Gabriel Boric: From student protest leader to Chile’s youngest president

Gabriel Boric, who at 36 years old takes office on Friday as Chile’s youngest president, has been building towards this moment since childhood.

Even as a youth, Boric was a strong public speaker and fell naturally into politics, his younger brother recalled.

“When we were young, people always spoke about some of Gabriel’s obvious qualities, such as his rhetoric. My grandparents said, ‘This boy is going to be president.’ As a joke,” Simon Boric, 33, told Reuters.

“But then when he became interested in politics in high school, and then he went off to college and became law school student president, listening to him give speeches… you could see there was a political path starting to open up.”

That path, which included stints as a prominent student protest leader and a bearded, T-shirt-wearing lawmaker, has led Boric all the way to the presidency of the Andean nation, long seen as the sensible big brother in volatile South America.

Boric has assembled a majority-female cabinet, a mix of young progressives and technocrats. He has moderated since his election campaign last year when he pledged to rip up Chile’s vaunted market-orientated model.

The leftist leader faces a raft of challenges.

Even as the world’s top copper producer rewrites its constitution, he needs to balance growth with pledges to tighten environmental regulation and erase entrenched inequality dating to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

People who know him well argue his steely determination and listening skills will help him overcome a split Congress and heal rifts from a divisive election, which saw the far-right surge, if ultimately fall short.

“Determination has always been a key characteristic of Boric,” said Carlos Ruiz, director of the department of sociology and social sciences at the University of Chile, who taught him.

He described the young president as always having been interested in Chile’s rapid social changes. “That is an important value for the type of crossroads he has to face, because this historical crossroads is enormous,” he said.

TATTOOS AND TAYLOR SWIFT

Boric, who sports tattoos and likes rock music and pop star Taylor Swift, is a native of Punta Arenas in Chile’s far south. He attended the private British School before studying law at the University of Chile in Santiago, rising to prominence leading 2011 protests to demand better and more affordable education.

“We used to tease him, saying that this guy’s going to be president of Chile,” said Pazz Sanfurgo, one of Boric’s classmates at the British School, said he was des.

“It was because of his conviction. Not necessarily political conviction but his conviction to do what he wanted to do.”

Boric became a lower-house lawmaker, representing Chile’s vast and sparsely populated southernmost region of Magallanes. After anger over inequality sparked widespread social uprising in 2019, Boric became a key figure in ironing out the political agreement that led to a referendum to draft a new constitution.

While initially a long-shot candidate who barely reached the threshold of 35,000 signatures to run for president, Boric rose to lead a broad leftist coalition and ended winning by a landslide in a run-off against ultraconservative Jose Antonio Kast.

He has looked to build bridges with his opponents since, tweeting in January that revolutions were only truly successful when they were “capable of creating order” and bringing benefits and certainty even to those people who were against them.

His brother said Boric was loyal and committed, staying close to family and old friends. The new president is unlikely to succumb to political pressure and willing to listen to alternative points of view, he said.

“He is a fairly temperate person, who acts a lot out of conviction, not out of dogmatism,” he said. “If he does not agree, he is willing to debate and dialogue.”

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