From Santiago

In less than a year, the current Chilean Minister of the Interior, Izkia Siches went from being the great face of the opposition to Piñera to be a burden for the government of Gabriel Boric, whose contribution was vital in the second round thanks to his charisma and ability to mobilize citizens. In fact, she was on stage the night of the victory almost like a de facto president and was invited to La Moneda for the first meeting with former president Sebastián Piñera. Nevertheless, after a chain of errors —highlighted over and over again by the media, which in turn have escalated on social networks— her role as minister, on which she depends safety of the country, has been “submarined”, which in trans-Andean jargon means hidden. He even changed the way she dresses, going to dark tones, her face is no longer smiling and he has declared that “temperance is my new partner”. A phrase that, in this context, seeks to explain his departure from the script, the most serious, when he announced in a tone more of gossip than serious accusation, that a plane with immigrants expelled from Chile bound for Venezuela, during the previous government, he had returned with the same people. All this before the Citizen Security Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. Previously, in March 2021, still as president of the Medical College (Colmed), just before taking pregnancy leave, she had treated the government as “unhappy” in a podcast called “La Cosa Nostra”, in a gesture that only surprised those who They did not know her in that facet.

This week has been strong the rumor of a resignation. All this from another rumor about the dismissal of his chief of staff, oncologist Roberto Estay, someone who is accused of lacking communication experience and responsible for the minister’s communication errors. Siches came out to defend him, wondering how this data is leaked to the press. Some political analysts even pointed out, half jokingly, half seriously, that the government has a direct line above all with Thirda newspaper as far to the right as The Mercurybut with a certain more progressive reputation, thanks to its digital design, cultural content and that it was chosen by Boric to speak on May 1, where he stressed the need to reach broad agreements and in passing outlined an idea that would later gain more momentum : open up to alternatives in case the “Rejection” wins in the plebiscite for the new Constitution, such as, it is commented, carrying out a new constituent process, this time with experts.

Izkia, the influential

It was the first female president of the Medical College (Colmed) and confronted President Piñera several times, criticizing his management of the pandemic, at a time when mass vaccination was an unthinkable measure. The “story of her” she herself made it clear in the interviews: “The presidents of Colmed were always men, white and mostly conservative. I am a woman, young, from the left, dark-haired, from Arica, half Aymara, with slanted eyes, raised in Maipú, educated in a spicy school [villero] that no one knows.” If we add her past as a member of the Communist Youth when she studied at the University of Chile, becoming a University Senator (2010-2012), her connection with certain members of the Broad Front (such as Gabriel Boric himself) and her dealings with the media, evoking Michelle Bachelet, became something of a celebrity during the pandemic. About to appear in the magazine Time as one of the 100 leaders for 2021 with a text written by the former president of Chile where she stated that “Millions of Chilean voters share their dreams of a modern health service, giving hope that Izkia is here to stay. However, just three days after taking office, Boric was greeted with bullets in Araucanía, in a visit that is admitted today was poorly planned, then came the episode of Piñera’s planes, then the government spokeswoman herself, Camila Vallejo, admitted in front of her that they have made “mistakes” (to then be seconding her in all the press outlets) and finally her management is evaluated as “weak” during the truckers’ strike that affects the country to this day. Siches, however, claims to have Boric’s support, although in practice the person who figures most is the second on board: Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve. It is even rumored that he could replace her or her, the former mayor of Santiago, Carolina Tohá.

A new Bachelet?

The professor at the Catholic University and co-director of the SocialLab UC network listening laboratory, Eduardo Arriagada, believes that the mistake is to outline her as a new Bachelet. “The objective of constituting a maternal figure or a Bachelet 2 seems wrong to me. What Chile needs is another idea from Izkia. Someone capable of, as other analysts have already said, uniting allies and adversaries. I was in the summer of 2019 talking in La Moneda, trying to enlighten the government to take up the issue of ‘dignity’, encouraging them to use social networks and respond directly to Siches when he referred to the government. And indeed there was a meeting the following week. The academic says that he measured the perception in social networks —as a great mirror of what Chileans think— and it was “incredible”. “She is a character capable of dialogue and reaching solutions. And that is what is required.”

