Chile hard-right gains ground despite opposition

Image copyright Sankalp Ruparel/EyeEm Image caption Steve Bannon is pushing Steve King to face the prospect of losing his seat to a far-right candidate The ultranationalist former head of the right-wing Partido Socialista Chile…

Chile hard-right gains ground despite opposition

Image copyright Sankalp Ruparel/EyeEm Image caption Steve Bannon is pushing Steve King to face the prospect of losing his seat to a far-right candidate

The ultranationalist former head of the right-wing Partido Socialista Chile is gunning for re-election in November, despite heavy criticism over attitudes towards indigenous peoples.

Joe Rios is hoping to unseat Oscar Valdez, who has distanced himself from the far-right on issues of immigration and racism.

Like so many leftist and centrist candidates, Mr Valdez is not free of divisions, but is more focused on national issues.

His challenger is playing on them, and hoping to repeat the electoral success of his mentor, Manuel Villalta, who won a senate seat in 2011.

‘Great difficulty’

As part of its campaign ahead of the 4 November elections, Mr Rios’ party has spent almost a million dollars on door-to-door canvassing, and his team has attended a range of campaign events.

Image copyright Sankalp Ruparel/EyeEm Image caption Mr Rios chairs a board overseeing the management of Chile’s gold deposits

“I am going to do what I said in my first months in office, which was to work against corruption, support sovereignty, develop the economy, help the poor, promote peace, reject homophobia and racism and unite the country,” he told the press in his congressional bid.

“People now know that I am a moderate, because I have built bridges across the divide of the political centre”.

He has not been shy about his hard-line approach to illegal immigration into Chile.

As a minister in 2010, he said: “Let no enemy come within Chilean borders”.

The far-right views of his own party made clear in comments made in an interview in 2016.

“I’d say we’re a fanatic state, fully in favour of homeland patriotism and, obviously, a great difficulty is when people are going about in Chile without the dignity of this country.

“Is it Peru? Why can’t we expel those people?”

His pronouncements have attracted criticism.

“The election campaign in Chile looks very bad,” said Nicolas Conde of New York-based Latin American Solidarity, after visiting the country in July.

“Luxembourg has no racism or homophobia, and no one would ever vote for them on those grounds.

“But even worse, people here don’t respect their own laws or what the constitution says.”

Mr Valdez has so far avoided discussing immigration, but issued a statement when the opposition picked the Democratic Socialists (DS) candidate for its presidential ticket: “The DS does not, and will not, be part of any political party or movement trying to sow xenophobia and prejudice.”

Media images of white nationalist Steve Bannon meeting Mr Rios earlier this year show his support for his candidacy.

The alliance between Mr Rios and Mr Bannon looks unlikely to win more than a handful of votes, but that might not matter to the new far-right leader who is also a former special forces soldier.

“I’m surprised that people are surprised,” he told the Wall Street Journal, adding: “Chile is part of a society that’s growing more right-wing.”

Before he served as president of the minority national chamber of Deputies from 2003 to 2009, Mr Valdez was an aide in Chile’s presidential palace under Eduardo Frei.

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