SANTIAGO — The body in charge of rewriting Chile’s constitution will be a convention composed of 155 members elected by public vote. A bill to ensure the representation of indigenous peoples at the convention is underway in Congress. Fundamental issues remain to be decided, including the number of positions allocated to indigenous peoples and how those members will be selected.
Amid the constitutional process, Congress is processing a bill that would secure seats for indigenous peoples at the constitutional convention. The bill was first admitted in the Senate on Dec. 17, 2019. The discussions since then have been long and tense.
Currently, there are ten groups of indigenous peoples recognized by the Indigenous Law: Mapuche, Aymara, Rapa Nui, Atacameños, Quechua, Collas, Diaguita, Chango, Kaweskar, and Yagán.
The Constitutional Commission of the Senate agreed to resume discussing the bill on Oct. 27, after not being able to reach an agreement on Oct. 16. However, once again, the discussion has been postponed.
Disagreements Between The Piñera Administration And The Opposition
One of the disagreements that has prevented the bill from advancing is the number of seats that should be secured for native peoples. The constitutional convention will be composed of 155 members. The opposition proposes that the indigenous seats be added to that number, but the pro-government (i.e., the pro-Piñera administration) sectors say the seats should be included within the 155.
According to daily La Tercera, during the discussion on Oct. 27, the opposition gave in to including the number of seats within the existing 155 and limiting the number to 15. The distribution would be seven for Mapuche people and the other eight for the remaining nine groups, with the smallest two fusing with one member. In the end, no agreement was reached.
Also in dispute is how to identify those eligible to be candidates for the indigenous peoples’ seats. The pro-government sectors propose the creation of an indigenous electoral roll that requires registration in the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi). The opposition proposes that candidates can simply “self-identify” as indigenous.
According to the latest census, 12.8 percent of the population identifies as part of an indigenous group. The Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Research (CIIR) recently released a statement warning that the government’s proposal of creating a new indigenous electoral roll could be problematic. CIIR argues that, with the election on Apr. 11, there is not enough time for people to register with Conadi and obtain accreditation. “Building a registry of this magnitude with good results is a job that requires deadlines that exceed by far the dates of the constituent process. Therefore, the option of self-identification is more efficient.”
Next Steps For The Bill
On Oct. 28, the Constitution Commission of the Senate held another session to discuss the remaining disagreements and to listen to different indigenous groups’ proposals.
A member of the committee, Francisco Huenchumilla, said, “I hope we reach an agreement with the ruling party. If not, we will have to vote on the indications as they are. Each one will assume whether or not we achieve the seats.”
After an hour and a half of listening to arguments from indigenous communities and discussing the controversial elements of the bill, the committee agreed to convene further sessions later in the week to continue deliberating on the reserved seats.
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant