David Gallagher in London, England, 2018. Jeff Spicer (Getty Images)
David Gallagher (Valparaíso, 78 years old), academic, businessman, literary expert and symbol of the Chilean liberals, finds himself in an unusual place politically: in 1999-2000 he voted for Ricardo Lagos, the first socialist arrival after Salvador Allende in La Moneda – a great fear for the conservative sectors of Chile at the time – and in the second government of Sebastián Piñera between 2018 and 2 022 , was Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Gallagher, who he said will be played by a disheveled centre-right party player, has been in Chile permanently since March last year, analyzing his country’s politics in a conversation from London, where he is temporarily holidaying.
Questions. How do you see Chile after five years living abroad?
Answer. Much has changed since the social outburst of October 2019. Until then, as Ambassador, I had promoted a country with 30 years of sustained growth that appeared to be on the verge of development, although momentum had waned in Michelle Bachelet’s second government (2014-2018), where average growth dropped to around 1.8%. This, of course, accumulated dissatisfaction and disappointment.
Q. And what are the biggest challenges for the country now?
R. Resumption of growth so that real wages and tax revenues increase as activity increases. And make sure that growth reaches everyone. Reform the state so that it serves its citizens more efficiently, that tax revenues are better distributed, and that the state does not serve as spoils – through jobs or contracts – for the victorious party. The latter is an issue that’s been talked about a lot lately, regardless of the government’s stance. On the other hand, we must strive for a society in which there are more equal opportunities and equal treatment.
Q. Does the right wing in Chile have an advantage today considering the presidential elections in 2025?
R. The Chilean right has a huge advantage for 2025. She would have to be very inept not to win. But they show little. Boric’s government is making mistake after mistake. On the right side this seems to be sufficient. He lacks the vision of the country. Instead of seducing us with future projects, they continue to question or prosecute ministers, the same pathetic practice of the left when the right was in power. There are also many fights between them.
Q. The issue of cannibalism is a matter for the Chilean right.
R. The traditional right is not like the PP, but consists of three parties that criticize each other. Finally, the Republican issue, our Vox counterpart, is a formidable dilemma. It would be healthy for Chile if the Republicans moderated. There, some imitation of the traditional right would be less serious. That a solid centre-right party has emerged. The same thing left-wingers long for, a center-left reconsolidation like the Concertación that so successfully ruled Chile between 1990 and 2010.
Q. And how is the Boric government doing? To what extent has the treaty case affected you?
R. The new young left coming to power with Boric believes they are morally superior to previous generations. They accused them of succumbing to the neoliberal model, placing negotiations above noble principles, and being fundamentally pragmatic. Boric learned that this speech was arrogant, that, as he says himself, it’s different with the guitar, that good management is also important. In reality, the government’s management was terrible because of a lack of experience and a belief that well-intentioned rhetoric was enough without the discomfort of having to stick to what was promised. In all of this, the fall of the Accords has been fatal because it undermines the claim to moral superiority once and for all.
Q. And what do you think of the tax reform that the government wants to implement? Is it realizable?
R. The agreement case was fatal for the tax reform. The argument that the state needs more tax revenue to fund social spending is undermined when it is revealed that this revenue has been misappropriated and ended up in the hands of party members. Likewise, I believe that it should be possible to reach an agreement: that some tax increase will increase tax revenue, as long as there are deep reforms to make the state more efficient.
Q. “The fact that the right wing and business people in Chile are refraining from tax reform is not healthy and not for the long term,” economist Dante Contreras told EL PAIS. What do you think?
R. It is caricature to say that rights and entrepreneurs are inherently opposed to tax reform. I believe that in Chile we are all patriots and want the good of the country in our disputes. The drama of Chile is the lack of growth, and any tax reform must take this into account. I think that’s what the right wing and business people are looking for. On the other hand, the left should rid itself of the conditioned reflex of always increasing taxes per se without measuring the effects.
Q. In the long run, has Chile lost the chance to make the leap forward in the coming decades?
A. I’m deeply optimistic and don’t know if I’m the right person to answer this question. I don’t think the option is lost. Boric’s government has begun to understand the need for growth, and I suspect future governments will understand this more and more.
Q. And do you have the same hopes in the constitutional process?
R. I hope the process leads to a good constitution. For this, I place my hopes in the Republicans, who, together with the traditional right, dominate the convention and therefore do not come up with a constitution for a minority of Chileans, as we rejected on September 4, 2022. Now it will be a liberal constitution, hopefully an improved version of the constitution we already have, albeit not so different as the latter largely reflects our constitutional tradition.
Q. What would happen in Chile if the public again rejected the text in December?
R. Wow, what a nightmare and what a shame to have missed the opportunity to get out of this fateful topic! But I’m not ruling out a rejection. Chilean voters have become notoriously hostile. One can regard the new text as a new impertinence of the elites and reject it out of anger. In this case, we would proceed with the current constitution, which is said to have been written by Pinochet, although it has undergone many changes and is signed by President Ricardo Lagos. Fortunately, thanks to visionary reform by two senators, that can now be changed in Congress by a four-seventh majority.
Q. How do Chileans feel about the 50th anniversary of the coup in September?
The government of R. Boric wanted to achieve numerous political dividends with the 50th anniversary celebration. I think one can endure negative surprises. Because many of us condemn the coup while believing that Salvador Allende’s government was not only chaotic, but also enormously dangerous for those of us who don’t want Chile to become a country like Cuba. This year Chileans are learning a lot about what popular unity was and there is a lot in the Broad Front, not to mention the Chilean Communist Party that accompanies and resembles it. That is why there are many who fear that we will return to it and who wonder why Boric loves Unidad Popular so much. That doesn’t mean justifying the coup. It means rejecting the previous.
Q. President Boric has asked Chile’s political parties to sign a declaration condemning the 1973 coup. Do you think this is feasible?
R. I think it was doable until Boric made his invitation to it from a radio show in Spain, a formal error among the many he makes. Given this error, I think the statement should also be accompanied by a condemnation of future use of force to achieve political ends, as was the case with the outbreak and as was the case daily in popular unity. To assess this period, I recommend reading The Political Experience of Popular Unity.
Q. The mostly posthumous book by Patricio Aylwin that came out in Chile this month…
R. It is the testimony of one of the wisest and loveliest presidents we have had in our country, driving the return of our democracy. A statement that shows how terrible the pre-coup experience was for at least half of Chileans.