Will Chile’s Constitutional Changes Remain Paralyzed?

Photo: Ruber Osoria

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – It’s now been over two months since the people of Chile overwhelmingly rejected the new proposed Constitution. However, there’s still no clarity on how a new process could go forward. The situation is worrisome for the state of democracy in the country.

The result of the September 4th Constitutional vote wasn’t only unexpected to those of us advocating for a Yes vote, but also the obligatory voting showed us a part of the country we hadn’t wanted to look at during this time. In addition, it’s generated a current scenario that’s tremendously discouraging and paralyzing.

At the moment, the possibility of initiating a new Constitutional process seems blocked by the right wing’s complete denial of what occurred in Chile in October 2019 – both the human rights violations and the still existing demands. There’s been an attempt to empty them completely of their contents and depoliticize everything that happened.

That’s what different political, business and media sectors are trying to do. These groups have appropriated the results of September 4th in order to block any new Constitutional process. Not only that, they want to impede any attempt at reforms on the part of President Gabriel Boric.

Among such reform initiatives are the efforts at tax and pension reforms. These have come up against a veritable wall on the part of the rightwing opposition in Congress, who paint them as damaging reforms that would harm the country’s economy.

The arguments they use are exactly the same as the ones they employed to reject the new proposed Constitution. In both, their assertions centered around phobia of the government and the dominance of property rights over every other type of rights.

The NO vote on September 4 was read by these sectors as a rejection of “Octoberism”, as they scornfully call the demands that arose from Chile’s social uprising of October 2019. As part of this view, both the traditional and the new right are marking time, in order to link the failed Constitutional proposal with the government’s current actions.

It’s true, many of us who voted for the new constitution made a great mistake by believing that the social uprising and the Constitutional process would generate such an elevated level of politicization in the population that it would be impossible for the plebiscite to turn it back. However, to go from there to a denial of the deep discontent in Chilean society is to go back to believing that at a political and institutional level we’re doing things perfectly well.

We also failed to perceive the true dimensions of the material effects and fear the pandemic generated during the Constitutional process itself. These included an increase in the cost of living, increased insecurity, and of course the thousands who died from Covid 19. Still, this shouldn’t lead us to turn a blind eye to the high levels of inequality, segregation, abuse, and indebtedness families face, all of which are worse than before.

To fall into denying what happened that October, as if it were a mere anomaly, as Carlos Peña would say, or just a reaction based on envy, as Axel Kaiser would claim, means ignoring the profound structural problems generated by the model of hyper-concentrated accumulation in Chile, and the low intensity democracy that have predominated in the last 30 years.

Reducing what happened to just the physical violence during the protests, branding the events of 2019 as a delinquent or antisocial explosion, as the sectors on the right are constantly doing, is to avoid responsibility for the social demands that reached an inflection point that year, and generated the foundation to open an unprecedented Constitutional process in the country.

Similarly, it could be said that the Constitutional subject we thought existed in Chile was never really produced. But to go from there to closing doors on all processes of transformation is simply generating the political conditions for a new social explosion in the future, one that could be much more violent than we might imagine.

Given all this, the need for a new Constitutional accord in the country, one that once again gives hope to the people of Chile, can’t continue being bogged down by the miserly interests of certain political parties on the right, who claim that the results of the Constitutional plebiscite justifies their stance.

There’s no time to continue waiting and continue paralyzed. Congress must once again offer a response to the citizens’ discontent and act responsibly, as it did with the Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution on November 15, 2019. Those of us who believe in a different kind of country must be present once again, to back a new Constitutional process without ideological purism, carrying forward what was learned from the previous process.

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