Constitutional Process

Chileans Abroad and the Upcoming Referendum

With the referendum to vote on a new constitution at the forefront of the minds of many Chileans, Chile Today talked to Chileans living abroad in the UK to find out how they are reacting to the upcoming referendum. What do they think about voting in the referendum? How are their lives affected by the situation in Chile?

Chileans living abroad offer a unique perspective on the current situation in Chile, as they feel connected to the nation’s crisis and yet are viewing it from afar.

As a consequence, many Chileans abroad have formed groups, such as cabildos and assemblies, to create spaces where they can socialize and discuss issues but, more notably, organize their own demonstrations in solidarity with their homeland.

Uniting in this way has great significance, not only due to the recent protests, but also because the Chilean government has announced that Chileans who are living abroad will be able to vote in the upcoming referendum to decide whether a new constitution should be written.

Chileans abroad, however, cannot vote on the so-called “conventional constituents,” the delegates who will be tasked with writing the new constitution. Some find this to be very exasperating, as they are Chileans and yet their voices are not being heard in the same way as local Chileans. 

The Curse of the Piocha de O’Higgins

Chileans Abroad and the Referendum

Carole Bell during a cacerolazo in the UK.

Carole Concha Bell, writer, founder of Chile Solidarity Network, daughter of exiles, and currently living  in Cambridge, UK, spoke to Chile Today about her thoughts on the voting process. She asserts that Chileans abroad “feel disenfranchised” because they do not have the same rights as resident Chileans and that there is “no logical reason for this to be the case.” 

Bell relays that “Chileans in the UK feel very strongly about the violent response of President Piñera to the demands of protesters.” She said, “That Chileans abroad are only allowed to participate in a small part of the consultation process is an insult.” 

Hector Rios Jara, representative of the Asemblea Chilean en Londres, shared a similar view. Speaking to Chile Today, Jara maintains that “it’s absolutely unfair the fact that most of the Chileans abroad cannot participate in democratic processes.” 

He postulates that right-wing politicians have developed “an absolutely unrealistic fear that the exiled communities are going to try and transform the country from the outside,” which he brands as “old-fashioned and absolutely nonsensical.”

Jara argues that “people are no longer belonging in a permanent way to a specific territory. National identities are moving from context to context.” He hopes that Chile can “expand this sense of citizenship,” as many of the Chileans residing abroad are not just descendants of the exiled but are also students and business people who all share similar values and culture.

Also read:

Constituent Assembly: Empowering Citizens and Pushing Reforms

Assemblies and Cabildos

Regardless of the voting process, Chileans abroad have not failed to make their presence known as well their voices, through the organization of assemblies and cabildos. Last month, through these groups, they demonstrated in support of their homeland in cities across the world in front of Chilean embassies and other locations.

Chileans protest in front of the embassy in London.

Chile Today spoke to Chileans who expressed the importance of these groups, as they serve as a way for Chileans living abroad to feel connected to what is happening. Jara identified cabildos and assemblies as: “a way to be together and to make a tiny Chile in our space.”

In addition to this sense of unity, Jara emphasized the importance of these groups as a way to participate in the conversation about the situation in Chile. He pointed out three main strategies these assemblies and cabildos employ. Firstly, to “denounce the repression and systemic violation of human rights in Chile,” as many are incredibly shocked at the violations of human rights that have occurred at the hands of the police and the army.

Secondly, these groups aim “to try to influence in the international press, how the movement is being described by the international press,” to ensure that the truth is being shared on a worldwide scale.

Finally, Jara stressed, “the third line of action is more related to how we can expand our right of participation in this crucial time.” Voting in the referendum, for example, is an incredibly significant part of the strategy to ensure democratic participation for all Chileans, regardless of their country of residence.

Cabildos and international assemblies provide an essential platform for Chileans who feel that their voices may not be as easily heard as residents of Chile. Additionally, they are able to provide an alternate perspective which is essential to the democratic process of creating a new constitution, if it were to go ahead.

Chile Today recently shared an important meeting between The Chilean Solidarity Network in collaboration with Asamblea Chilena en Londres and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile, to discuss the crisis in Chile.

Bell, founder of Chile Solidarity Network, shared her thoughts on the importance of cabildos and assemblies for Chile right now. “We hope that through constructive discussion and consensual organization, we can propose ideas from afar and lend support and solidarity to those trying to build a fairer and more humane Chile, free from the clutches of the benefactors of the Pinochet regime.”

A Letter in Solidarity

A letter to El Mostrador published on Nov.19, and signed by groups of Chileans residing in the U.S., expresses their thoughts on the social outrage in Chile.

The letter highlights how many of the Chileans living in the U.S. now “were direct victims of the civic-military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet” and thus are able to provide a unique view of the situation, particularly regarding the accusations of human rights violations.

They denounce the government response to the protest which has so often criminalized the demonstrations: “We are dismayed at the inability and stupidity of the Government led by President Piñera to respond to this crisis and account for the demands of citizens.”

They also warn that Chile is “facing a crisis of legitimacy of the political-institutional structure” due to the high levels of inequality in the country which has fueled these recent protests.

The letter expresses their full support for the Chilean people and their ability to take “their destiny in their own hands and building a more just and dignified future for all who live in the national territory.”


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