He was another protester at the protests in Plaza Itália de Santiago, the epicenter of the social revolts that started in October 2019. Rodrigo Rojas Vade gradually became one of the leaders of the demonstrations, with a speech based on his own history: the struggle against a leukemia that ruined him and exposed the inequalities of the country’s health system. As one of the known faces of the Chilean mobilization, he ran for the constitutional convention, whose mission is to draft a new Constitution for Chile, at a time of political, institutional, economic and social crisis.
On May 16, he was one of the 27 elected by the People’s List, the group of left-wing independents that appeared by surprise in the Constituent Assembly, installing itself as one of its main forces. coat Vade — as he is popularly known — was few votes away from winning the body’s presidency, but he became one of seven vice presidents. Two months away from taking over, an investigation by the newspaper the third revealed the big lie: he was never sick with cancer.
“I feel like I need to withdraw. I have nothing else to do at the convention,” he told the newspaper. On Saturday afternoon, he posted a video on Instagram where he stated: “I want to tell the truth, my truth, because I can no longer and I don’t want to continue with this. The disease I have is not cancer, it’s a diagnosis that I couldn’t recognize eight years ago because of the stigma that society has of it”, said Rojas Vade, without giving details about the disease that affects him. On Sunday, after nearly 24 hours of public outrage for what was called one of the main frauds in Chilean electoral history, the constitutional convention accepted the resignation of the vice-presidency. “We empathize with the pain that the situation causes”, said the board of the organ, composed of 155 members. The president of the convention, Elisa Loncon, said that the situation of Rojas Vade will be officially addressed: “We will act in the fairest way”, she said.
Rojas Vade’s lie impacted Chilean society on different fronts. Initially, cancer patients, their families, specialist doctors, who work for cancer patients of all ages and those who have lost loved ones to the disease. “This lie is unjustified. Cancer has no political colors, it doesn’t care which family you come from. It hurts, hurts, kills, indebted you. Seeing a man pretend not to have eyebrows and hair from supposed chemotherapy. We did lose hair and part of our body, friends”, wrote the Corporación Corajoosas, of women with breast cancer and metastasis, on Twitter.
Rojas Vade became known for protesting while he was allegedly suffering from acute mixed lymphoid leukemia, one of the most serious cancers in existence that attacks the blood and bone marrow. According to the initial version of the former flight operator for the airline Latam, when the riots began in October 2019, he had just abandoned treatment, even though the doctors consulted in the investigation of the the third affirm that patients who have this disease do not resist even a month to lack of medication. “I don’t fight cancer. I struggle to pay for the chemo. Dignified health for Chile”, said the poster with which he appears in the photograph that made him known on social media almost two years ago. Since then, the man had gone to protests every Friday with a bare torso, no eyebrows, facial hair and hair. He arrived at the epicenter of protests in Santiago with an eye patch, mask —before covid-19— and even a catheter. He became a leader and a symbol of the struggle of the so-called first line, the group of protesters who faced the Carabineros in the critical weeks of the protest. He always seemed willing to face the police and portrayed him with photographs on social media.
For almost two years he told his story in different spaces. He opened a blog where he told details of his treatment. The site was called Cancer, unfiltered reality, which has now closed. The investigation of the the third remember that he posted pictures of his exams, hospitalizations and the wounds on his body on Instagram, always using the tag #cancerfighter (cancer fighter). He said he had a debt to a private clinic of $480,000 (2.5 million reais) for his illness. As I have already said that I performed a clinical test at the Hospital Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona —where he performed a hematological and non-oncological study, according to the newspaper—, in the published interview, he was asked the name of the doctor who treated him and replied: “Hmm, it’s Josep…I have it here. Let me look, it’s Pelao Josep”. After the victory of the Approv option in October 2020 —the option to replace the current Constitution, whose text was written in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet—, he was one of the founders of the People’s List, which was formed with the objective of elections for the constituents. In his own campaign, he spoke several times about the cancer he supposedly had eight years ago. Later, when elected, on his income tax return he said he had a debt to a Chilean bank of $35,000 (181,000 reais) “for financing chemotherapy for cancer.”
Rojas Vade’s lie to Chileans impacts the constituent convention, a body that has until July 2022 to present a proposal for a Constitution to the country, which it must submit to a plebiscite. But the greatest damage is the possibility of reconciling the population with politics at a decisive moment in Chile, where a process of accelerated changes is taking place amidst a deep crisis of confidence in democratic institutions.
The People’s List, Rojas Vade’s group of origin, is in the process of disintegrating after its presidential candidate, Diego Ancalao, was left out of the race when the Electoral Service detected 23,000 false support signatures, supported by a closed registry office in 2018 and whose notary died at the beginning of 2021. Contrary to the neoliberal model, leftist and without ties to the parties, the emergence of the People’s List four months ago was applauded by public opinion for its contribution to the renewal of politics, in a moment when the prestige of parties of all colors is on the ground.