Those Who Fear a Decolonial Constitution in Chile

A man rides a bicycle past a wall a graffiti reading Chile decides in Santiago, on October 23, 2020, two days ahead of the referendum when Chileans overwhelmingly decided to change a dictatorship-era constitution seen as the bedrock of the nation’s glaring inequalities. (Photo by Pedro Ugarte / AFP / Getty Images

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – If I had to name Chilean conservatism’s most important think tank for the last 40 years, without hesitating I’d highlight the role the CEP (Center for Public Studies) has played in the country with its research, publications and press statements.

Founded in 1980 by the mega-businessmen and economists known as the Chicago Boys, it’s been a key institution in spreading neoliberal thought. Those involved included Pablo Barahona, Sergio de Castro, Arturo Fontaine and Roberto Kelly, while Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek served as honorary president.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the CEP – financed by Chile’s greatest fortunes like the Matte Group – became the great intellectual pillar of the Pinochet dictatorship and the 1980 Constitution. The latter was founded on an antidemocratic and economy first doctrine, putting the market at the center, above all else.

“The curious thing is that when Chile returned to democracy, the influence of the CEP grew even larger. It went from being an expert voice on public policy, to being considered for decades a kind of oracle by the mainstream media and a sizable segment of the political class.

Nonetheless, their hegemonic views have been losing force, ever since the mass demonstrations of 2011. From then on, their conservative view of the country, disguised by liberal rhetoric and talk of dialogue, has been exposed. We’ve discovered that all this only hides their rejection of any transformative policies that seek to deconcentrate power and wealth.

Their loss of credibility reached a peak after the social uprising of 2019 and the ongoing process of drafting a new Constitution for Chile. Our Constitutional Convention has proven a true nightmare for those who make up that institution and don’t want the country to become more democratic.

Faced with the institutional debacle the dictatorship left, and the CEP defended, their only way out has been to promote new ways of conducting research, in an attempt to construct new narratives and stories that question and disparage the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention.

One of those desperate attempts is currently being carried out by the sociologist and general editor of the CEP publications, Aldo Mascareño. Through the promotion of a platform called C22, he’s using digital means to talk about what representatives to the Constitutional Convention are putting forth in ideological terms and using this to condemn certain words and ideas that have been expressed in that forum.

While the use of new methodologies, techniques, and ways of gathering data are always welcome – in public discourse as well as in the social sciences – there’s a clear intention on the part of the CEP to use these to discredit and distort certain theoretical and political views within the Convention, by labeling certain sectors as the “decolonial left”.

I point this out, since Mascareño uses the “decolonial left” label to describe ideas such as multinationalism, the rights of nature, the original peoples, sexual differences, direct democracy, decreased growth, interculturalism, and the good life. To those of the CEP, all these ideas are merely demands from specific identity groups.

It’s correct to say that the so-called “decolonial pivot”, like many other anti-colonial currents, involves a criticism of the Euro-centric and anthropocentric foundations of modern society. However, at no moment does that define it as fundamentally anti-European or anti-modern, as Mascareño and the CEP would have us believe.

On the contrary, decolonial policies are post-modern, since they seek to denounce what we could term universalism, [one way only of viewing the world], a view that’s been imposed by western civilization ever since the 1492 Spanish conquest. That conquest not only displaced other civilizations, but also led the world to believe that only one valid idea existed: of economics, of politics, of sexuality, of spirituality, of justice, of art, of philosophy, of nature.

For that very reason, the demands that many of the representatives to Chile’s Constitutional Convention are expressing – and that Mascareño questions – are far from being closed-minded or fundamentalist. Rather, they seek a way to revert the regional and global problems we find ourselves engulfed in, such as racism, sexism, centralism, the lack of participation, the concentration of wealth, territorial segregation, extractivism, and the climate crisis.

The monocultural and Euro-centric criticism that Aldo Mascareño puts forth, together with Luis Eugenio Garcia Huidobro, regarding the Constitutional Convention’s recent approval of a norm for legal pluralism shouldn’t surprise us. According to them, this norm they call “culturalist”, could endanger human rights.

That regrettable criticism only seeks to misinform and generate fear in the population. In fact, the legal pluralism that was approved is aimed at building a great national justice system tied in with the indigenous justice systems. These are aimed precisely at defending human rights.

In closing, it’s noteworthy that Mascareño parades the idea of a decolonial left, despite that being a contradiction in itself.  It’s precisely the movement for decolonization that seeks to go beyond the modern dichotomy of left and right. His use of this term clearly demonstrates that what he seeks in the end is to condemn certain historically transformative demands, just as the CEP has done for over 40 years, in order to keep things just as they are.

Andres Kogan is a Chilean sociologist

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