The Interior portfolio has always been the most complex in the Chilean Government, not only because it is the most relevant position after the president; also because whoever directs it assumes matters such as political coordination, security and public order. A ministry that must put out multiple fires and that, for the first time in history, is headed by a woman.
The leadership of Izkia Siches (Arica, 36 years old), the first woman to lead the doctors’ union, exploded in the pandemic. She was a credible figure for the citizenry and became the counterpart of a government like Sebastián Piñera’s, which had everything against it and with the social outbreak of October 2019 still hot. Between the first and second presidential rounds, when Gabriel Boric was second behind José Antonio Kast, the far-right candidate, Siches resigned from the union position and went to campaign around the country with her month-old daughter in a bus. Later, she accepted the position of Interior. She did it without parliamentary or governmental experience, as the spearhead of a generation that burst into power just 10 years after her public debut. Siches did it without a party to support him. She is not a member of her and her team of advisers – mostly young – are the ones who accompanied her at the Medical College. She herself looks very young; more, even, than on television or in photographs.
The landing in Interior has been very complex. She debuted with a trip to the conflict zone in La Araucanía, where she was greeted with an attack. Later, before Congress, she made a complaint against the previous government that was not correct. Her popularity has fallen considerably: if in March she had 54% support, according to the Plaza Pública Cadem poll, in the last measurement she reached 33%. In a government that has also lost support – from 50% to 35%, according to the same poll – she has been the one who has fallen the most in the Cabinet.
There has been speculation about a change, although Boric himself has endorsed it and has publicly designated it as primus interpares before the other ministers. Despite her gross adversities, the minister is friendly and willing to expand. The interview with EL PAÍS should be brought forward an hour and the time available narrowed, because Siches’ agenda changes with the minutes, like the innumerable fires he has to put out.
Ask. Did you imagine the magnitude of the challenges that you were going to face from the Interior?
Response. One of the most overwhelming things is the amount of information that we have as the Ministry of the Interior, it is about registering all conflicts throughout the national territory, not just those that appear in the press or on social networks. Since the water is cut off, climatic events, homicides, accidents, roadblocks, protests. And all in real time, added to all the political crises that are going through. The daily contingency is more than one would have thought. Above all, access to information: knowing absolutely everything.
P. His landing has been complex, especially the attack he suffered in the hot zone of the conflict between the State and the Mapuche people.
R. I always knew that landing in this ministry was going to be complex, because there are many edges and a lot of work. But I think that every day we are seeing how the different problems can be solved. In the case of Temucuicui, beyond the magnitude and concern of the situation of violence in the area, I personally did not feel my life was at risk at any time. It may have been part of the adrenaline, perhaps, but I understood it as a protest, as it happens in many places in our country.
P. More than an attack, as you yourself defined it?
R. I live in a municipality in the great Santiago, Florida, I cross streets where there are often protests and also where drug trafficking prevails, with firearms… it is part of a real and deep challenge of Chile.
P. Has it been difficult for this government to understand the standard of a position and the institutional framework?
R. Only those who have belonged to the Executive could have that level of knowledge. None of the other previous functions, whether parliamentary, in mayorships or others, can dimension what it means to be in the Executive. Above all in the exercise of the presidency or, in my case, the Ministry of the Interior. In any case, I believe that there is a process of adaptation and learning. But this is also a great opportunity not to normalize the normal functioning of the State.
P. Is there anything in these two months that has discouraged you?
R. Perhaps one always has to deal with press speculation and personal aggression. And that is something that I -before taking office as minister and when I was asked about candidates- I always raised: we have a duty, as politicians and politicians, to work for a more friendly climate. That discourages very good profiles of brilliant people who would be a great contribution to the State, to Parliament, and who are not available because the environment is so toxic. There is pressure, from the political actors themselves. And to all of us who have assumed positions of representation or positions of presidential definition, we have had to live it with greater or lesser intensity.
P. You went from the presidency of a union to the Ministry of the Interior…
R. For me, who came from a much more protected space than the other ministers of the political committee [Camila Vallejo, Giorgio Jackson, Mario Marcel y Antonia Orellana] It has been a bit more aggressive. I have directly received many more disqualifications and aggressions.
P. And this matter affects you in your work?
R. In each of these attacks, instead of weakening, one becomes a little stronger. The skin hardens. And, above all, she is also pondering what things are important and what are not. And she is also feeling what is the situation of citizenship.
P. And what do you observe about citizenship?
R. In general, I continue to feel a lot of affection, a lot of support for our government and a lot of love for the president. That is very reassuring.
P. You have been criticized even from within your own coalition. Do you think friendly fire exists?
R. More than friendly fire, I believe that there are expectations in the performance of my position and we have been working hard as the Ministry of the Interior to precisely live up to those expectations. I hope that not only people from our coalition, but the citizenry, get to see the actions that we are undertaking.
P. Is your drop in the polls explained by high initial expectations?
R. We have been reviewing the various surveys and, obviously, they are snapshots of a moment. I am interested that, with our daily work, we can show citizens that we are in tune with their feelings and that we want the same results that they expect. Obviously, we have to work in some areas, but continue to show why we came to the Government, do it effectively and continue to see how we deal with people.
P. Don’t you feel like a victim of palace intrigues?
R. I understand that politics works in part like this. But he flatly rejected it. I think it’s a bad formula. I come from a political culture far removed from House of Cards and of fights and internal quarrels. I am very resistant to off the record and to the hallway gossips. I believe in a collective policy that, more than competitive, seeks to join the efforts of the different portfolios. More than elbows, we dedicate ourselves to promoting a project that is not only good for our Government, but also for Chile.
P. At what point does Boric’s government take over?
R. Our Government assumes at a time when many of the wounds that come from the social outbreak have not finished healing. We have had to take charge of different challenges that arose from the pandemic, from the economic crisis, from the increases in criminal cases, the number of homicides and the power of fire.
P. In terms of crime, what is the diagnosis?
R. In terms of crime and drug trafficking, what is happening represents a wake-up call. State policies are required so that the firepower of criminal gangs does not continue to increase.
P. Has the historical trauma of the Chilean left on the use of force by the State to maintain order played against them?
R. I, as Minister of the Interior, do not have any trauma in this regard. I am a mother, I am a neighbor and, like a large part of the citizenry, I want to live in a more orderly country, in peace, where firepower and criminals are contained. I don’t have any trauma and the police and the issue of security cannot be a matter of the right or the left. Today it is a state challenge.
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