The Constitutional Convention has finished its first week marked by two moments: the election of Elisa Loncón as the Convention’s president and the declaration for the release of so-called political prisoners. For Verónica Figueroa Huencho, political scientist of Mapuche heritage, Loncón’s election was a moving moment. “It showed that Chilean society is changing.”
With a historic speech after being elected president of the Constitutional Convention, Mapuche representative Elisa Loncón gave a hopeful start to a much-anticipated process. The acceptance speech about unity, inclusion and hope, was also received with strong emotions by political scientist Verónica Figueroa Huencho, who is Mapuche herself. “I turned on the television with anxiety and hope, and seeing that image of a Mapuche woman, speaking in Mapudungún, with traditional dress, marked a very powerful moment in the history of Chile”, she told Chile Today.
But it’s not just the image. The content of the speech was historic. “She was naming territories, regions, nature, children, women, and doing this she was positioning herself in a very different form of politics than what we are used to,” she said. “The history of Chile is marked by an oppression, of a western model, a nation state. In all spaces, from public to educational to political, indigenous women were denigrated. It’s patriarchal colonialism, and Loncón broke with that image.”
Figueroa even said the moment was the beginning of the “re-foundation of the Republic,” adding “it belonged to an elite, which self-identified as European … and now, this convention that is going to write a new future for Chile is presided by a Mapuche woman. This also shows that Chilean society is changing”.
Read the entire speech here:
However, she does have a problem with both the national and international media highlighting relentlessly Loncón’s academic trajectory, including two PhD’s and postdoctoral studies in, among others, the Netherlands. “Would we legitimize it in the same way if Francisca Linconao, who is an ancestral authority, had led the Convention? In Western society we have built a meritocracy, meaning that academic knowledge and certificates are the only way to validate oneself. I hope that as part of the plurinational project we are building, we will understand that there are other ways of learning. Because after what we have seen this week, I have no doubt that Chile will become a plurinational state.”
Political prisoners in Chile
Presiding the Convention means that Loncón can decide which topics are discussed first. And the first thing the Convention discussed was the issue of those detained during the social uprising and during the conflict in southern Chile. Critics claimed the Convention was assuming powers it didn’t have by getting involved in pending state issues. Figueroa disagreed. “Clearly, the Convention cannot attribute powers that it does not have. But what it can do is raising the issue and asking the Senate to quickly transmit the general pardon bill,” she said. “The Convention is not a political instrument, but many representatives participated in the marches, they were in the mobilizations, thanks to them we have the Convention.”
On Thursday, a large majority of the Convention approved a declaration about those detained during the social protests in 2019 and during the conflict in La Araucanía region. “We see how daughters and sons of our people have been subjected to the abusive imposition of preventive detention and the lack of progress in the investigations, often with evidence of dubious quality provided by their captors, without jurisdictional control, which has deeply affected the respect for minimum fundamental guarantees,” the declaration said. “The Constitutional Convention, without pretending to interfere or arrogate to itself the competences or attributions of other powers of the state, has the political responsibility to pronounce itself before the country in relation to these contingent situations that clearly contravene the spirit that guides its work: to establish a path of peace and social justice for all the inhabitants of our political community.”
Among the demands are a general pardon for those detained during the protests, urgency of the Human Rights Victims Reparation Bill and the withdrawal of all lawsuits that invoke the State Security Law. This law was created during the dictatorship to legalize political prosecution. It was reformed since and is now widely used in cases authorities label terrorism. Under the law, prosecutors are not obliged to present the defense with the evidence they gathered, putting the defendant at a disadvantage and enabling arbitrary punishment.
The Convention also demanded a general pardon for those detained in Biobío, La Araucanía, Los Lagos and Los Ríos regions as part of the Mapuche conflict, as well as the immediate demilitarization of Wallmapu, as the Mapuche call their homeland. And the Convention will commit to create “in the new Constitution the pertinent and necessary mechanisms so that the human rights of all peoples are not violated again and a guarantee of non-repetition of the facts.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.