Who is Gabriel Boric, and Why Should Croatians Take Notice?

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Small Town Croatian-Chilean to the Presidency

Born in Punta Arenas, a city near the southern tip of the American continent, Boric was born to Luis Boric Scarpa, a second-generation Croatian-Chilean engineer with origins on the Adriatic Island of Ugljan. His mother was Marìa Soledad Font Aguilera, of Catalan descent. Even though his father’s ancestors left the then Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1897, Boric still has relatives on the island, demonstrating the strong ties Croatian maintain with the diaspora.

During his youth, Boric studied at The British School in his hometown. After completing high school, he moved to Santiago, where he enrolled in law school at the University of Chile (though he never graduated), where he was involved with student politics. During this time, he became president of the University of Chile Student Federation. While president of the student federation, he witnessed the second wave of protests for reform of the Chilean educational system, a movement that started in response to policies that were relics of the Pinochet dictatorship of the 20th century. Boric became one of the leading spokespersons from the Federation of Chilean Students, gaining him initial recognition within the political sphere.

Boric took the next step in his career in 2013 when he ran as an independent in his first parliamentary election, campaigning in his home region of Magallanes. Despite being outside of either of the Chilean traditional bi-nominal coalitions, he won, taking a seat on the Commissions for Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples. Since then, Boric has been a consistent voice for education reforms and youth issues.

Leading During a Time of Change

After winning reelection in 2017 by an increased margin, Boric became part of a new political group called the Social Convergence, which resulted from a merger of a previous social-liberal party he was previously associated with. In 2019, protests erupted in the capital, initiated by a proposed increase in public transit tariffs. This marked the beginning of a significant socio-political shift within Chile, a trend that would eventually lead to Boric’s election as president.

Boric’s road to the presidency was not immediately clear. Last year, election polls showed two of his opponents Sebastián Sichel and then José Antonio Kast, as front runners for the position. Boric came second to Kast in the first round, moving on to the second round. On 19 December 2021, Boric won the second round, and on 11 March 2022, he was sworn in as president of the Republic of Chile. “Before the people, I make my pledge,” he said.

Chile is a country in search of change. For many, Boric and his political allies represent a move away from deep-rooted social inequality, which affects income, healthcare, and education. His administration will conduct a referendum on a new national constitution, replacing the Magna Carta implemented by Augustino Pinochet’s dictatorship.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and military aggression in Eastern Europe, Boric is leading his country during a time of significant historical adjustment. With a cabinet mainly containing young people, the South American nation is set to begin a political cycle focused on the feminists, environmentalist, and social-democratic views that permeate amongst the youth of Chile and much of the world at large.

Boric will have to contend with the aftermath of a pandemic, high inflation, and political divisions that pose a tangible threat to the young leader’s visions of healthcare, pension, and environmental reforms. So, as inauguration festivities unfold and diplomates gather in Santiago to congratulate the second-youngest head of state, a nation waits in anticipation for the sweeping reforms they were promised during the election campaign.

For Croatia and the members of its far-flung diaspora, Gabriel Boric serves as an example of the achievements of the descendants of emigrants who left long ago. These people would likely never be able to imagine the success that their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would ever achieve. Regardless of political affiliation, Croatia will take notice of Gabriel Boric because his story is a testament to the emigrant story that the southeastern European nation knows so well.

For more on politics in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.


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