It’s Complicated

It’s complicated. Chile has re-awakened and people across the country have become engaged in discussing and acting to create a new Chile. The uprising over the past 37 days has, among other things, put on the table the possibility of a new constitution that can overturn the constitution created (1980) under the dictatorship that structurally embedded neoliberal capitalism. At the same time, Piñera is pushing to legalize more policing, military coordination, surveillance, and impunity for repression. In this blog, we’re focusing on the agreement for a new constitution. Next, we will write about what Piñera’s latest offensive may mean as social movements and left parties respond.

Acuerdo por la Paz.  

On November 15, Chile’s political parties (there are about 20) signed an acuerdo por la paz (peace agreement). The acuerdo calls for a national referendum on whether the Chilean constitution should be changed, and to decide the process. 

  • April 2020—a national plebiscite to vote yes or no to create a new constitution and the method to develop it: a) a mixed constituent convention composed of 50% current legislators and 50% people elected through popular vote, or b) a constituent convention completely elected through popular vote. 
  • October 2020: Elections for constituent convention
  • October 2020—>October 2021: Constituent convention
  • October 2021: Plebiscite to approve new constitution. 

Many aspects of the process are still unclear and even the process by which they will be resolved is not clear. Ultimately, if Chile creates a new constitution, it will replace the 1980 constitution, but no matter which process, it will require a 2/3 vote of the convention to pass anything.

This acuerdo is a product of over a month of mass uprising from one end of the country to the other, from all sectors of civil society. Without that, there would be no agreement. In that sense, the acuerdo marks the uprising as an historic move forward in the long path from the 1973 coup, the dictatorship, and 30 years of neoliberal privatization. 

Since the uprising began, a new constitution has been a central demand. On Nov. 7, an association of mayors throughout Chile agreed to organize a nonbinding referendum in December on whether to have  a new constitution and what mechanism voters wanted to achieve it. The unrelenting protests, the deepening economic and political crisis, the general strike on Nov. 12 [see earlier blog], and perhaps the mayors’ initiative, forced Piñera and center-right politicians to act.  

A new constitution is not symbolic. Written under the dictatorship, the Chilean constitution restricts the role that the state plays in society and gives power to Chilean oligarchs and international capital to profit at the expense of the public. Chilean legal scholar, Camila Vergara, explains that privatization of healthcare and highways, for example, is not just a policy decision; it is written into the constitution. “Article 19.21 allows the state and its agencies to ‘carry out business activities or participate in them’ only if authorized by a supermajority in Congress. This restriction on state power in the economy is coupled with a robust right to private property that states that ‘no one may, in any case, be deprived of their property’ except by a law authorizing the expropriation.” So to undo the privatization of, for example, pensions, education, healthcare, and the toll highways (which we’ve been describing in our blogs) will require a new constitution because the president would need the approval of Congress for the state to take them over in every individual case. As Vergara said, “What this represents is a solid guarantee to investors that their funds and future profits will be secure from nationalization.”  

Nobody wants your neoliberal, colonial system!

There is a lot of debate about the accord among social movements and left parties and intellectuals. The left opposition parties were split, with some agreeing and some not, including within Frente Amplio (FA), the new, left coalition of parties and social movements in Chile founded in 2017. The Communist Party, which is not part of FA, did not sign the accord. Valparaiso’s left-wing mayor, Jorge Sharp, also disagreed with the acuerdo. And the Coordinadora Feminista 8M [see blog] strongly denounced it saying, “This agreement saves a criminal government from its own crisis that has ruled with blood-stained hands. We will not allow negotiations that validate the permanence of a government that is politically responsible for the deaths, mutilations, sexual political violence, torture, persecution, kidnappings and disappearances. This agreement is a pact from above to continue repressing and persecuting people with total impunity.”

