Chile: the Constitution that was not

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Last Sunday, Chile commemorated the 49th anniversary of the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. The anniversary occurs a week after the country rejected the proposed new Magna Carta by plebiscite. Report in the Chilean capital with supporters and opponents of the constitutional project.

For our special envoy to Santiago, Melissa Barra.

“We did not want our country to become Argentina or Venezuela. Statism influencing the economy is of no use to anyone,” explained a Santiago resident, flag in hand. At 8 pm, on Sunday, September 4, thousands of Santiago supporters of the rejection of the draft Constitution came out to celebrate. His victory was resounding in the constitutional plebiscite.

62% of Chileans said “no” to the proposal drawn up by the Constitutional Convention elected a year and a half earlier. “People realized that the draft Constitution is not complete and does not protect us as a country,” he told RFI another young Chilean in the streets of the capital.

The government of Gabriel Boric, which supported the approval, woke up the next day trying to understand what went wrong. In the Palacio de la Moneda, the ruling party hastened to call for a dialogue with all the political forces in the country.

The ball is in the court of Congress. The intention is to resume the constituent process and thus respect the results of the 2020 entry plebiscite. “80% of Chileans indicated at that time that they did not want the current Constitution and therefore, this new process is valid. We must continue with this search for a text that does convene us for the majority. And at the same time the citizens, that same 80%, pointed out that they wanted a democratically and participatively elected body for this purpose,” declared the president of the House of Representatives, Raúl Soto.

Chile: the Constitution that was not

The brake of multinationality

Too innovative or too radical? The proposal of this convention was undoubtedly one of the most extensive in the world, and one of the most ambitious, recognizing a social, multinational State in charge of the climate crisis, with structural changes in institutions and guarantees to people such as the right to free education, decent housing or gender freedoms.

“A construction of minorities, of identities, that confuses,” said the former magistrate of the Constitutional Court and professor at the Alberto Hurtado University, Gonzalo García. “It is one thing to accept and recognize that the original peoples in Chile had a delay and continue to have it and will continue to have a giant delay. But going from the postponement to the constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples was too complex. In Chile, the indigenous represent 12% of the population,” he explained.

All the Chilean regions voted in favor of the rejection and also all the communes of the country, except for eight. He even voted against La Pintana, the poorest in the Metropolitan Region, which has a large Mapuche community. Approximately 40% to 45% of its population self-identifies as indigenous.

“In the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva and later also in that of Salvador Allende, there were Indian courts. If a young person stole from a family, the indigenous justice ruled that he went to that family and to make reparation for the damage caused. That was what that we intended, to return to that same system,” he explained to RFI María Hueichaqueo, former president of the Commission of Original Peoples and head of the Mapuche association of La Pintana Taiñ Adkimn.

María Hueichaqueo is president of the Taiñ Adkimn Mapuche association in the La Pintana commune.
María Hueichaqueo is president of the Taiñ Adkimn Mapuche association in the La Pintana commune. © Melissa Barra / RFI

“If we were talking about an indigenous issue, obviously we had to go to the indigenous courts, but if we were talking about an outrage, obviously Western justice had to take part. So we are going to continue insisting on dialogue and reminding the government that won with an indigenous vote,” he added.

Where everything began

The plebiscite on September 4 was the first compulsory vote in 10 years. Thirteen million Chileans cast their vote, a figure never reached before. Many young people who had participated in the 2019 outburst voted for the first time.

One of the polling stations, in fact, was highly symbolic: Liceo 7 de Providencia, in Santiago. “One of the first to start evading the subway fare,” recalls Marcela Catoni, a 20-year-old former student. In 2019, she was the president of the school’s Student Council. The spark of the revolt of October 18 of that year was ignited with the rise in the price of transport.

“It was the straw that overflowed the camel’s back. Every year we students mobilized for something. Every year there was something wrong and they never solved it. I remember that there was also a lot of fight for free and quality education. Currently in Chile we have a mixed system. What our Constitution guarantees is freedom of education, it does not guarantee the right to education, what it guarantees is the power to choose. But it is very ambiguous, because if you do not have money, you do not have much to choose from. I think it was anger that everything in this system was wrong and no one was capable of changing it,” says the now law student.

Marcela Catoni was president of the Student Center of Liceo 7 in Santiago, Chile.
Marcela Catoni was president of the Student Center of Liceo 7 in Santiago, Chile. © Melissa Barra / RFI

The longing for a new Constitution was born in the street and that is where it returns. The young people did not wait for the politicians to agree to go out again to demand a constituent path. They no longer want the Constitution in force since the dictatorship, they told RFI from the Alameda, stone in hand, students of the Alberto Hurtado University.

How much longer will they wait? Three years after the riots, that is in the hands of the political class, and they must act quickly before exhausting Chileans, invaded by that feeling of a chapter that cannot be closed.

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