Start of Reformation: Rewriting Chile’s Constitution
Similar to the 2018 “yellow vest” riots in France, protests in Chile began over an unpopular public transportation fare hike, with protestors taking to the streets for broader demands, such as better living conditions. A crowd of an estimated 1.2 million people gathered in Santiago’s Plaza Italia at the height of the protests. The result was a consensus among political parties to replace the 1980 constitution, which was crafted to reflect the interests of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and the “Chicago boys” in charge of Chile’s economy.
Since the “Penguin Revolution” of 2006, when high school students aged 13 to 18 demanded the right to free, top-notch education, there have been more recent demonstrations. One of the most unequal countries in the region and one of the most vulnerable to climate change, the government regularly fails to ensure inclusion or protect the environment. Pinochet-era constitutional reforms made by Ricardo Lagos in 2005 have not erased the dictator’s ideological stamp from the document. Among the rights that aren’t included are the right to housing and the preservation of the military regime’s past as well as a market-driven approach to social services.
“The full exercise of their collective and individual rights” is stated in the draft Constitution. Self-governance and recognition of their territories and traditions are mentioned in the book. “Chile is a social and democratic State of law,” according to the new framework established by Chile’s institutions. While it retains the current power distribution and replaces the subsidiary state with one that protects social rights while also advancing decentralization through regional autonomy and “indigenous territorial autonomy,” this plan is “multinational, multicultural, and ecological.” There will be no loss of land, water, or air resources because of new environmental and natural rights.
A national health service, a fundamental demand of the 2019 mass protests, is also established in the proposed plan. A comprehensive national education system is also established, which combines educational institutions under a single authority and mandates free public education at all levels. Between 2010 and 2019, tuition at Chile’s public institutions rose by a whopping 10 percent. A single-chamber legislature will replace Chile’s unpopular private water rights regime, and the Senate will be abolished in favor of this.
In light of Chile’s new constitution, which has 499 articles, there are fears that the delegates are “maximalist” in their approach. Ideas and concepts that have never been tested have been generated by the convention. The draft constitution currently being drafted intends to meet the needs of all stakeholders and to achieve all social objectives. Divided into three commissions: a compression and streamlining commission; a transition panel, and a preamble commission — the convention is working on all three at the same time.
Democracies around the world, notably in Latin America, have been battling for legitimacy for a long time. There will certainly be far-reaching effects for the country’s standing in Latin America as a wealthy democracy with a solid foundation. Chile is currently the OECD’s third-most unequal country, with an income gap 65 percent larger than the norm.
The degree of systemic transformation that Chile is currently trying is rare even among social movements. Today, it is highly rare to have a constitutional convention composed of delegates chosen by popular vote. It is not uncommon for such conventions to be convened in the immediate aftermath of a nation’s end to a civil war, as was the case in Nepal in 2008 or in Tunisia in 2011, following the Arab Spring. For the first time, delegates to Chile’s constitutional convention will be required to be equally composed of men and women.
The vast majority of the attendees at the convention agreed that Chile needs fundamental reform. The conference agreed to start from scratch rather than analyze previous constitutions and national constitutional history to determine what should be kept and what should be removed. In the past 50 years since democracy was restored, the current constitution has undergone at least 50 revisions, many of which were made under the military government that created it.
Many Chileans believe that this institutional change has the potential to be a success. There is no other way to get to this position but through the use of complicated social mobilization tactics and political activity. This moment has been sparked by a combination of formal procedures and the grounded efforts of Chileans to voice their claims in novel and democratic ways. Thus, it recognizes both the country’s current and desired identity.