The Rejection of the Plurinational Concept in Chile

This way no. I vote reject!

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Days after the September 4th Chilean plebiscite to accept or reject the new Constitution, different analysts have attempted to explain the causes of the landslide win for the Reject option over the vote to Approve. While multiple views exist, there’s one topic that has generated a profound rejection in Chilean society from the beginning: the idea that we’re a plurinational country.

Several people who were in favor of the Approve vote have theorized that the crux of the problem was the incorporation of the concept of plurinationality in the new Constitutional text – as if Chile shouldn’t have incorporated a concept of that nature. These analysts note that the Reject option even won by an ample margin in the zones populated by the indigenous peoples themselves.

However, the problem shouldn’t be seen as plurinationality as such. On the contrary, we need to look at the historic racism, not only of the Chilean government, but of Chilean society. The latter, it seems, want to reject the fabric of their own existence, by denying the existing diversity, given that the original peoples have been in the country for centuries and will continue living here, with or without Constitutional recognition.

The underlying problem is that the Chilean identity was historically constructed on the idea of a neutral mestizaje, as if we were merely the result of a mix between indigenous and European peoples. In addition to other inconsistencies, this completely leaves out any African characteristics.

In other words, a homogeneous image of being Chilean was constructed over time, where the indigenous culture was viewed as something that no longer existed, surpassed by this new identity. As sociologist Macarena Bonhomme has expressed so well, that notion has generated an idea of Chileans’ natural superiority over the other countries of the region, due to their cultural and institutional “whiteness”.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the idea of the indigenous peoples as active political subjects is rejected, since they’re seen as beings from the past. The scorn and sense of superiority over Latin American migrants from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, who have more indigenous features, or those who are Afro-descendants, like Colombians, Dominicans or Haitians, is also no coincidence. Those same attitudes extend towards other countries in the region, like Venezuela or Argentina, which are seen as having underdeveloped and corrupt institutions.

The current Chilean State, as inherited from the government created under Diego Portales through the centralist Constitution of 1833, continues supposing that we’re above the rest of the countries in the region, since we’ve always believed ourselves to be closer to Europe and the United States. We spread racist and xenophobic notions, like our being the English of the region, the jaguars of Latin America, or that we’re gentry living in a bad neighborhood.

The rejection of plurinationality isn’t only a refusal to accept that different nations coexist in this country; it’s also a rejection of the neighboring countries like Bolivia and Ecuador that promoted the concept in their new Constitutions. To Chileans, that made it a third-world word, hence inappropriate for Chile.

In this scenario, it was very easy for the nationalistic and neoliberal elites, who comprise the great economic powers, control the large media outlets and have made very good use of the new forms of digital communications, to set up a dichotomy between being Chilean and being plurinational. They pushed the idea that plurinationalism was nothing more than a separatist idea that favored a particular group, – mostly the indigenous – and that would only bring division and destruction to the Chile we know.

In addition, they strongly promoted the idea that plurinationality was an idea that was merely identified with a few, and anti-Chilean as well, since supposedly it meant giving privileges to the original peoples to the detriment of other Chileans, who would then become second-class citizens. That falsehood was perfectly attuned to feed the discomfort and rage against those who now wanted to take away our country and our rights.

However, I also must mention the arrogance and vanity of many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, both indigenous and non-indigenous. They were fully convinced of the success of the process, while remaining closed off in their own bubbles and completely disconnected from existing Chilean society.  They believed that merely naming and approving plurinationality and the other rights of indigenous peoples within the Constitutional Convention, would be enough to erase the centuries-old racism of Chilean society.

We mustn’t forget their multiple clumsy actions, as well, such as when they wouldn’t allow the national anthem to be heard during the inauguration of the Convention; when they said they could change the words of the anthem; when they spoke of the possibility of requiring a visa for the indigenous territories; when they didn’t invite the former presidents of Chile to the closing ceremony. These actions showed a complete lack of criteria, and a gigantic irresponsibility towards the country. Their failings have cost us a great deal and have left “plurinationality” to be considered a bad word.

The rejection of the new Constitution and of plurinationality has definitively closed off the possibility of our reengaging with each other and reconciling peacefully as a country. It will surely have negative consequences for the conflicts between the Chilean government and the Mapuche people, since it ends up fortifying the extremist sectors that don’t want to engage in dialogue nor see the other as an equal, but as an enemy. Because of this, racism, discrimination, violence, attacks, repression, distrust, and fear will be the great victors in all this failed Constitutional process.  

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