Imagine a presidential candidate presenting himself as Benito Mussolini’s choice. This is the case in Chile if we replace il Duce with the brutal Augusto Pinochet. And that candidate is leading the polls for the upcoming presidential elections of November 21 in Chile.

"If he were alive, he would vote for me." Identifying his politics as a continuation of the work of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, these were in 2017 the words of the current Chilean far-right populist candidate, José Antonio Kast. He repeated them a few days ago.

The connection of Kast with fascism and dictatorship is not only related to Mussolini, it also runs deep in the family.

The son of a former Nazi army officer, Michael Kast, who emigrated to Chile at the end of World War II and the brother of a former Pinochet minister, Kast makes xenophobia an axis of his policy. He also stokes the fire of conspiracies and paranoias, baselessly denouncing the possibility of electoral fraud should he lose. As in the cases of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Italian populists like Matteo Salvini or Giorgia Meloni, or the Spanish post-fascists of VOX,  these words seem taken from a manual of fascism, in which democracy takes a back seat displaced by the myth of the dictator and the legitimacy of his heirs.

As a populist candidate Kast seeks to differentiate himself from traditional dictatorial methods. This election will decide the direction the country takes, especially two years after one of the most important protests in its history. The center-leftist candidate Gabriel Boric (Approve Dignity) proposes to channel a series of demands (mainly those related to access to public services and fair pensions), which are also being discussed in the Constituent Convention that drafts the new letter that will replace the of the dictator Pinochet. It is the first constitution written in democracy, and with a joint Convention, with representation of native peoples and legitimized with a vote of 78%.

The world is witnessing how populism is getting closer to fascism and, following Bolsonaro, Kast presents himself as an alternative to a supposedly abysmal terminal crisis of politics. This type of populism combines the defense of past dictatorships, defense of neoliberalism and a repressive policy of "law and order", but in reality they promote disorder, paranoia and division.

Chilean Republican Party presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast, speaks to supporters during an electoral camping rally in Valdivia, Chile, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Chile will hold its presidential election on Nov. 21. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Saavedra)

Unlike leaders like Hitler and Mussolini, would-be fascists accuse their adversaries of being fascists. In 2020, Kast argued that “Fascism is strongly installed in Chile and it does so at the hands of the Medical College and other left-wing NGOs that seek to divide and discriminate between infected and non-infected Chileans, have 'health agents' and other anti-democratic proposals ”. Following the incongruity of his conspiratorial brand of politics, he also denounced a campaign of civilizing destruction supposedly based on the thought of Michel Foucault.

Unlike his campaign ads, in his presidential program and — of course — in his questionable record, Kast denounces the “betrayal” of the “traditional right” and personifies himself as the Chilean standard-bearer of a global “new right”.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro, Salvini, Narendra Modi in India, and Victor Orban in Hungary, Kast replaces the historical with the fabrication of myths about the past and at the same time accuses his enemies of "falsifying history." He also promotes xenophobia and hatred of what is different while accusing his opponents of promoting "totalitarianism." In short, there is nothing new in this Bolsonarist project for Chile. And like Trump and Bolsonaro, Kast bases his policies on conspiracy fantasies and repressive promises, but he does so with a thoughtfully measured tone as if he were a gentle, sedated Bolsonaro. The result is a facade of respectability that tries to moderate the extreme contents of his ideology.

Kast is thus also presented as a response to a crisis of representation, although he has been in politics for decades. His speech is as empty as it is effective.

In its "guiding principles", the Kast movement maintains: "We believe in good and truth as objective realities." And next step suggests that freedom should be opposed to equality. Kast appeals to a particular notion of "order", with a closed defense of the police forces (despite the denunciations for their repressive actions). According to Kast, “We are at a turning point. We must stop the explosion of violence and the reign of crime that is transforming the daily lives of thousands of Chileans into a true nightmare ”. It should not be surprising that his proposal questions the existence of order and law, although he does state that he speaks on their behalf.

Chilean Republican Party presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast greets supporters during an electoral camping rally in Valdivia, Chile, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Chile will hold its presidential election on Nov. 21. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Saavedra)

This appeal to “violence” is not gratuitous: it is a reference to the social mobilization deployed after October 2019 in Chile, which openly questioned the country's political, economic and social system. But it is also an excuse to dismantle advances in social rights. This fits quite well into the "cultural, ideological and programmatic battle" to which his movement appeals, and which translates - among other examples - into a defense of the family made up solely of mother, father and children, as well as to deny women the right to abortion.

If his proposals are applied, their effects will have continental repercussions: Kast and his team see immigration as a problem that threatens "national independence" and "has a destructive effect" on the "republican integrity" of the country. After what happened in the north of Chile, in Iquique, when a mob set fire to the belongings of immigrants in broad daylight, their proposal represents the worst way to deal with the problem.

Kast himself has stated that the ideal thing is to build a big ditch ("fosso”) on the northern border, so that it prevents the entry of immigrants. While Trump promoted the construction of a wall to combat an alleged invasion of rapists and criminals (the Mexican “bad hombres”) and - more recently - the coronavirus, Kast presents the idea of a well that would separate Chile from its problems. "If you make a ditch three meters deep, with fences so that no one falls inside, it is feasible and quite inexpensive," he declared in a presidential debate last October.

In recent weeks, Kast has increased his proposals for ditches and lies about electoral fraud, demonstrating in fact a closeness with Trump and Bolsonaro that he relativizes in recent interviews. Kast represents a normalization of Pinochet's legacy, but also his populist aggiornamento for the present times. A central difference between populism and fascism is that, for populists, electoral results matter. Instead, fascism implies permanent power, regardless of the ballot box.

Thus, like Trump and Bolsonaro, Kast wants to clarify these differences, but he presents his candidacy precisely as a defense of Chile's democracy against totalitarianism and fascism. It is typical of fascist-type propaganda to speak of freedom and democracy when in reality its candidates, like the Chilean politician, represent exactly the opposite.

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