
Second was the irruption of an angry Evelyn Matthei, the mayor of Santiago’s flush Providencia district who hadn’t been seen in public for a while. She announced she would run against party colleague Lavín in the presidential elections. Then, of course, came the bizarre reappearance of another of the party’s founders and key figures, Pablo Longueira. The former senator, in something like a euphoric outbreak, returned by proposing a strategy worthy of a Polish political series – as far from reality as it is incomprehensible.
Longueira seemed like the owner of a company who returned after a sabbatical in Tibet, thinking that everything is still the same and posing his personal plans as if they were absolute laws. “I want to be president of UDI; I want to be a constituent.” And although his plan seems politically logical, that is, to assume that Apruebo and a constituent convention should prevail in the plebiscite, it is strange that the former senator promotes Apruebo. He even went as far as saying he’d be happy on election night and hoped Rechazo would gain not more than 15%.
But the most relevant aspect about the crack within UDI is that after 32 years the party faces a crisis that either forces it to stick to dogma or review its identity in relation to a country that changed while the party clung to its past. The cracks become clear with the two projects that broke UDI: the 10% withdrawal shaking up the privatized pension system – the basis of the economic model – and the plebiscite on Pinochet’s constitution. So, when this party promotes something with the lyrics of a Víctor Jara song…something is not right there.
As a roughly translated line from that song goes: “Poet Ho Chi Minh/Who strikes all humankind from Vietnam/No cannon will erase/The furrow of your rice field.”
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.