Chile referendum: Voters eye new Boric-backed constitution

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SANTIAGO, Chile — For more than four decades, Chile has been governed by a set of principles written by a brutal military dictatorship responsible for torturing and murdering thousands of people.

The The 1980 constitution, although since amended, was drafted to help the authoritarian regime of General Augusto Pinochet strengthen its grip on power. He is also credited with transforming the country into a Milton Friedman-inspired free market model for the region.

On Sunday, Chileans will vote on a radically different vision for their country, a constitution that could turn this South American nation into a new kind of model.

Proponents of the country’s first democratically drafted constitution say it is among the the most inclusive in the world. He describes Chile as a country made up of several autonomous indigenous nations. It would recognize the national duty to provide a safety net for all citizens. In what is seen as a world first, it would ensure gender parity in government, state-owned enterprises and public-private enterprises. It would grant rights to nature and animals and demand that the government address the effects of climate change.

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Perhaps most remarkable is the path that brought Chile here. It began with months of massive protests, sparked by a rise in metro fares, known as the social explosion of 2019. As clashes between protesters and government security forces grew increasingly violent – buses and metro stations set on fire and protesters blinded by rubber bullets were signatures of the conflict – a group of politicians negotiated an ambitious solution: a referendum to draft a new constitution.

More than three-quarters of voters approved the idea in 2020. But now the draft charter, backed by left-leaning President Gabriel Boric, looks set to fail: polls last month showed a plurality of voters were planning to vote him down.

The months-long campaign has been marred by misinformation, misinformation and confusion over the content of the 388-article document. Proponents say it would help make a deeply unequal society fair and expand rights to high-quality education, water and health care. Critics, including some prominent voices who identify as center-left, have argued that his proposals, especially those that create structural changes to the country’s political and judicial system, are too sweeping. Some say it would ruin Chile’s stable and relatively prosperous economy. Some say the constitutional convention did not incorporate the views of his conservative minority.

Any outcome remains possible. The polls have hasn’t been allowed in the past two weeks, and it’s unclear whether taking part in a rare mandatory vote could move the needle towards support.

But the intense division in the country, days before the vote on a charter intended to unify it, underlines the challenges of designing a new government for the 21st century.

“You have high levels of polarization, and democracies struggle to understand how they should work, what they should be,” said David Landau, a Florida State University political scientist and law professor who studies design. constitutional and observed the drafting. process as a Fulbright recipient.

“It’s almost a global identity crisis for liberal democratic systems,” he said. “It remains to be seen, win or lose, if Chile can overcome these problems.”

Sunday’s vote will serve as a referendum not just on the charter but also on Boric, the 36-year-old former student activist who, as a congressman, helped broker the deal to draft it. Boric’s administration urged Chileans to support the charter and said Congress would reform it if necessary.

Along with right-wing critics, a coalition of center-left activists formed against the charter. Amarillos por Chile — “Yellows for Chile” — calls on voters to reject the constitution in hopes of writing a new one. Dozens of supporters of the group gathered in a conference room of a hotel in the capital on Thursday, waved yellow flags and sang “I reject”.

The group’s founder, Cristián Warnken, a literature professor, described the document as an “infinite list of rights” that would be impossible to fund.

Sitting in the audience on Thursday, Cecilia Becerra focused on a frequently criticized point: her description of Chile as a plurinational country made up of self-governing indigenous nations.

“Chile cannot be 11 nations,” Becerra said. She described herself as a socialist and said she voted for Boric and for a new constitution, but she plans to vote against the draft charter. “We are one Chile, with the same rights for everyone, not that some have more rights than others.”

Rosa Catrileo, constitutional delegate representing the Mapuche people, the largest indigenous group in Chile, said that the recognition of plurinationality “catch up with the reality of Chile, because the original people existed and will continue to exist with or without the constitution”.

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The constitution would recognize the principle that indigenous peoples can use their own legal practices for settling disputes. It leaves it up to lawmakers to define how that would work. Below proposal, the government and Indigenous legal systems would be integrated and operate on an equal footing, but the Supreme Court would have the power review judgments rendered by Aboriginal courts.

Christian Viera, who coordinated relevant parts of the project, said the Indigenous justice system would only address low-level crimes, such as animal theft.

Other criticisms have focused on proposed changes to the political system. It would replace the Senate with a similar but weaker body, known as the Chamber of Regions. This would allow certain laws to become law with the approval of the one bedroom.

Oscar Landerretche, an economist at the University of Chile’s School of Economics and Business, said the changes would reduce the checks and balances of the legislature.

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“Any Erdogan or Trump can fight their way to infinite power,” he said. He said the proposal must be read through the prism of worst-case scenarios, such as the rise of another authoritarian leader. “Legal systems cannot be construed in a ‘My Little Pony’ way.”

Proponents say the proposed structure would help fix a system that was designed to work against passing legislation.

Landau, the Florida State political scientist, said the changes aren’t as drastic as critics say.

“At the national level, there is a fear in some corners that the constitution will trigger a series of sweeping changes,” Landau said. “While everyone I’ve spoken to internationally and all the academics and people watching the process from abroad say to themselves, ‘This is a less radical and more mainstream constitution than this speech. “”

On Thursday evening, a crowd of thousands flooded the Alameda, the main avenue in downtown Santiago, for a rally aimed at closing the campaign in support of the proposal. People of all ages waved Chilean and indigenous flags and chanted “Apruebo! ” – Approve! They carried photos of Chileans who disappeared under the Pinochet dictatorship. Many cried when a young man, blinded by police during protests in 2019, said: ‘I approve, for all the eyes we’ve lost.’

Many in the audience had experienced the terror of the dictatorship, when such demonstrations were often impossible. A 65-year-old woman whose family member was detained and tortured under Pinochet. A 59-year-old cook who cycled to the rally after work, a Chilean flag on his wheel, whose father died of cancer after he couldn’t get surgery in time.

Then there were many who grew up in a very different Chile, a democracy that allowed them to demand change.

“It’s a dream of future generations, of my mother, of my grandmother,” said Rocío Navarrete, a 21-year-old with hoop earrings who came of age protesting in the streets of Santiago in 2019. “They always said us, this is the birthplace of neoliberalism, so that’s where it should fall.

For some, both in the square and across the country, it was a party, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s vote.

“There are countries where, after falling into a deep social crisis, what comes next is a civil war,” said Amaya Álvez, a lawyer and member of the constitutional convention. “In our case, we were able to transform a deep social crisis, marked by violence and death, into an institutional process. In an extraordinary way…we came up with a constitution.

“That, to me,” she said, “is a great achievement.”

John Bartlett contributed to this report.

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