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The poor municipalities of Santiago de Chile surrender to the leftist Gabriel Boric

A woman with Gabriel Boric's shirt makes the gesture of the one, the number on the list of the presidential candidate, in La Pintana, Santiago de Chile, on December 16, 2021. Juan Eduardo López

Puente Alto is a municipality of 650,000 inhabitants on the southern outskirts of Santiago de Chile. The main avenue, Concha y Toro, is a mass of cars, shops and dozens of street vendors that have been there since the riots that in October 2019 left it without a supermarket and with dozens of establishments that did not recover from the fire and vandalism. It is a lower middle class corporation. Bordering Puente Alto is La Pintana, with 190,000 inhabitants and much poorer. The social housing neighborhoods share space with state-owned plots where cows graze or vineyards grow. These depressed, overcrowded areas are the stronghold of Gabriel Boric, the left's candidate for the presidency of Chile in the second round next Sunday. In Puente Alto and La Pintana, Boric doubled in votes to the far-right José Antonio Kast in the first round.

Boric is an urban candidate. “He took an advantage close to six points in the Metropolitan Region, when at the national level he was two points behind Kast. Within the Metropolitan Region, it obtained a better result in the communes middle and lower middle income levels, ”says Mauricio Morales, an academic at the University of Talca. We are less than half an hour by car from La Moneda, the headquarters of the Chilean Government, and you cannot see the large glass buildings of the Providencia and Vitacura corporations, nor the mansions of Las Condes, where Kast won on November 21 with the 45.7% versus 13% for Boric.

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In Puente Alto and La Pintana there are horse-drawn carts, accumulated garbage and schools that share space with drug dealers. Less than 50 meters from the main square of Puente Alto are the burned remains of the Tottus supermarket, of the Falabella chain, which left the place never to return. At the Solidarity Pharmacy, half a dozen people line up to buy cheap drugs. Lady Suárez is a 39-year-old stylist. He will not go to vote because, he says, he does not believe in politics, but his entire family will mark Boric's ballot on Sunday. “His defense of women is the most important thing for Boric,” he says, “but many will vote for the least bad, and the least bad is Boric.”

A man seeks among the garbage in Puente Alto, Santiago de Chile, on December 16, 2021. Juan Eduardo López

“Here the outbreak [social] was very strong,” recalls Alejandra Fernández, 37, a collaborator of an independent councilor of the municipality. “There were many protests against [el presidente, Sebastián] Piñera and Boric here has a very good image, because Kast has Nazi traits. I voted for [Marco Enriquez] Ominami [candidato progresista que quedó sexto en la primera vuelta], but now I will vote for Boric. I prefer a yellow to a Nazi ”, he maintains, and refers to the color that distinguishes those politicians who change their opinion according to need. Fernández is sitting on a bench in the plaza, 100 meters from a gas station that the protesters tried to blow up in 2019. A spray painting recalls those months of tension: “Paco [policía] rapist, death to male ”.

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The riots that marked the last two years of the Chilean political agenda have much to do with the vote to the left of the marginal areas of Santiago. “The popular or popular middle class communes were re-politicized after the outbreak and affirmed themselves in territorial terms with the pandemic,” explains Axel Callís, sociologist and electoral analyst, director of the site. “In those areas there were many popular assemblies and youth participation increased significantly. This is what explains Boric's support, both in Santiago and in other cities ”, he explains.

Marcela Ríos, UNDP political scientist, highlights the importance of the young vote, concentrated above all in popular municipalities. After the riots, “the participation of voters between 18 and 29 years old grew, interested in supporting the start of the constituent process. Many of those young people did not go to the polls in the first round, but polls show that their preferences favor the candidate of the left. Urban voters support to a greater extent the drafting of a new Constitution and a civil and social rights agenda, very much in line with what Boric proposes ”, explains Ríos.

A cart pulled by a horse drives down a street in La Pintana, Santiago de Chile, on December 16, 2021. Juan Eduardo López

In La Pintana Boric obtained 29% of the votes, compared to 16% of Kast. Its streets crowded with social houses share space with fields where cows eat or vineyards grow. The mayor of La Pintana, the Christian Democrat Claudia Pizarro, openly supports Boric. One of his accomplishments was convincing Walmart to reopen its supermarket, looted and burned twice. Architect Ivan Poduje, a scholar of the consequences of the 2019 riots in Santiago, says that the poorest areas suffered the most from the violence. “No supermarkets were burned in Las Condes, two thirds of all the destruction was concentrated in communes like La Pintana. The promoters of the protests live in rich neighborhoods, and they do not want fire in their house. ”

In La Pintana the big problem is participation. On November 21, 60% stayed home. Raúl González is 48 years old and for 40 years he has dedicated himself “to street commerce”. Now he has in his hand a hose that he will use to make “juices” that he sells in a central corner of the town. “I voted for [Michelle] Bachelet, I voted for Piñera, but now I am not going to vote. Nobody gives solutions, “he says. “Boric's big problem is getting those communes to vote en masse,” warns Mauricio Morales. “In La Pintana, for example, 40% of the people voted in the last election, but in Vitacura [un municipio rico lindante con Las Condes] 70% did. If the poor communes do not go out to vote, Kast could reduce the distance in Santiago “, he says.

In front of the Tottus supermarket, permanently closed after being set on fire and looted during street protests in Puente Alto, Santiago de Chile, on December 16, 2012. Juan Eduardo López

Carolina Páez, a 35-year-old commercial employee, will vote for Boric, but more out of fear of Kast than out of conviction . In the first round he campaigned for Franco Parisi, third in the final results, and regretted then that his neighbors were “more concerned with washing the car” than in the election. “It is a very low vote,” he complains. Convincing those who abstained on November 21 is the main challenge for Boric, the urban candidate.

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