SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile’s President Gabriel Boric faces a deeply polarized country, rising crime and a divisive upcoming vote on a new constitution. But his life is like a dream while attending the Pan American Games in his country’s capital.
Boric drew loud applause at the National Stadium on Oct. 20 when he opened the 41-nation games, which have given him with both a respite from politics and an easy way to generate positive publicity amid his deeply faltering popularity.
He looked glad to be filmed as he punched the air during a Chile vs. Argentina women’s basketball match, signed autographs during the judo, sat casually in sunglasses at the beach volleyball and showed surprising interest for swimming as he stood up during the races.
The 37-year-old Boric is expected to remain in fan mode until the closing ceremony Sunday, and has been busy using social media to highlight his attendance and his support of all Chileans, while glossing over glitches including reports of thefts and robberies at the venues.
“Let’s keep supporting our players in Santiago,” Boric said. “These Pan American Games have shown our country is ready for big things and that sports are an option for the young. Sports make us good as country. Let’s keep building the Chile we want.”
Fernanda Rocha, 22, wore a Chilean soccer shirt and said she came to watch athletics on Tuesday in the hopes that Boric also would attend.
“We need to give him the energy to keep going. I am sure he understands that too when he comes to watch sports. He knows it is a tough moment,” the law school graduate said.
She was sitting by one of the main gates of the National Stadium, where a sign reminds Chileans of the torture committed there in 1973 after the coup d’état against President Salvador Allende.
The Pan American Games, the largest multi-sport event in the Americas, are held once every four hears ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Having Chile host the games this time has given Boric, a leftist elected in March 2022, “a late honeymoon” and made Chileans more benevolent toward him as the sports unfold, said Marcelo Mella, a political scientist at Universidad de Santiago.
After the games, Boric returns to a political polarization that has prevented his administration from moving forward in congress or on economic matters, including on proposals to change the pension system and reform the tax code to finance welfare programs, Mella said.
The normal routine has been suspended due to the games, but once they’re over it’s back to a political landscape “that is very complex to manage,” Mella told The Associated Press. “It’s going to be a hard landing.”
Just two days after the closing ceremony, Chile’s right-leaning constitutional council will hand him a new proposed charter drafted over the past several months and approved by all 33 voters on the right. Boric’s left gathered only 17 votes against the draft.
Many allies and supporters of the current administration say the proposed draft might be even more conservative than the one inherited from the authoritarian regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). They say its wording referring to the expulsion as soon as possible of foreigners who entered the country illegally will lead to tougher migration laws, and that its wording implying life before birth will lead to tight restrictions on abortion.
The new charter will be put to a vote after Chileans rejected the first one in 2022 by 62%. That document was too much to the left for many voters, and its defeat was a personal loss for Boric. He was elected president with the support of many voters who were eager to remove any traces of the dictatorship in the country’s governance through street protests.
Recent polls suggest most Chileans will refuse the new draft too in a vote on Dec. 17, which could further polarize the country and delay a process that was expected to regroup the nation and bring back social peace.
Defeated presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, one of the most prominent voices of the country’s opposition, has criticized Boric and members of his administration for spending too much time at the games.
“What a shame how they are abusing the Pan American Games and hurting the great achievements of Chile,” Kast said in his social media channels after one of Boric’s many appearances as a fan. “Let the players be celebrated on their own, and get to work.”
The Pan American Games gave Boric a slight boost in his faltering popularity. Some polls have shown his support at about one third of Chileans, which is more than he has had since the first constitutional draft was rejected in September 2022.
Holding the Pan American Games has not been all good news for Boric. Organizational glitches have included debris and construction equipment that remained strewn around venues several days before opening day. Robberies and thefts around the events have eroded confidence in the government’s ability to handle the country’s public security crisis.
More than 30% of Chileans told a recent poll by Fundación Paz Ciudadana they were afraid of being victims of a crime. That is the highest percentage in 23 years.
Ride-sharing app driver Oscar Miguel Santos, who arrived in Chile six years ago from his native Venezuela, said crime has clearly worsened during his time here.
“Those in government are enjoying themselves watching sports, but it is risky out here. I carried two tourists who had just been robbed near the Peñalolen Park after beach volleyball,” Santos said. “It wasn’t like this when I got here. Of course, people blame the president.”
The homicide rate in Chile about doubled from 2016 to last year, going from 3.6 for every 100,000 residents to 7 per 100,000, according the Chilean prosecutors’ office
In addition to attending the Pan American Games, Boric found some time during the country’s national holiday last Wednesday to take some pictures of Halloween trick-or-treating in Santiago. Starting next week, he must go back to facing his real-life political demons.