Chile's Second Dictatorship
An Avoidable Outcome (Opinion)
My summer had been full of anxiety. The July 4th 2022 release of the proposed Constitution by the Chilean Convention was an on going conversation between both friends and strangers. My younger friends where full of excitement. I was not.
Finally on Monday, September 5, I awoke to see the following headline:
“Sense of Abandonment” as Chile Rejects New Constitution
More than 60% of Chileans voted against the proposal,
which its supporters call feminist and progressive.
Various publications had similar headlines. In each, the disappointment and sorrow that came after the announcement indicated that this rejection was a setback. As I read these articles, I noticed that not one provided any details as to why over half the population voted against the new constitution. Instead, the comments focused on the disappointment and sadness over the constitution not being ratified.
The same Al Jazeera article continued to depict a sense of loss by environmentalists:
“Confident that her country would vote to approve the proposal for a new constitution, she had planned to celebrate a new chapter in Chilean history which placed the environment as a key priority.”
Another publication detailed the disappointment of Leftist President Gabriel Boric who supported the proposed constitution.
“I think there are two things that explain what has just happened. One is a rejection of the Boric government,” political analyst Cristobal Bellolio told Reuters, adding that “the other was identify politics in regards to indigenous and other issues.”
Three hundred and eighty eight articles were written to extend social rights, increase environmental regulation, give government wider responsibility for social welfare programs, full gender parity, and added designated seats for Indigenous representatives.
Yet despite all of these changes, the proposed constitution was rejected throughout Chile’s provinces from people on both the right and left. Although it was projected to be rejected, to read the news on various outlets brought me a sense of relief. Yet as quickly as that relief came, I was still concerned.
In conversations with young Chileans who protested during 2019’s Estallido Social (Social Outburst), which led to various statues being beheaded, civil unrest, police brutality, and martial law, the promise of a new Constitution to replace the document created in 1981 by then Dictator General Augusto Pinochet and amended since was the answer they had hoped for—a move toward equality that reflected their voices and addressed the economic and social inequalities.
The resounding “Yes!” I heard toward the September 4 referendum and the response I receive stating that they had not read the entire document but knew it would be a better option then the Pinochet constitution did not put me at ease. Instead, I was reminded of the term “buyers’ remorse.”
What has not been covered adequately was the sheer scale of the proposed constitution. At over 100 pages, it would have been one of the longest documents of its type in the world. The focus has been remarkable on pushing against progress from a traditionally conservative country.
Taken from The Economist:
“But overall, the draft is a confusing mess, full of woolly language that more or less guarantees decades of squabbling about what it actually means. ‘Nature’ would be given rights. The draft mentions ‘gender’ 39 times. Court rulings, the police and a national health system will have to operate with a ‘gender perspective’, which it does not define.
The document is far less business- or growth-friendly than the current constitution. It gives trade unions the sole right to represent workers, guarantees them a say in corporate decision-making and allows them to strike for any reason, not just those relating to work. It says that everyone has the ‘right to work’ and that ‘all forms of job insecurity are prohibited’. That could make it rather hard to fire anyone. Landowners, such as farmers, could potentially lose the property rights to water on their land. Compensation for expropriated land would not be at a market price but at whatever Congress deems a ‘just’ one.”
My observations noted how vague the document was. It truly read like a wish list of ideas without a concrete path of how to achieve them. Various people involved in the drafting of the document had limited experience in politics and only showed an interest in specific areas with a disinterest in others.
Legal checks and balances would be decreased. A new council would take the place of the Supreme Court. Spirituality would have been recognized as an essential element of a human being. The right to sports is also covered. There is an even a section on learning empathy towards animals. According to the Centre of Public Studies based in Chile, national GDP would increase substantially from 9% to 14% if the document was ratified.
Chile is a country that I have come to think of as my Latin American home. So, when I express my criticism, it is not because I am against its development. There is a lot that I like about the current draft, and I want to see in return if a new constitution is drafted. But to be honest, I would rather they work with the Pinochet constitution. In my opinion, radically changing government under duress is never a good catalyst for change unless it is during the formation of a new country.
Yet this was the solution over 80% of Chileans voted for in 2019 to end the riots. This was the solution to their various concerns and issues with the Pinochet constitution that have not been addressed: retirement programs, health care, income disparity, and education.
Despite all of this, my worry remains that Chile could return to a dictatorship within my lifetime.
Chile’s Ethnic Divides
For me that concern began in 2006. I still remember my nervousness during my first stay in Latin America from thinking that I would be captured by guerillas. Instead, my first hours came with surprises. The shanty towns far from El Centro surprised me. I had related such structures to Brazil and Jamaica but not Chile.
Although I was living in the comfortable neighborhood of Nunoa. I often took the train to various neighborhoods and saw the stark differences in communities. Slowly I could see the difference in classes and economic levels.