He also alludes to a cultural issue: “the arrogance of doctors”, something that has also happened, for example, with former Minister Mañalich. “There is a feeling of power and security that I believe the career gives them, and that makes it very difficult for them to understand and understand advice on very broad issues in which they have cultural deficits. Her pride and the environment of professionals that she herself chose, in terms of analyzing the situations and seeing the communications, are a probable cause of the errors. In any case, the sector of the population that supports the government has not spoken. Due to the empathy that Boric generates and for having had minor but similar errors, the minister will have room to move forward.”

communication obsession

The sociologist, former presidential candidate and one of the hosts of “La Cosa Nostra”, Alberto Mayol provides other details: “She entered a ministry that no one wanted to take. The logical thing was that it was Giorgio Jackson, with experience in the world of the state and with leadership in the government coalition, but he did not want to. Izkia Siches did not know the central issues framed in the functions that she must fulfill in the Ministry of the Interior, but she cannot exercise the leadership of the committee of ministers either because she simply does not have a power structure in the coalition. She also does not manage an intelligence team that allows her to know who to work with with the Carabineros de Chile, for example. And to top it off, the central group of power in the government is fundamentally a club of friends to which she does not belong. Base conditions were never good. She trusted her abilities, but the truth is that no one has been able to deal with the ministry’s problems with minimal sufficiency for years”.

And deepens: “This government lives to the point of obsession focused on communication problems, communicational operations and communicational consequences. In his first video of him as a minister, Giorgio Jackson was shown working in his office in La Moneda and showed that he was reading The Mercury. And they spend their time worrying about what the press says they hate the most. The question to know if they do it well is simple: is the government’s political line consistent with its communication? That is the question. Having a competent and articulate spokeswoman in front of the press, a talented President before the microphone; It does not mean that you know how to do government communication. So, although we cannot say that he dismisses communication work (because sometimes he even considers it excessively important), it is no less true that the absence of a political strategy translated into a communication strategy generates an effect of lack and even clumsiness” .

The male chauvinism

From the Network of Political Scientists #Nosinmujeres, the UC academic Isabel Castillo maintains that the Izkia issue is a case that reflects the lack of a profession, “which is normal and common for people who are new to politics: where and how to say things, suspect some information received. The difference is that your learning has to happen in the central cabinet postso the scrutiny is very intense and in a world of social media there is not much room for error.

There is also a problem with her teams that seem not to be giving her the information in a timely manner, which exposes her (it was seen the other day as a result of a supermarket looting, about which she said she had no information).

And from the outside it seems that the episode affected his confidence, so he has avoided further exposure and has kept a lower profile.”

What does happen is that the installation of the government has been complex. “It is a government without previous experience in the State, except for the Socialist Party (and to a lesser extent the Communist) which until now is not a central part of the government coalition. Possibly, what the installation implies was underestimated, the large number of positions that the executive must appoint, etc. The first time Piñera came to government something similar happened because they didn’t have people and experience in the state either.

And this government has the additional difficulty that it is made up of two different coalitions (I Approve Dignity and Progressive Convergence from the former Coalition) and I think that relationship has not yet been resolved well.

The UDP political scientist, Nerea Palma, a member of the same network, says that this government has a style or way of communicating that is different from what we have been used to in Chile. “That’s not why it seems to me that communication work is dismissed. In fact, it seems to me that, for example, the performance of the government spokesperson, Camila Vallejo, has been very outstanding, showing leadership, security, and assertiveness when it comes to make statements.”

And it closes: So far as the government goes, Minister Siches has taken false steps, has made unfortunate statements, and has also made unforced communication errors. I share the opinion of other colleagues who say that, in the same context, but with a more advanced period of government such as 6 months or 1 year, most likely, she would have been asked to resign or she would have resigned. However, President Boric has decided to endorse it on more than one occasion. Even after the episode, so far, more critical as her statements in the Constitution Commission at the beginning of April. My reading is that both the president and his close circle (such as the political committee) have not wanted to let go of one of the most important figures in the campaign, especially during the second round. After all, the portfolio that was chosen for Izkia Siches was the most important in the cabinet, which was obviously no accident.”

Consequently, adds the expert, it seems to me that, given the importance of Siches in the campaign, the president and the power leadership within the government still harbors hope that the figure of the interior minister will recover her leadership and popularity. An example of this was the blow on the table that meant the deadline given by the Minister of the Interior to the paralysis and obstruction of one of the most important highways in the country by her. From my point of view, it was sought to reinforce the image of the minister as an authority, and an important role within the government. However, the desired effect was not achieved.

Finally, it is difficult for the minister to regain the leadership and importance that she had since the presidential campaign. It seems that the government wants to protect her image by leaving her in the background and trusting other actors, such as Minister Vallejo, to communicate and be one of the visible faces of the government.

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