Did Neoliberalism Triumph in Chile?

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – We find ourselves as a country in a rather strange moment, where the failure of the constituent process has left us with many more questions than answers and with many unanswered questions for the near future. This, beyond the fact that the Chilean political right assumes that September 4 was a triumph for its sector and the end of so-called Octoberism (the month of mass protests in 2019 that led to the demand for a new constitution).

I raise it, since this historical defeat for the most transformative sectors of the country should make us reflect, not only on the mistakes made, both by the progressive political parties, the social movements, and the Constitutional Convention itself, but also on the importance of a neoliberal subjectivity among Chileans, which seems to be much deeper than I thought.

Hence, if there was something positive about this plebiscite with mandatory voting, was the enormous participation of Chilean men and women, who, although they rejected the draft constitution for many reasons, because of the text, the constituent process itself, and because of the country’s situation, showed us that these millions of new voters have something in common, which is a complete malaise of politics and its institutions.

It is what I know as a neoliberal individual, who does not identify themself as right or left, nor as conservative or progressive, but rather identifies with a totally depoliticized way of living. One where individual effort, merit, sacrifice, competition, entrepreneurship and consumption have become the only possible world, as opposed to any type of alternative that is presented as collective, community or collaborative.

It could be said that it is not something particular to Chilean society, however, we must not forget that Chile was the first country in the world to implement neoliberal policies, long before most countries, and in a dictatorial context, being able to leave a constitution tailored to a fundamentalist economic doctrine promoted by the so-called Chicago Boys.

In addition, as if that were not enough, the neoliberalism since the return to democracy (1990) onwards, not only was not modified, but was brutally deepened by center-left governments for 20 years, which ended up establishing and naturalizing a neoliberal culture that there seemed to be no way out of it.

It is true that from 2011 onwards, the mobilizations grew enormously, and the subsidiary nature of the Chilean State began to be massively questioned, reaching its peak in 2019, through the popular revolt. The social explosion reflected decades of accumulated discontent, where the extreme indebtedness of families, the banking of society and the abuses of large economic groups (financers of the political class), reached its highest point.

However, this maximum discontent of 2019, like it or not, never had clear or majority ideological components behind it, which was quite evident with the vote on September 4. It showed us that the transforming sectors of the Convention never realized that weakness or the excess of confidence and enthusiasm for what was historically at stake played a trick on them.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that those of us who followed the process with great optimism, thinking that Chilean society was highly politicized, naively believed that it would be enough simply to enshrine in the new constitution a Social and Democratic State of Law and a list of social rights (education, health, work, housing, social security) to gain approval.

In addition, although the importance of building a Plurinational, Regional, Ecological and Feminist State is undeniable to me, as well as the installation of a Substantive Democracy, not only for Chile, but for the entire world. We foolishly believed that the neoliberal citizenry would be a thing of the past, and that therefore we could generate much more ambitious horizons and take charge of the great problems of humanity, as if the average Chilean were connected to such.

With this it is not that the Convention, mainly comprised by independents, coming from Social Movements, should not have incorporated them in the text, but it had to be understand that the proposal that was going to be voted on had to be approved by the people of today’s Chile, not tomorrow’s, so the emphasis should always be placed on improving the material living conditions of people.

For this reason, the work of the Convention and the subsequent campaign should have been capable of transmitting a story that put at the center a criticism of economic inequality and the indebtedness of families. Thus empathizing with the pain and suffering of those who they simply cannot make ends meet, which is the vast majority of Chileans, especially the most impoverished.

Likewise, what type of development we want for Chile and how social rights would be financed should also have been put at the center, which reading the rejected text, leaves more questions than answers. The specific ways to guarantee their implementation were not proposed, only that it would be done gradually.

In other words, it should have focused on the economic situation of Chileans, who today are much worse than in 2019, in the context of a pandemic still, with the high cost of living, with the existing inflation and an increase in crime and violence. This made people not believe in this constitutional proposal, for fear that their lives could get even worse.

Of course, large business sectors and the political right in Chile, saw that fragility and vulnerability as an opportunity to generate fear, placing their emphasis, since the Constitutional Convention was installed, on ideas that touched that neoliberal subject in the deepest. Using lies such as that with the new Constitution they would take away our pension savings, our own housing and the freedom to choose education and health care options.

Consequently, the answer is NO to whether the neoliberal citizen triumphed with the result of September 4th, since that person will continue to live a life with great discontent towards all institutions, for not being able to have a decent life and progress. Unfortunately, we were unable to give a clear and credible response to this, not only from the Convention, but from many of us who believed that the new constitution would be the option that Chileans would choose.

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