In Chile, will meekness make a strong leader?

A new president promises broad dialogue and a gradual approach. Can such humility help win a liberal agenda?

A banner welcomes Chile's incoming president, Gabriel Boric, to his new residence in Santiago, March 8.

 In manner and style, Gabriel Boric has not changed since becoming president-elect of Chile three months ago. He still walks through his scruffy Santiago neighborhood in shorts and hiking boots. Patrons at a local lunch shop now call his favorite sandwich – avocado and tomato with extra mayonnaise – “el presidente.” When he takes the oath of office March 11, he won’t be wearing a tie. “We represent fresh air, youth, novelty,” he told BBC.

At a time when faltering governance in Latin America is tilting public support toward authoritarian rule, Mr. Boric represents something else, too: the possibility that societies, like individuals, are more open to reinvention through a commitment to widely shared values.

Mr. Boric has become the new face of a country striving for change not by abandoning democracy because of its shortcomings, but through a determination to realize its potential. Just 10 years ago, he was a prominent student protester. His presidential campaign arose in part from demands for a new constitution drafted and approved by the people.

Chile has the most stable economy in Latin America. But it is also one of the world’s most imbalanced. The richest 1% own a quarter of the country’s wealth. To fix that, Mr. Boric has promised to raise taxes to pay for, among other things, universal health care. Yet such liberal goals face hard economic realities. The pandemic has resulted in higher inflation rates and slower growth.

He also faces political obstacles. His party holds small minorities in both chambers of the Congress. He has already backed off his proposals to ease immigration requirements.

But Mr. Boric enters office with strong tail winds as well. The youngest person ever elected president, he also garnered the most votes in history. His agenda is deeply rooted in the feminist wave that has gathered strength across the region in recent decades. He enters office with Chile’s first predominantly female Cabinet.

He acknowledges that revolutionaries are not historically well known for patience and consensus-building. “I always start with trust in people and in the idea that we all want to build a better country,” he told a conference of business executives in January. “Radicalism is not in who shouts the loudest. The changes we are aiming at must be carried out with a broad dialogue and without exclusions – with gradualness and fiscal responsibility.”

It is not just neckties that the new president eschews. He has said he will continue to live in his modest home in one of Santiago’s grittier barrios rather than in the presidential mansion. In Chile, a radical agenda of humility in governance may be starting.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to In Chile, will meekness make a strong leader?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today