Chile’s Upcoming New Constitution & Latin America

Protests in 2019 led to a Constitional Assembly that is today drafting a new Chilean constitution

By Andres Kogan Valderrama*

HAVANA TIMES – Just months away from the plebiscite for a new constitution in Chile, the discussion is  about the contents of the draft, after the presentation of over 400 grassroots initiatives of constitutional rule and over 183,000 signatures on each of these petitions.

This is how different citizen-led initiatives have been presented, where demands such as the regulation of sexual and reproductive rights, feminist and gender-neutral education, deprivatization of water and Rights of Nature, recognition of indigenous peoples and plurinationalism, recognition of different family types, the incorporation of animals as legal subjects, to name a few, are at the forefront.  

Nevertheless, the striking thing about this ongoing participatory process, is that not a single initiative linked to some kind of Latin American or regional integration has been presented yet, after looking over the initiatives that have been presented to the seven existing committees until now (1).

At the same time, this absence of Latin American cohesion in grassroots initiatives hasn’t been discussed in the media, by political parties, civil society organizations or even by constituents either, which shows the zero importance that has been given to an issue that should be at the heart of the discussion that will soon take place in Chile.

Unfortunately, as Colombian researcher Juan Camilo Herrera does well to raise the issue, this disregard Chile has for the rest of region, distances us a great deal from other Latin American countries, which have incorporated certain Latin American integration clauses in the majority of their constitutions, driven by liberal, conservative and progressive governments.

So, despite the great differences that exist between different political processes and moments in the region, countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, all have preambles and articles in their constitutions that mention Latin America.

As a result, it just goes to depict Chile’s deeply-rooted historic and institutional racism, which violently imposed economic nationalism with its dictatorial and neoliberal 1980 Constitution, which has marked the past 30 years with an economic-dominated foreign policy, which favored many free trade agreements with countries outside the region, instead of leading Latin American integration efforts.

Given the above and looking over the 1980 Constitution, it explicitly states in Article 32 that it is the president who should “conduct political relations with foreign powers and international organizations, and conduct negotiations; conclude, sign and ratify the treaties that it deems appropriate to the interests of the country. (2)”

That is to say, with its sights totally subjected to great imperial powers (the US, China or other), to the detriment of building an autonomous regional bloc, which acts as a counterbalance to these countries and large existing multinational companies, which concentrate more and more wealth.

In fact, looking over Juan C. Herrera’s research in his book “The sleeping Clauses of Latin American integration,” shows us how the discussion before the 1980 Constitution, via the Ortuzar Commission, was marked by far-right positions, which even compared Chile with England: “at this time, there is not only disappointment in this country with what happened, with what happened to our proud democracy: “The English of Latin America”, the most well-established and organized country in South America. (3)”

The idea of being the English of the region, which only replicates a Eurocentric standard and contempt for all the other countries in the region, as if Chile lived in an oasis of progress, within a shady neighborhood, which has translated into its erratic role in Latin America over the past three decades, defined by how it has benefitted from large global economic groups.

It can be said that Chile has formed part of many different regional bodies created in the region’s history (OAS, LAFTA, SICA, Latin American and Caribbean Parliament, CAN, CARICOM, SELA, ALADI, MERCOSUR, Mesoamerica Project, ALBA-TCP, UNASUR, CELAC, Pacific Alliance, PROSUR), but as long as it doesn’t explicitly incorporate clauses of Latin American integration into the new constitution, it will always play a secondary role.  

On the other hand, while these bodies have brought together countries in the region, a lot of the time they have just been a means to serve some State’s own agendas, like it the OAS has served imperial interests (the US), but also government interests with UNASUR (Venezuela and Bolivia) or with PROSUR (Colombia and Chile), where presidents have hidden behind them to protect themselves.

As a result, Latin American integration and the idea of transformative constitutionalism, has to be pushed against any kind of interference (US or Chinese), but also has to go beyond governments or leaders of the hour in the region, who have co-opted political processes.

The reasons for pushing for this common Latin American effort, goes far beyond nostalgia for our history (the Bolivarian dream) or pragmatism (economic integration), as it has to do with the unlimited defense of Human Rights and also Rights of Nature.

Latin America (Abya Yala) is the most biodiverse region on the planet, with the largest water reserves, with high levels of internal migration and with many indigenous populations. So, having a regional policy focused on protecting great existing natural and human wealth is more than an option, it becomes a necessity.  

As a region, we find ourselves in a very difficult process for everyone living in this large land in the global south, where we suffer prevailing extractivism, human rights violations by governments, the humanitarian crisis of thousands of migrants, violence of large drug traffickers, racism against indigenous and Afro-descendent populations, patriarchal violence against women and sexual non-conformity, and the social effects and mental health issues caused by the current pandemic.

In contrast to this, regional integration allows us to push through policies that put looking after common assets and an ecology of knowledge between different populations at the heart, where plurinationalism, sustainability and good provisions, make us a global reference, on a planet threatened by (anthropocene) climate and a (modern) civilization crisis dating back 500 years.

Given all of the above, Chile should not be indifferent to this integration process within the new constitution. We’ve turned our back to the region for far too long, so it’s the right time to do a 180 with the constitution in terms of Latin American integration, going hand-in-hand with State policies, that are in direct relation with the rest of other Latin American countries.

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1 https://iniciativas.chileconvencion.cl/m/iniciativa_popular/

2 https://leyes-cl.com/constitucion_politica_de_chile/32.htm

3 https://archivos.juridicas.unam.mx/www/bjv/libros/13/6416/6416h.pdf

*Sociologist, Ñuñoa, Metro Santiago, Chile

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