By Andres Kogan Valderrama
HAVANA TIMES – Without a doubt, one of the central and most controversial issues in the Constitutional draft discussions now going on in Chile is the concept of a Multinational State. The discussion has crystalized into the articles approved by the plenary session of the Constitutional Convention, and the term now appears in the recently finished draft of our proposed foundational charter.
I point this out, since the concept – as embraced in the approved articles – begins with the phrase: “Chile is a Multinational and Intercultural State that recognizes the coexistence of diverse nations and peoples in the frame of a unified State.” This definition is followed by multiple approved norms regarding the original peoples (Mapuche, Aymara, Rapa Nui, Lickanantay, Quechua, Colla, Diaguita, Chango, Kawashkar, Yaghan, Selk’nam). The articles refer to the recognition, preexistence, right to autonomy and self-determination; right to sustain their own institutions, jurisdictions, authorities, and legal systems; right to participation; cultural rights; right to equality and non-discrimination; territorial rights; multilingualism; and the assignation of specific seats in Congress.
If the proposed Constitution is approved by popular vote on September 4, the concept of a multinational state will form the starting point for a profound political process of decentralizing power and of decolonialization, in the broadest sense of the word. It has the potential to form the basis for a new type of Government in the country, one that would assume responsibility for a diverse reality that it tried to negate and erase every way it could for centuries.
The furious nationalist and racist reaction to this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s coming not only from sectors of the right, which see it as somehow unpatriotic and fear it could spawn indigenous moves for independence, or even a civil war. It’s also coming from certain sectors of the left, who would like the State to continue denying multi-nationality, or in the best-case scenario merely recognize the country’s multi-cultural nature, without considering the original peoples as active political subjects.
However, what should really concern us right now, with two months left before the final Constitutional draft is submitted – after passing through the Commissions for a Preamble, Synchronization, and Norms for Transition – is the broad opposition that the idea of a Multinational State has generated. According to several polls this has become one of the key points spurring an increase in those advocating a “no” vote on the new Constitution.
Watching this increase in those advocating rejection, a strategic case could be made for relegating the concept of multi-nationality to the sidelines during the months left for airing the articles and campaigning for approval of the document. Instead, this position advocates, the campaign for approval should center on the articles linked to the social rights to health, education, housing and pensions, which enjoy a high approval rating in general, and were demands made explicitly during the  general uprising.
The problem with that strategy, besides being not very ethical and circumventing convictions, is that it underestimates the voters. It assumes they couldn’t discern for themselves the importance of the concept of multi-nationality in the text of the proposed Constitution and supposes that it’s easy to conceal something so structurally basic and so historic. The concept must inevitably be reflected in the norms for transition and the new laws if our new proposed Constitution is approved.
Instead, what should be done is to disseminate the idea of multinationalism within a much broader, relational perspective, not only centered on the original peoples. In the end, it points towards a new framework for coexistence among different nations, or a new political pact among citizens.
That’s why it’s so important to promote discussions about multi-nationality that echo the discussions of social rights – as points of convergence, dignity, and paths to a better democracy in the country. This is necessary because conservative formulas have already appeared, aimed at fostering rejection and fear by promoting a fictitious conflict between the social agenda and the multinational concept.
In other words, the uncertainties and fears of Chileans who view multi-nationality as a threat, are already being exploited by the country’s conservative sector. These must be confronted, and not only by emphasizing the need for historic reparation and recognition of the indigenous peoples on the part of the Chilean State. We must also demonstrate that maintaining a façade of homogenous nationalism will only generate more conflicts, fanaticism, violence, and hate, by denying a diversity that has always existed and will continue to exist, whether or not the Constitution speaks of it.
Hence, promoting an idea of the nation’s plurality can help discredit the idea that multi-nationality merely entails the specific wish for separatism and ethnocentricity on the part of groups who view Chileans as their enemies. Instead, we must promote it as a proposal for a future where we’re all responsible for one another, as part of the society we live in.
As far as the rest goes, the rights of indigenous people and the idea of multi-nationality isn’t some eccentricity that occurred to a group of delegates to Chile’s constitutional convention, but a concept that’s been broadly worked on in a long list of countries that are very different from each other, such as Canada, Colombia, the United States, New Zealand, Switzerland, Bolivia, Ecuador, and many others.
It’s also in complete accordance with documents endorsed by Chile on an international level, such as the International Labor Organization’s Accord #169; the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the Americana Declaration of the same name.
Refusing to accept that international Human Rights reality, once the situation is made clear, is nothing more than insisting on the antiquated nationalism of the 19th Century. That nationalism, in contrast to the multi-nationalism proposed for a new Chile, is completely limited, aimed at imposing a specific order, defined by a small group of elite. This small group constructed the idea of an exclusive “Chileanism”, upheld by the State in order to concentrate power and wealth.
*Andres Kogan is a Chilean sociologist and frequent Havana Times contributor