Writing Chile’s new Constitution is a watershed moment. The Constitutional Convention elected an indigenous woman as its president and is overall more diverse than the incestuous political-economic elite that has ruled for decades, often explicitly against the public interest. Despite the problems and challenges, this is a time for hope.
Elisa Loncón, member of Chile’s largest ethnic group, the Mapuche, will lead the drafting of the new Constitution at a moment when elsewhere the barbarism a so-called first-world country committed against indigenous children in Canada is causing outrage.
The Mapuche live mainly in La Araucanía region, which is marred by a militarized conflict involving paramilitaries, clandestine cells, and state repression.
Loncón was elected president of the Constitutional Convention by 96 of the 155 members. She has a solid professional background, being professor of English at Universidad de La Frontera, having a Master’s in Linguistics from Mexico’s Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa (UAM-I), a PhD in Humanities from University of Leiden (Holland), and a PhD in Literature from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
Diversity against the Status Quo
The Convention started almost four hours later than planned because of incidents outside the building. Protesters confronted police, almost like the days during the social uprising that started in October 2019 and without which the plebiscite on a new Constitution would never have happened.
In the plebiscite, 79% of voters opted for the change and 80% voted to have the Magna Carta written by popularly elected representatives. The right-wing’s proposal of a mixed convention was defeated overwhelmingly. This was another great defeat of the ruling party – and of President Sebastián Piñera. The loss was compounded later when only 23% of voters opted for right-wing Convention representatives, the lowest share in any election in the last 30 years.
The opening ceremony displayed the country’s diversity much better and more colorful than the monochromatic gray of the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary. A key aspect was the absence of Piñera, who always wanted to capitalize on this moment but had to opt for prudence to avoid embarrassment.
Democracy without political parties
A group equally made up of men and women, involving 17 indigenous representatives from the Mapuche, Aymara, Pascuense, Collas, and other peoples displayed banners, posters, and flags alluding to the detainees from the outbreak, the defense of water rights and against gender violence. The Convention includes young, old, novices to public service, businesspersons, and a lonely man dressed as huaso, the traditional landowners and oligarchs of southern Chile.
I think the political parties understand they will not have much control over what happens at the Convention. Not only are they in a minority, but their representatives have also indicated that they will act with total freedom.
The election of the Convention’s leadership was eloquent. However, it’s clear the Chilean right remains completely disconnected from the reality that a new country has emerged. Despite expectations that a woman would lead the Convention, the right nominated a man, a stern conservative and apparatchik.
A new dawn
A new era started on July 4. Loncón even mentioned “a re-founding of a plurinational Chile.” This structural change was incubated for a few years since cases of rampant corporate collusion, abuse, inequality, pedophile priests and political corruption across the spectrum trickled into the public. It all came to a head on October 18, 2019.
Our country began to write a new page in its history. Despite fears by some that the rules of the game could change too much, I am convinced this is the time to believe in, trust and support this historical process.
After all, the rules that will be created during the next 12 months and that will guide Chile for decades, will be the best guarantee to reflect the changes the great majority wanted. Too many have been tired of the structural problems that were never solved during the transition to democracy and after 17 years of cruel dictatorship.
And of course, a fairer country that solves structural problems will give more peace of mind to everyone, including entrepreneurs and investors.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.