It did not take long for me to make friends, most of who I still communicate with today. It also did not take very long to notice that, for many, I was the first black person they had ever seen or met. The sight of children staring up at me or whole towns full of people craning their necks to take a gander. What started as mildly amusing quickly became an annoyance. This would culminate in my first Chilean Independence Day (September 18).
The week-long celebration brought people into the streets to drink and revel. In my case, a little too much, as the parties happened almost spontaneously. Finding myself at an event in the park, I would be too tired to continue, finally deciding to slow down and sit down. It was at that point that someone would yell racial epitaphs about the laziness of blacks and how we drink all the time.
Others would come to my aid, yelling and cursing at him, puta madre weon! Then turning to me and stating in English, “they were not all like him,” Those words stuck in my head: They were not all like him.
Peruvians, Indigenous, Colombians, and later Venezuelans and Ayitians (Haitians) make up the other nationalities present in and around Santiago de Chile, the capital and most populous city within the country.
Similar to the Mexicans in the United States, Peruvians take the roles of nannies and house keepers, and they are generally thought of in a positive light. Oftentimes, Peruvians who move to Chile see it as a step up in class, especially if their children receive their education and grow up there.
Indigenous peoples (Rapanui, Chango, Colla, Quechua, Aymara, Atacameno, Diaguita, Kawesquar, Yagan, and Mapuche) are often ignored.
Colombians are viewed as nothing more than drug dealers, prostitutes, troublemakers, who all party too much.
After the exodus of Venezuelans from the Presidency of Nicholas Madura, they were viewed as an intelligent class and welcome addition.
Ayitians (Haitians) are nice and well-adjusted, although my conversations with them revealed that the subsequent migration from the country of huge numbers of them create a different picture. Already they are not happy with the meager roles they play while looking for better-paying jobs and living conditions. Many are activity migrating out of the country instead of staying behind.
My image of Chile is that of a contradiction. For as often that I overheard that it was great that the country was becoming more diverse, the voices and concerns of those groups were often beyond understanding or thought of as inconsequential.
The recent election is an example. Jose Antonio Kast, the son of a Nazi, got a surprising high number of votes. The voters also showed a fondness for the dictators and the Left Wing Gabriel Boric, who is the youngest president in the world, and offers a fair representation of the voices and views of the current generation of Chileans.
Similarities to the Past
The presidency of Salvador Allende (1970–1973) was controversial and had issues before it began. Running as the Popular Unity candidate whose numbers included socialists, communists, and radicals, his win had to be confirmed by Congress after a majority was not declared by either of the other candidates.
His term caused ripples both nationally and internationally. Running on a socialist platform, he started to nationalize foreign-owned copper companies without compensation, redistributed wealth though wage increases to lower classes, and froze prices. Land was also redistributed from corporations to agrarian workers. During this time, Chile was suffering under a number of issues including strikes, inflation, and domestic unrest.
Although he was beloved by a majority of lower-income classes due to his programs, dissention grew among the middle class that felt he was taking away from them to provide for the lower class. Thus, the impression was that their voices were not being heard. This caused a rift between the president and the more conservative Chilean population. As a result, the military started to plan their own attempts at a coup, which was unsuccessful.
This is not dissimilar to what the country is currently facing: rising inflation, a rift with the population, and domestic unrest. Adding the police actively firing on civilians during the 2019 protests highlights why the country is at boiling point that was only tempered by the 2020–2022 pandemic.
The previous constitutional convention was marred by unexperienced politicians. This has been recently rectified by Boric’s firing and demoting of friends and close associates in favor of seasoned politicians to assist on both drafting and politicking.
It has also been tarnished by acts of defiance like the June 2022 protest that included symbolically using a Chilean flag in a reenactment of an abortion to argue for women’s reproductive rights. Other accounts are about throwing rocks and sticks at various individuals. If the younger generation wants to be taken seriously, these are the type of actions that need to stop since they work against these people being taken seriously.
Chile should avoid the trap that has befallen the United States and various Latin American countries where politics have become polarized. They also have to recognize that their country has become multi-ethnic. Yes, they did address some of those issues with the first draft of a new constitution, but in time issues of race and what it means to live in Chilean society will become questions first generations coming from Ayiti or Venezuela will ask. At this time, that is not a conversation they are prepared for.
The country is at a boiling point, but unlike other countries in the region, Chile has been able to buck the trend. This is in stark contrast to what has transpired in Brazil, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Thus, I try to be optimistic, but Chileans are also quick-tempered and their culture is quick to protest rather than engaging in conversations.
As I said, Chile is like a second home to me. The foods, people, and culture are almost second nature to who I am. Thus, to avoid repeating the past, Chileans should start with talking and listening instead of yelling, engaging in shock tactics, and protesting at the first sign of a disagreement.
Santiago de Chile Burning - 2019’s Social Outburst
2019’s Estallido Social (Social Outburst)
Ayitian - Chilean - Chile’s Next Generation
Protest at the Manuel Baquedano Statue
Indigenous Mapuche Protest in Santiago
Women’s Reproductive Rights Protest - Santiago de Chile