A month before the first round of Chile’s presidential elections, José Antonio Kast has surged in the polls. In a development that runs counter to the perceived progressivism of the past two years, Kast overtook left-wing favorite Gabriel Boric. The Kast family is well known in Chile for its ties to the dictatorship and has played a prominent role in politics for decades.
Current presidential frontrunner José Antonio Kast has started his political career as a member of Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party. Membership seemed natural as the party, like him, also emphasizes supposed positive developments of the dictatorship and advocates ultra-conservative social views.
But Kast left UDI in 2016 to run as an independent presidential candidate in 2017 already, instantly garnering 8 percent and securing third place, which, however, excluded him from the runoff.
The Kast family owns several restaurants under the Bavaria brand and has been engaged in local politics from at least the 1970s.
Arrival to Chile
The Kasts immigrated to Chile fleeing post-war Germany. Michael Kast was a high-ranking Nazi officer with suffcient influence to have come into the focus of allied prosecutors who wanted to try him at Nuremberg. But he could settle down in Chile’s Paine area.
His son Miguel emerged as a key figure on the Chilean right in the 1970s, heavily influencing its ideology. Miguel was also the first head of the dictatorship’s newly created national planning office, where Chile’s neoliberal model was cooked up. The Kasts collaborated with the dictatorship’s notorious DINA secret service, providing advice and even taking part in torture sessions.
Miguel is the father of Felipe Kast, who is a senator and member of government coalition party Evópoli.
The 2019 leak of the Panama Papers unearthed evidence of shady financial arrangements of the Kast family.
Documents showed that the Kasts registered companies in Panama which were not declared to Chilean tax authorities. This way, they hid several million dollars.
But Kast evaded controversy by simply claiming the resources helped him run an independent campaign, without reliance on oligarchic money. Legal consequences were not reported.
Kast’s Presidential Promise
In recent weeks, Kast has strongly capitalized on President Sebastián Piñera’s disastrous second term. Kast has promised a “genuine right-wing” government, delivering on all promises Piñera has failed.
Topics include restrictive immigration, crime, and the crisis in La Araucanía region, where indigenous territorial claims and corporate interests clash. The situation has created a bloody quagmire involving clandestine cells, paramilitaries, soldiers but also police and institutional corruption. The government has recently declared a state of emergency for the region.
On general crime, which is increasingly violent and keeps the population in a constant state of fear, Kast promises an iron fist approach.
A focal point of immigration are northern cities like Arica or Iquique. A recent anti-immigration march in the latter city has led to a pogrom in broad daylight with the police standing by. Locals burned Venezuelan immigrants’ – who were about to leave the country – belongings in the street.
While all presidential candidates exclusively blamed the Piñera administration, ignoring widespread racism, only Kast’s numbers improved shortly after.
To prevent immigrants crossing via the Bolivian border, Kast wants to dig a ditch in the area and erect a fence.
Kast’s surge comes as massive popular challenges have mounted against the socio-economic order. These challenges seemingly heralded a progressive shift, which, however, must be called into question with Kast’s surge.
His chances to gain the top job have never been higher, but even if he, again, doesn’t make it to the runoff, Kast has already shaped the public debate to an extent nobody can ignore.
The first election round is slated for Nov. 21 and the runoff for Dec. 19.
Harry McKenna is a postgraduate student studying American History at the University of Sheffield. His interests include politics, foreign affairs, and history and he is seeking to cover international politics. He is currently interning at Chile Today.