In Chile, constituents go out to meet citizens

On the Place d’Armes of Arauco, a small rural town located on the shores of the Pacific, orange hangings have been erected to shelter from the hot sun of the southern spring. A few municipal employees are busy on this wooded square whose heart is occupied by a refined fountain. The day is important: the isolated village, far from the Pan-American highway, major traffic axis on this side of the Andes, has visitors. And not just any: this afternoon he receives a delegation from the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drawing the contours of the new Chile.

Violeta Parra’s songs for a historic meeting

Tables and chairs were installed for the fifteen constituents who arrived by bus, as well as for the public. The pandemic, taken very seriously, tempers enthusiasm. But not hope. A guitarist has been invited to accompany the event. He is quickly joined by a singer who covers several titles of Violeta Parra, the great name of Chilean song.

The young mayor of the town, Elizabeth Marican, 36, observes: As soon as I knew that the constituents were coming to the region and that they had the opportunity to go to Arauco, I jumped at the opportunity. It is important that they come to listen to us. It is a historic process that we are delighted to be a part of! “

It’s been almost a week since the 155 elected members of the Constituent Assembly – mostly novices in politics – took up residence in the region where the Biobio river, descending from the Andes, flows into the ocean, 600 kilometers to the south. from Santiago. From side road to side road, they multiply public meetings, under the sea breeze or in the invigorating air of the Cordillera which, in Chile, is never far from the coast.

Before the seven commissions dispersed to the four corners of the region, a plenary session was held in Concepcion, its capital. In the great hall of the regional government palace, the members of the Convention were able to observe the wall frescoes which recall the eventful history of these lands of the Mapuche Indians, hostile to the Incas as to the conquistadors.

A week of meetings listening to Chileans

This week spent outside the capital – the first since the start of the assembly’s work in July, and after several months spent agreeing on procedures – is followed very closely by the press and television. El Sur, the main daily newspaper of Concepcion, reports the discussions in detail, keeps the count of the public meetings and notes the names of the people invited to meet the new elected officials.

→ PORTRAIT. Chile: a Mapuche woman at the head of the Constituent Assembly

In Arauco, it is the members of the second commission, responsible for “constitutional principles, democracy, nationality and citizenship”, who have an appointment. The president of the assembly, Elisa Loncon, member of this commission, is the most eagerly awaited. After a few words from the mayor, she launches, dressed in traditional Mapuche attire, a cheerful “Husband Husband”, greetings greeted by applause and a few raised fists in rallying. The President recalls how much these words – “hello”, in the Mapuche language – have long been banned in this centralizing country, which was built on the pride of its European origins.

Round tables at the edge of the Pacific

Elisa Loncon’s intervention is brief: the constituents are there to listen. Each has only two minutes to introduce themselves to the few hundred people who have interrupted their activities to participate in this public meeting. Then the floor is given to the inhabitants who come to confide the problems of a region which feels neglected by Santiago. Witnesses evoke a distant justice, discrimination against the Mapuche, as well as problems of access to water in this region dominated by the forest industry.

→ REPORT. In Chile, a new word for indigenous peoples

After these interventions, the decor is rearranged to be able to hold round tables, each bringing together a majority of locals and several conventional. Attentive, Mario Vargas takes notes. Elected to the Convention under the colors of the Socialist Party, he put aside his job as a guidance counselor in Osorno, at the gates of Patagonia. It is fascinating to discover the problems of different regions, he slips. It is for the inhabitants that we work. Today, there are not many people, but yesterday more than a hundred people received us in a village in the Cordillera. These are people who have never been heard. “

A delicate task, without a net

This exercise is a first in the slender country leaning against the Andes mountain range, used to the rules of the game being defined by a handful of white men, mostly soldiers. The Constitution currently in force, which dates from 1980, is the work of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

For a majority of Chileans, who expressed themselves in the street during the social movement at the end of 2019, but also at the polls, on the occasion of a referendum, then elections for the Constituent Assembly, it is is this text which locks the economic and social system inherited from the military regime. A system that gives pride of place to the private sector in all areas, including health, education and pensions.

The task of the constituents is delicate: they have no right to make mistakes. In the event of failure in the referendum scheduled for September, the country would keep the text currently in force. And the Chileans their frustrations. “This scenario is not impossible, let us remember the surprise rejection of the peace agreement in Colombia, considers another conventional, the journalist Patricio Fernandez. Hence this essential imperative to reach out to people, to include them in our work. And to work, too, with the people on the other side. “

In Chile, constituents go out to meet citizens

The fear of drifting towards uncertain horizons

Because if the elections for the Constituent Assembly, in May 2021, were a tidal wave for the left of the left and the independent candidatures, the skeptics did not disappear for all that. Jose Antonio Kast, the far-right candidate who won the first round of the presidential election on November 21, is an open opponent of this constituent process and a change of the Constitution. In the eyes of many observers, the excesses of the left of the left in the Constituent Assembly partly explain this unexpected result. Voters may have feared an institutional drift towards a Venezuelan model or other uncertain horizons.

Chile: the independents and the left, big winners in the constituent elections

Luciano Silva, constituent elected on a right-wing list, fears such a scenario. ” VSit is cultural Marxism that holds the power in this assembly! He exclaims. During the referendum on a possible new Constitution, this evangelical pastor voted “no”. “But today, as a member of the Constituent Assembly, I have to work for change, it is a question of ethics and conviction, he said. I believe that we must listen to the demands of the poorest, who complain about the problems of housing, health, education, pensions or, as we have seen here, access to water. Change … without making a revolution ! “

How far to go to modernize Chile? The second round of the presidential election, this Sunday, December 19, will weigh in the ambitions of the constituents. Because it will tell the mood of the country. But not only. “Even if the two institutions are distinct, it is certain that the next president will have the means to influence our work. If only by cutting our budget, and therefore our work capacity“, Mario Vargas is already worried, who fears a victory for the far right.


Seven commissions to define the new Chile

► The 155 members of the Constitutional Convention are divided into seven committees, which deal with the “political system”, “constitutional principles”, the “form of the state” (decentralization, etc.), “fundamental rights”, “the environment, property natural resources and the economic model ”,“ functioning of justice ”and“ cultures, science and technology ”.

► The Convention is made up of 78 men and 77 women, including 17 seats reserved for the indigenous peoples of Chile. It must conclude its work at the beginning of July 2022. Two months later a referendum will be held on the new text, with compulsory voting. A simple majority will be necessary to replace the current Constitution, a legacy of the military dictatorship.


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