With a clear result of 78%, Chileans have voted in favor of a new Constitution. Foreign policy has not figured in the related campaigns or debates. But the result has implications that will and must bring foreign policy consequences nobody should ignore.
On Oct. 25, Chilean voters opted for Apruebo. They approved that popularly elected representatives draft a new Constitution. The result, as Marco Moreno, the dean of Universidad Central’s political science faculty, wrote in news outlet El Mostrador obliterates the status quo, which only 22% wanted to keep.
More Than the Constitution
The status quo stemmed from the Constitution and included accepting some political freedom aside capitalist orthodoxy. On that agreement grew a non-partisan understanding of economic policy equaling social policy. Multilateralism in the post-Cold War world plus technocratic governance would result in free trade and economic growth, leading to falling poverty.
The model created better economic indicators than most other Latin American countries achieved, but it also masked reality. Glitzy products imported from the US and Asia, consumed through credit banks financed with international operations concealed that this growth at best did nothing to keep 70% of the population out of precariousness. The discontent exploded into a social outbreak on Oct. 18, 2019 and deepened during the pandemic that followed.
How resistant the economic model turns out in the absence of the post-dictatorship consensus remains to be seen. But changes will come and the foreign policy establishment cannot sit oblivious in its ivory tower.
A democratization of the Constitution could impact relations with China, to which Chile has grown increasingly subservient under the current administration and the previous one. That doesn’t mean ties with China should be cut. But some realism is necessary. China, a supposed friend, has kept rather mum about an event that deeply changes a key regional partner.
Chilean officials will have to increasingly assure their Chinese counterparts that democracy doesn’t really mean that much. The Chinese will have to step up censorship about the plebiscite because the process was so impeccable that it serves as global role model in the exercise of democracy.
Second, Venezuela could become another topic. President Nicolás Maduro congratulated Chileans for their ability to destroy Pinochet’s legacy. But his government is the biggest impediment to a similar process in Venezuela. More Chilean leftists will find it hard to argue against a similar process in that country. Such a development could further isolate Caracas and trigger more repression and upheaval.
Mi felicitación, reconocimiento y admiración al pueblo chileno que hoy se volcó a las calles y centros electorales para decidir el futuro de su Constitución y acabar con el pinochetismo. Se abren las grandes alamedas para construir una sociedad mejor. ¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva Allende! pic.twitter.com/1cPFNEfIDQ
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) October 26, 2020
Third, foreign policy at home will be affected by the weakening of minister Andrés Allamand. He strongly campaigned for Rechazo, adopting the right-wing zeal of his wife, ex-education minister Marcela Cubillos. Allamand is a career politician and replaced the ruthless but quiet technocrat Teodoro Ribera because of party tactics.
A rift over the plebiscite between Allamand and National Renewal (RN) party chief Mario Desbordes threatened to tear the president’s party and bedrock of governing coalition Chile Vamos apart. President Sebastián Piñera calmed the waters by offering real responsibility to both, installing Desbordes as defense minister. In that context, Allamand and Desbordes had to work together in government instead of fighting in the party.
But the leverage Allamand could claim before the plebiscite is gone. He is inextricably linked to defeat. While RN campaigned for Rechazo, the party will have to adjust to the new reality, especially since its most powerful member will have to oversee the process toward a new Constitution.
Demoting Allamand back to simple party member would not have much consequence politically, although he’d be the third foreign minister to leave the post during this government term. Even if Piñera kept this enemy closer, it’s still hard to see how Allamand keeps up appearances. He would have to work in an administration that has to change everything he politically stands for. Also, he is not the type that can keep their head down and he’s lost authority. No matter if by own decision or the president’s, another change of Teatinos 180’s leadership is likely. The waves this will cause will subside by the time Piñera leaves office.
Many more changes are coming to Chile’s foreign policy because of the referendum’s death blow to the accord that has ruled Chile. So far, analysts and bureaucrats, however, are treating the vote as a purely internal affair. Apart from being unprofessional, this ignorance could spell trouble when supposed traditions are overturned.
The drafters of the new Magna Carta should keep in mind that Chile’s being made as much through its outside as it is through its inside. And the population should elect these drafters accordingly.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).