Due to the ongoing pandemic, the elections for the Constitutional Convention were rescheduled for May 2021. Chileans will go to the polls on May 15 and 16 to choose the 155 representatives tasked with drafting a new constitution for the country. Chile Today is talking with some of the candidates to discuss the inspirations, hopes, and goals that motivate their candidacies in this historic event.
Health experts recommended postponing the elections due to the recent uptick in coronavirus cases across the country, especially in larger cities. President Sebastián Piñera therefore sent an urgent bill to Congress on Mar. 29 to reschedule them. The biggest electoral event in Chile’s history will now take place on May 15 and 16.
Mario Aguilar, candidate for District 8: Colina, Lampa, Quilicura, Pudahuel, Tiltil, Cerrillos, Estación Central and Maipú
School teacher, writer, and president of the Metropolitan Teachers’ Union, Mario Aguilar is at the forefront of the coronavirus crisis and the impact it has had on education. It is based on his personal experiences as a teacher and union leader that he hopes to be part of the constitutional process.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What inspired you to run for the Constitutional Convention?
A: Well, we, as the teachers’ union, have demanded a constitutional assembly since 1997, at the National Education Congress, to make changes that education requires but that weren’t possible due to Pinochet’s constitution. At that point, I wasn’t a union leader, I participated as a teacher, but that has been part of our background documents, and since then it has been a major demand of ours. So from the 2019 social uprising, we were among the first to align with the idea of a constitutional convention.
Then, after the referendum, it was time for the candidacies, and that’s where many colleagues from the district I’m representing asked me to become a candidate, because they felt it was important, and many district leaders felt that way, so I took on the challenge because I think it’s paramount for teachers to have a voice in drafting this new constitution.
Q: From the educational perspective, what changes would you like to see?
A: We must get rid of the concept of education as a consumer good, and it’s not a concept that I’m making up. Piñera himself said it in an interview as President of the Republic – the idea that education is a product, goods that can be exchanged in the market. We believe that education is a social right that everyone should have access to, to achieve social justice.
Education is the foundation of any society, and, as such, a market education based on performance rankings makes it seem so inhumane. We must remove this completely, and it is something that must be defined in the new document. We must prioritize that and give public education a constitutional status as the central point of the country’s educational development.
People will still be able to opt for private education if they wish, but the state must prioritize public education, manage it, and make it secular, inclusive and free for everyone, at all levels, of course.
Q: And beyond a market education, what would you change in the education system?
A: Apart from the competitiveness around market education, you can also find it in classrooms when people see education only as a preparation for the job market, when they believe that performance, standardized tests, are synonyms of quality education, and this distorts the sense of the education that we fight for: an integral education – a humanizing, transforming, liberating education that makes us better people, that in turn allows us to develop a better society, one where we can learn to live collectively, and not the way we see now, getting rid of our neighbors because they’re our competitors. So, we’re talking about an education perspective that is very, very different to what we see today. It’s what Chile needs, and it’s what we’ll promote.
Q: Who are you looking to represent with your candidacy to the Constitutional Convention?
A: Well, I’m a teacher and I’m proud of it. And us teachers are part of the people, we’re not the country’s elite. We might have an intellectual, academic training that puts us at a higher level, but we are still part of the working class.
I want to be a spokesperson for the country’s teachers, the education communities, but also other groups of society in District 8. It’s a district that is very representative of Chile, the Chile that hasn’t had the same opportunities, the one that’s been neglected by the elite, the society that despite its efforts is still in debt, or if one of their family members falls ill, it’s a catastrophe because healthcare is expensive.
Those who have to get a loan to send their children to school or university, who are unsure about their future because of their pensions, or pensioners who struggle because the private pension management system has left them with mediocre allowances. Those who can’t access housing because real estate speculation has inflated prices, making it impossible to buy a first home.
So, I’m one of them, because I go through the same things that most Chileans have to endure. I’m not from the elite, political groups. I’m not interested in joining political groups, my intention is only to participate in this constitutional convention.
To learn more about Aguilar’s campaign, visit his website in Spanish.