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Tomás, Ben, Loncón, and Boric: this was Chile’s 2021

Chile a dull country where nothing happens? Couldn’t be more wrong: 2021 proved to be yet another year full of memorable and remarkable events. Chile Today lists the 12 highlights of the year: some sad, some exciting, one for each month one.

January: the official candidates for the Constitution Convention are announced

The year starts with electoral service Servel announcing who can run as candidate for the Constitutional Convention, the body tasked with rewriting the Chilean Constitution. Social activists like Bessy Gallardo and Yuyuniz Navas; journalists like Bernardo de la Maza, René Naranjo, Patricia Politzer, and Lucía López; writer Jorge Baradit; former student leader Emilia Schneider; and lawyer Fernando Atria. From all corners of the country candidates join the race. Only some are elected through the mega elections in May.

February: the vaccination campaign kicks off

As the first vaccines arrive in Chile – mainly from Chinese CoronaVac – the Health Ministry announces it will start vaccinating against the coronavirus in February. It means the start of a historic campaign that captures worldwide attention: Chile soon becomes the global leader in vaccinating its population, thanks to a huge network of local health providers, experience with mass vaccination campaigns, and Chileans happy to get inoculated.

Photo: Chile Today / Nelson Quiroz

March: the Tomás Bravo case grips the nation

A gruesome story dominates the headlines for days. For more than a week, firefighters, police officers, and other officials look for three-year-old Tomás Bravo, who went missing near the town of Lebú. His body is discovered on Mar. 1, and there are signs he was murdered, authorities say. His great-uncle, the last person Tomás was seen with, is arrested and a formal investigation is launched into who killed Tomás.

April: the country registers its worst coronavirus numbers

Mobile mortuaries, over capacity intensive care units, constantly increasing cases: Chile experiences its worst weeks since the start of the pandemic. Primarily older people are hospitalized, and Chilean authorities deploy armed forces to help combat the virus. The vaccination campaign, that has started two weeks before, isn’t yet showing its effects. During this month, the 9,000 cases per day-mark is crested for the first time.

May: Chile takes a left turn at the polls

Constitutional, regional, and municipal elections: Chileans have a lot to choose from when they head to the voting booths in May. The rightwing suffers a massive defeat and especially in the Convention this has big implications: leftwing and independent candidates win a large majority, meaning Chile will likely have a more progressive Constitution. The left also wins in important municipalities, such as Viña del Mar, Santiago, Maipú, and Ñuñoa.

Photo: Chile Today / Nelson Quiroz

June: Big Ben makes his debut

A fairytale football story: Ben Brereton, striker at English Blackburn Rovers, chooses the Chilean national team as his mother is Chilean. He debuts for La Roja in June against Argentina and scores his first goal in his second game, against Bolivia. Brereton’s star rises and fans embrace the long striker as one of their own, “Big Ben.” He also adds something to the squad that has been missing for some time: the skill to score goals. The team dreams of qualifying for the World Cup 2022 again.

July: Loncón is elected president of the Constitutional Convention

After the Convention is installed, their first task is to choose a leader. A majority chooses Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche woman, who starts her speech speaking her native Mapudungún. Being an indigenous woman, she marks the historic new path Chile is taking to a more inclusive future. “This convention will transform the country, and turn it into a plurinational, multicultural country,” she says in her historic first remarks.

Augustus: Chile experiences a historically dry winter

Drought in Chile has been a problem for years, but the 2021 winter makes things even more complicated. Apart from the ongoing rain deficit, heatwaves cause the drought to worsen in large parts of the country. Heat records are shattered in the central regions and water reservoirs surrounding the capital register historic lows. The effects of climate change hit the country hard, and with another hot summer ahead, the fear of forest fires arises.

September: an angry mob attacks a migrant camp in Iquique

The migrant crisis in the Chilean north has been going on for months and the national government seems to have turned a blind eye to it. Things boil over when citizens fed up with the increasing crime that they consider to be a consequence of the massive arrival of illegal immigrants who camp on their streets. In September, a group of Venezuelan immigrants camping near the Iquique Airport are targeted with an anti-migration march. Their belongings are thrown in a massive pile and set ablaze.

October: the army is deployed to the south

After a large trucker strike, the government declares a State of Emergency in the Chilean south and deploys nearly 1,000 soldiers with equipment to the so-called southern macrozone in the La Araucanía and Biobío regions. According to the government, the army will only assist in logistics, but several weeks later, a 23-year-old indigenous man is killed by a soldier near the town of Cañete.

November: Piñera is hit with another Constitutional Accusation

For the second time in his presidency, the opposition launches impeachment proceedings against President Sebastián Piñera. This time, it’s over transactions revealed in the Pandora Papers, which show the president had a role in the sale of a mining project that received favorable environmental treatment from the government. The opposition approves the Constitutional Accusation in parliament after a 15-hour filibuster by Rep. Jaime Naranjo, necessary to assure enough votes. In the Senate, however, the proceedings was voted down.

December: Gabriel Boric wins the presidential election

Would Chile choose a far-rightwing candidate defending the system or a leftwing former student leader with progressive ideas? On Dec. 19, Chile heads to the polls, with a massive turnout, chooses 35-year-old Gabriel Boric as its new president with an overwhelming 55 percent majority. Boric celebrates his victory in front of tens of thousands of supporters in the center of Santiago and promises to be a president for all Chileans. Another intense year lies ahead.

Photo: Chile Today / Alisha Lubben

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