Feminists say: This is not
 our acuerdo

The critiques include that there is no option for a constituent assembly (asamblea constituyente) specifically based on a participatory democratic process of popular assemblies and cabildos that are happening around the country [see earlier blog]. No one asked the people their opinion on this process, even though they won the right to decide in the streets the past month. Critics argue the constituent assembly process is exclusionary: young people can’t participate (it was high school students who began the uprising); those with resources have a much better chance of being elected; there is no guarantee of gender parity or of indigenous representation—as the Mapuche mayor of Lumaco, Manuel Painiqueo, said, “Chile must have a plurinational constitution where we are all actors recognized with dignity in a democratic constitution, only then can we move forward.” Furthermore, the provision requiring a 2/3 majority allows a minority of the right and center-right to block it, possibly preventing a progressive, new constitution, even after it’s created.

For now, protests have diminished, but the struggle has perhaps entered a new phase. Today, at our nearby Saturday farmer’s market in Cerro Monjas [see earlier blog], Víctor Jara’s El Derecho de Vivir en Paz [see earlier blog], the anthem of the uprising, again boomed from a speaker as folks sang along. When we got home, we barely had time to unpack our bags–it’s late spring in Chile, and we are feasting on peaches, apricots, cherries, kale, tomatoes, etc.—when we heard a marching band in the street. We ran out and followed a small group of adults and children and a local brass band (Banda de Bronces San Pedrojoyfully singing, dancing, and marching through the cerro, picking up people along the way. They were led by children carrying a banner with demands of the uprising.

They ended up at Plaza Yungay, in Cerro Yungay where community members gathered to listen to music, sell homemade cakes and candies, buy fruit and vegetables from local farmers, and prepare an olla comuna—a common pot cooked there for everyone in the park to enjoy (you’ve got to see this video!). There are many faces to the Chile Spring and building community and culture through autonomous self-organization is one of the forms of popular organization that prefigures the Chile of dignity and solidarity people are yearning for. 

Plaza Yungay is across from Casa Memoria, a cultural and meeting space, created by and dedicated to those who fought against the dictatorship in the 1980’s (some of whom were assassinated by the regime) and whose legacy is surely a root of this historic uprising. In addition to its regular exhibit of posters and photos from the 1980’s, Casa Memoria has a new exhibit of photos from the uprising, clearly linking the struggles of the two generations. 

In Chile, it is prohibited to wake up, in Chile, it is prohibited to open your eyes
(Poster in Casa Memoria)

People have allowed themselves to dream, and the movement reborn in October is very much alive, its capillaries running through popular institutions, communities, parks, cultural groups, and daily life. Our neighbor’s beautiful banner still flies from our building. And last week the Education Minister tried to make the schools administer the SIMCE (high stakes test—see earlier blogs), but Mario Aguilar, head of the national teachers union called for a boycott, noting that the whole idea of the SIMCE’s ranking, competition, and markets runs totally counter to the spirit of the uprising. The common sense of the market now seems, as Mario said, “ridiculous.”  

Evade [boycott] the SIMCE! Another form of struggle.

On the other side, repression continues and is actually ramping up. Yesterday, Piñera held a news conference at a police school. Flanked by members of the armed forces and police (in a visual echoing the dictatorship), he announced he wants a new acuerdo to (as our friend put it) “criminalize protest and militarize the country.” 

Asserting that peace and democracy depend on order, he praised the army and carabineros (currently charged with many human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Chile’s National Institute for Human Rights), and proposed six laws to strengthen the military intelligence apparatus and impunity for the police forces; criminalize street barricades, masks, and looting in protests; increase the police force and have more police guarding public buildings and resources; and bring in advisors from Western Europe to professionalize the police. This is a political offensive of the right aimed at increasing militarization and criminalization of protest. Piñera is invoking the politics of fear and attempting to change the conversation from the demands for a dignified life of the vast majority to the destruction of property. This is a dangerous moment.

The uprising in Chile has significant implications for Latin America (and possibly elsewhere). As soon as the uprising began, Bolsonaro (ultra-right president of Brasil) made clear that if the Brasilian people dared to do what the Chileans were doing, he’d have the military on the streets in a flash. And now, a general strike and nation-wide protests in Colombia that look so much like Chile filter across the TV screen.

The situation is fluid, and people are definitely paying attention to Chile. 

2 thoughts on “It’s Complicated

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