Not all indigenous communities were granted a reserved seat: in the Arica and Parinacota region, there are approximately 8,500 Afro-descendants, making up at least five percent of the total population in the area. Arica, once a Peruvian city that Chile gained after the Pacific War in the 19th century, was home to a significant number of people of African origin.
Milene Molina, candidate for District 1: Arica and Parinacota
As a representative of her community in Arica, Milene has worked in the Afro-descendant development office at the Arica local government for the past four years. It is the only public office of its kind in the country, created 10 years ago because of demands from the Afro-descendant population in the city.
Besides this, Milene has worked in the tourism industry, offering transport to Bolivian truck drivers, which was a battle as the authorities did not recognize it as a need until recently. She was the legal representative for one of the two businesses in the area until she decided to become a candidate for the constitutional convention.
She identifies as an anti-racist, feminist, social activist, and is a coordinator for the Afro-descendant Women in the Southern Cone network, which encompasses Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and the diaspora; and also participates in a collective for Afro-descendants Luanda.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What truly motivated you to become a candidate for the Constitutional Convention?
A: … It isn’t easy to take on this challenge where there are people who would love to see you fail. Chilean politics are not based on political proposals but on how I can destroy you so that I get into power … with whatever it takes, attacking you as a person, or lying … so that I can have your platform. This has discouraged many in the community to come forward, even people who have an incredible background in social work and could have been a great help to attract voters. So, this is what inspired me. Someone had to take on the challenge and that’s why we’re here.
Q: Regarding the Chilean state’s current role, what do you think is its biggest weakness?
A: I think we have a very weak state. It has a very weak structure, and because of this it cannot be a good administrator for its people. It has become very polarized, but I think the role that it should have is to offer protection, security, a vision, to look ahead and see how its citizens, how this as the state should manage goods for everybody, because in the end, we are the state. Unfortunately, today the state is not integrated by the fittest people for the job, or by the people with the best intentions. …. I think the worst thing that happens today in the state, and thus makes it so weak, is individualism. That’s our greatest flaw at present. We shouldn’t have to look at our differences, but how we can move forward, see how, if we have a loaf of bread, how we can share it so that we can give those who have less a bit more, and those who have more, a bit less, so that we can even things out.
Q: Who are you looking to represent with your candidacy?
A: I would like those who think that, for instance, natural resources should be managed by the state, to vote for me. I hope to represent those from working-class backgrounds, who may feel like they do not have the abilities or resources to get to these decision-making instances. My campaign is aimed at these spaces, which is where I come from and live to this day. We should all have the same opportunities: I shouldn’t have to work my fingers to the bone to have the same opportunities as others. …. What I’ll do is fight when I’m there like I have always done, and if I fall I will get up again until the end, so that everything that can be written in this constitution is done from a collective viewpoint.
Q: Which article of the current constitution would you change or remove?
A: …. I would remove the article that penalizes women for having an abortion (art. 19, no. 1 of the 1980 constitution “protects the life of the unborn”). I would also remove everything related to economic competitiveness, because even when the constitution talks about our right to have our goods and property, it creates a difference in social classes. …. I don’t think we should compete, the worst thing we can do is to think that there are some who are better than others, and that it is reflected on how much money you make, how many businesses you own, how many qualifications you have, everything is a competition. I think this is very harmful.
Q: At present, there isn’t any political representation for Afro-descendant communities in the executive or legislative branches. How would you change this with a new constitution?
A: …. I think that for us to have room in this new constitution would open discussions about issues like racism …. Racism is very strong in Chile. Classism and racism are commonplace, and the current constitution made them more evident than ever before, to the point where they made people believe that they didn’t exist. Even in the Afro-descendant women’s collective I’m a part of, since we started to link in with other feminist organizations, one of the things we talked about was racism, and the answer always was “no, there isn’t any racism here,” but as we talked, we noticed that there was …. little things like “black women can participate with all the others in a feminist space” and when we set up an event, we were left in charge of logistics, while the others were debating or analyzing, so we were always relegated to the background.
When people ask, “What do you, the Afro-descendants, want to put in the constitution?”, I say, “The same as everyone else!”, and it’s what I said before, protecting the environment, the territory, caring for our people, equity for all people, ensuring that we all have the same rights; but we also want the constitution to recognize the tribal Afro-descendant people of Chile. That’s why we are fighting to get there, because we know that if we don’t get there, they may only just mention us and that is it, nothing more. No rights. Nothing.
Milene’s campaign video (in Spanish).
Francisco is finishing his degree in Journalism at Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago.