Chileans awakening leads for change

Moleskine, Apuntes y reflexiones” is one of the least known books of the world-famous writer Luis Sepulveda. Written in 2004, it collects considerations about the most diverse topics. From the Afghanistan War to the close relationship with his brother, from environmental issues to new year resolutions. However, even in the lighter topics, the sharp and disillused political critique of the author comes out and dominates the whole book. His life has always been devoted to politics. As a convicted communist militant, he worked as personal guard of President Allende. He was in the presidential palace when the Pinochet coup d’Etat broke out. For this reason, the military dictatorship imprisoned and tortured him. Once released, he was banished from Chile until 1989, where he returned only a few times. He did never again consider Chile as his homeland. He had lost his hope for a real political change in this country. In 2017, during an interview for the italian newspaper Il Manifesto he declared: “It is very difficult to imagine the future of an apathetic, socially ruined and politically inert country, unable to imagine an alternative to the prevailing neoliberalism. It is true that there are areas of society that really and properly reflect the reality and the possibility of changing it, but unfortunately they are only a minority”.

When the author pronounced these words, he was giving up hope. Surprisingly, he has been proved wrong. The political turmoil that characterized last year’s Chile was unprecedented and brought to a major change. The 24th of October 2020, 78% of the Chilean population voted in favour of a new constitution. Right-wing President Piñera allowed the referendum last November, after a month of country-spread street protests. The spark which set protests on fire has been a routine increase in metro fares. This small change brought all the struggling Chileans on the streets, guided by the students, who shared the hashtag #evasionmasiva on their social networks. The minority Sepulveda talked about was finally able to become a majority and to make its voice heard. Taking advantage of the position they had gained, the protesters started asking for a new constitutional assembly.

Chile’s constitution is still the old dictatorship-era one of 1980, drafted behind closed doors by a Pinochet-appointed commission. The authoritarian and market-friendly principles enshrined in it have allowed Chile to become a major economy in Latin America. But they have also constrained the process of democratisation, preferring market conditions rather than human-rights, for instance by putting the private sector in control of health, education, housing and pensions. Despite having been amended many times, this constitution remains illegitimate in the eyes of many chileans. Not surprisingly, thus, the constitutional change became the main demand of the protesters.

In November 2019, in order to stop the increased violence, representatives from many different political parties decided to concede a referendum for April 2020, which has been postponed due to the Covid emergency. On the 24th October 2020, Chileans were called to vote not only if they wanted a new constitution, but also what kind of body they would want to draw it up. The 78% voted in favour of a new constitution and, among them, the 79% asked for a constitutional convention, composed by citizens and not only by professional politicians, to write it.

For many Chileans, this vote means a cut point between a dictatorship era and a modern, more democratic one. But others say writing a new constitution will not solve Chilean problems. Instead, they claim the constitution was the only basis which prevented Chileans from the excesses of the governments and that the needed changes demand for economic provisions rather than constitutional ones. Undoubtedly, many steps have still to be taken. On 11 April 2021, voters will have to choose the 155 people who will draw the new constitution and, in 2022, they will be called to vote for the new test. If the convention will not be able to find agreement, the current constitution will remain in force. The road to the new democracy is still long and impervious. The population will have to keep up attention and participation in order to supervise the next steps. However, this vote has demonstrated that Chile is not “an apathetic country, socially ruined”. By contrast, Chileans have proven determined and united. The referendum was not induced by the elites. It has been forced by people. For this reason, it is not blind to celebrate this initial wonderful result. Chileans have demonstrated they are alert and they can make their voices heard. It is an outstanding gain for Chilean democracy. After the votes were counted, people poured out again in the streets to celebrate the victory. We can bet Sepulveda would have loved to see its country so alive, even with some critiques. Probably, he could have given us a more informed and detached interpretation of the situation. Unfortunately, he is not here to tell us.

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