Piñera, La Gordis and Chilezuela

Right-wing Sebastián Piñera just won the presidency of Chile and will be taking over after many years of leftie Bachelet rule. What does this mean for the huge Venezuelan expat community down South?

While Venezuela’s latest municipal elections ended with a predictable fizzle of indifference, Chile —the land of Condorito, unintelligible diction, earthquakes and a stable economy—just had the second round of its presidential elections, where billionaire and right-wing candidate Sebastián Piñera won with 54,57 % of votes, over former journalist and leftist Alejandro Guillier.

While many Venezuelans cheer for Chileans having dodged that bullet (Guiller’s government plan even mentioned a dreaded “Constituyente“), others might be asking themselves ¿y esa vaina que tiene que ver con nosotros? 

Chile and Venezuela have a long history of migration: Besides Venezuelan founding father Andrés Bello making Chile his second home (and becoming far more celebrated there than in his birthplace), Venezuela became a sanctuary for several thousand Chileans who fled the Pinochet regime between the 70s and 80s. Many of those immigrants became Venezuelans citizens, bearing and raising children who are now returning to their parents’ birthplace fleeing this crisis-torn land. The number of Venezuelans applying for residency status and work visas these last few years has grown from from 1,542 applications in 2013, to 32,089 in 2017).

For Rodrigo, a Venezuelan mechanical engineer, Caracas Chronicles contributor and resident of Chile for three years now, these Presidential elections didn’t mean much. “I read about the candidates and their plans, but that was it. I figured Piñera would make it to the second round, since he’s so popular, and I did have a slight preference for him, because of Guillier’s ties to Camila Vallejo, defender of Maduro’s regime. I didn’t want no lefties in charge.”

Rodrigo’s perspective is similar to María Isabel’s, a 62 year-old Chilean who lived in Venezuela most of her life. Almost two years ago, she went back to her home country and she’s now taking care of an elderly couple.

The number of Venezuelans applying for residency status in Chile has grown from from 1,542 in 2013, to 32,089 in 2017.

“At 62, there weren’t many job opportunities in Venezuela, a country I moved to when I was 20. I moved back to Chile, but I consider myself a Venezuelan.”

She was surprised by the huge contrast in representation from all sides of the political spectrum present in the Chilean race, something that would be odd in a Venezuelan election. “Right, left and center had candidates, and they offered everything they could. There was populism and demagoguery, in alliance against Piñera, who leaned on social concerns and the middle class.”

“That being said” she adds, “people here are political adversaries, not enemies. I expect Piñera can meet his promises so many more immigrants can come. I hear that foreigners with problems, like criminal pasts, will have a harder time getting in, which are filters that already exist, in one way or another”.

In a country where legal immigration is welcome—according to this October’s Empresas y Migrantes Survey, 68% of Chileans referred to foreigners as “hardworking, responsible people”—Venezuelans make up 31% of resident foreigners, having dethroned Peruvians as the biggest expat community there. And out of this 31%, a whopping majority have college degrees and significant working experience, making them unique among other Latino migrant communities.

She was surprised by the huge contrast in representation from all sides of the political spectrum present in the Chilean race, something that would be odd in a Venezuelan election.

Take Ivana, for example, a 20 year-old girl who migrated from Venezuela less than a year ago, now working in retail and starting a master’s degree program in literature next March. “Piñera ran on a sort of fear campaign, with ‘Chilezuela’” she says. “This is a nation whose political climate is still recovering from the dictatorship years. The left perceives inequality as an open wound, with the social security system giving very little money while health and education are very expensive. Piñera, however, seems to understand some of those issues (although maybe he was desperate for support).”

While Chileans are pondering whether Piñera’s victory will boost the economy and undo all the crap La Gordis did, or make them return to the times of El General, it’s safe to say that for those Venezuelans who fled the scourge of 21th century socialism, there’s at least one reason to celebrate on this happy holiday.

Lorena Caraballo

Lorena writes for a living since 2010. She likes comics, animation and mixing slang. People always ask her about her accent.