NewsThree years after the social outbreak in Chile, the...

Three years after the social outbreak in Chile, the change to the constitution has not yet arrived

Boarded up facades, closed shops, thousands of graffiti and a smell of tear gas that still burns in the nose. Three years later, in the so-called “ground zero” of downtown Santiago, the traces of social protests are still very present.

The blocks surrounding Plaza Baquedano, better known as Plaza Italia or “Plaza de la Dignidad” —as it was renamed in the heat of the massive demonstrations that broke out on October 18, 2019— still look like an abandoned trench.

That day, several Santiago metro stations were attacked and set on fire, there was looting, attacks on businesses and clashes with the police, in a day of fury that began mass protests demanding greater social equality.

Three years after the protests, the traces are felt not only in the streets of Santiago, but also in the results of the process itself. Chile elected leftist Gabriel Boric as its new president in December 2021, a turnaround from President Sebastián Piñera, one of the country’s richest men.

However, one of the great demands of the protests has not yet materialized: the drafting of a new constitution to replace the current magna carta, written and put into force during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Although a majority of Chileans voted in 2020 in favor of drafting a new constitution, the constitutional project presented by a convention full of independent and left-wing representatives was rejected in a plebiscite held on September 4 this year.

Since July, when many polls showed the constitutional proposal would be rejected, Boric has said he would seek to restart the constitutional process. More than a month later, the path that the country will follow towards a new constitutional text is still not clear.

After several rounds of negotiations between the different political forces in the Chilean Congress, which does not have a clear majority, there is still no agreement on the “borderlines” or the new principles that would govern the next constitutional process: which body will draft the new constitution? Who will integrate it? In what period will the new constitution be written?

“It is a rather premature moment to say that we have closed a new constitutional process in Chile. We are in the preliminary stages,” Rodrigo Espinoza, a political scientist at the Diego Portales University, told AFP.

Political extremes, both from the left and the right, have sharpened the arguments for and against the process, making it more difficult to reach consensus.

“The complexity of this process is that on both sides, both the extreme left and the extreme right, generate costs for this agreement to be possible,” Marcello Mella, a political scientist at the University of Santiago, told AFP. “And isolating the extremes takes time,” he adds.

What does the right-wing opposition propose?

The right-wing opposition – in a minority and without decision-making power in the Constitutional Convention that drafted the failed new Magna Carta – appropriated the resounding victory of the “Rejection” and established a series of limits and conditions to relaunch a new constitutional process, including that it is not a “refoundational” text as it considers the previous one to be.

“Not even the most optimistic in the world of ‘Rejection’ thought that the (electoral) difference in the exit plebiscite was going to be so great, and that strengthened the position of the hardest sectors,” said Rodrigo Espinoza, to explain the delay in reach agreements.

The opposition coalition proposes that there be issues that are respected in the future constituent process such as the “unity of the Chilean nation; the existence of three autonomous and independent powers of the State; the existence of a bicameral Congress made up of a Chamber of Deputies and Deputies and a Senate and the protection of the right to life”.

The proposal contradicts aspects enshrined in the failed constitutional proposal, which established the right to abortion and ended after 200 years with the Senate of the Republic and replaced it with a chamber of the regions. It also established a multinational State, with the recognition of 11 original nations.

“Without organizing principles, it is very difficult for citizens to perceive that this process is different from the one that failed completely on September 4,” explained the senator and president of the ultra-conservative Independent Democratic Union party UDI, Javier Macaya.

What does the government of Gabriel Boric propose?

President Gabriel Boric also called for a constituent process “with clearer edges” than the previous one, which started from a blank page, although with different limits from those proposed by the right.

“I do not intend to outline how the congressmen have to reach the content of this agreement” but “there are obvious things. One: the Chilean people voted in majority in the plebiscite of (October) 2020 for a new Constitution written by a 100% body elected for that purpose,” said the president.

The political coalitions still do not set the common minimums, although there are signs of agreement for it to be drawn up by a joint body, with regular votes and accompanied by a commission of experts, which did not operate in the previous process.

This Friday, five representatives of the ruling party and the opposition met to continue the talks.

Could the process come to nothing?

“It is possible that this could come to nothing, but there is a fear that it could revive ‘Octobrism,'” warns Espiniza, referring to the massive social demonstrations that broke out on October 18, 2019 and that started the first and failed constitutional process.

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