Constitutional Process NATIONAL POLITICS

On the Path to the Constitutional Convention: Chapter 3

The elections for the Constitutional Convention are fast approaching. Chileans will go to the polls on April 11 to elect the 155 representatives to draft a new Constitution. Chile Today has talked to some candidates about their inspiration and hopes.

Santiago’s voting District 11 is a stronghold of right-wing parties. Las Condes, Vitacura and Lo Barnechea are the only three districts in the Metropolitan Region that opposed a new Constitution in the Oct. 25, 2020 referendum. However, many representatives of the governing Chile Vamos coalition are running for the district as candidates for the Constitutional Convention. At the same time, the opposition and many independent contenders are hoping for a seat too. 

Tomás Recart, candidate for district 11.

Tomás Recart, independent for District 11: Lo Barnechea, Vitacura, Las Condes, La Reina, Peñalolén

Tomás and five colleagues launched NGO Enseña Chile, inspired by the US non-profit Teach For America. It strives to provide quality education for children from poor backgrounds. The organization is present in 10 regions and over 110 schools across the country, with Recart being executive director since its founding in 2008.

Recart has received several awards: The World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader Award in 2011 and newspaper El Mercurio’s Social Entrepreneur Award in 2010, among others.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You aim to represent those whose future is determined by their socioeconomic background. How would a new Constitution help?
Recart: Probabilities tell you that your origin determines your access to what I call basic public goods, related to education, healthcare, and security.

So, my way of facing this problem doesn’t have to do with rights in the Constitution. My approach has to do with an in-depth modernization of the state, which has bad incentives and a poor structure, and is sometimes seized by minority groups. Let me give you an example from education. We have local education services, but in the end, they are still entities that are not liable and depend greatly on the Education Ministry. So, imagine how nonsensical it is that people in Temuco oversee 70 schools and cannot control their budgets; they are being told what to do from Santiago. This structure has to do with centralism, lack of autonomy, lack of incentives.

With the current work protections, people are not incentivized to do a better job. Imagine that you have a sponsor that manages schools very well, and next door you have a sponsor that does a terrible job. The state doesn’t allow poorly managed schools to be handed over to a good manager. Everything is so rigid, so detailed in the way the law is written that it is impossible to make changes in the short term.

We have doubled the education budget, but we haven’t improved at all, because Congress tells you what you can and can’t do. The state needs a better structure with healthy incentives and the necessary flexibility to include the private sector, NGOs and see what happens. Nobody knows what the exact solution is. That doesn’t exist anywhere.

Regarding minority groups, the board of the teachers’ union is elected with 5,000 votes of 220,000 teachers. Two weeks ago they said teachers will not return to schools unless the districts are [completely open]. In the 1980 Constitution, strikes are prohibited for public services, and every year schools go on strike or get occupied by students for up to three months. So they say, “we want the right to go on strike as citizens,” and that’s fine, but then they should also follow the labor code.

The Constitution ultimately is there to ensure that nobody has more privileges or freedoms than others, but a public employee has more privileges. I think that to have equal access to quality public services, we must modernize the state to put good leaders with the responsibility, autonomy and capacity where things are happening. 

The constitutional process results from the uprising that started in October 2019. What’s your view on the Estallido Social?
Recart: It’s complex and it is very sad. I agree that we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the events of Oct. 18, and it is very sad that there was so much violence for us to be having these conversations today.

I voted Apruebo for three reasons: number one, it’s important for the Constitution to be legitimized by people, and under a dictatorship this doesn’t happen, regardless of how good or bad the document is. Maybe we will end up with the same Constitution! Secondly, I cannot miss being part of a space where we discuss the country we want. I don’t think that the 1980 Constitution is bad, but Chile has changed and is different, and we must ultimately make important changes to look at the future. Thirdly, I don’t believe people who say “reform the reforms” if they didn’t do it in 30 years.

I’m responsible for what I’ll say, but I think [the uprising] was premeditated. You don’t set 18 metro stations ablaze spontaneously in one day. Burning 18 metro stations is something that requires an impressive logistical effort, and I think that there was a calculated plan.

However, nobody can guarantee that we will be better off in two years’ time, so we must be very careful and that’s why I want to be a part of it. This isn’t exclusive to Chile. Remember the Arab Spring, everything that happened at Wall Street. This is a worldwide phenomenon, fueled by social media. But if you look at the Middle East or the US, you can see that society is more polarized. I’d tell people who say “we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Oct. 18” to be careful, because we haven’t won anything yet. We must be very careful.

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