Santiago – Chile’s constitutional convention on Monday handed its proposed new constitution to President Gabriel Boric ahead of a planned September referendum on adopting the text.
The convention, made up of 154 members who are mostly political independents, spent a year creating the new document to replace the constitution adopted during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).
The impetus for rewriting the constitution came from massive social unrest that erupted in October 2019, initially against a hike in metro fares but that morphed into general anti-government protests over inequality.
“We should feel proud that during the deepest crisis… in decades that our country has lived through, we Chileans have chosen more democracy, not less,” said Boric during a ceremony in Santiago.
He immediately signed a decree calling a referendum on September 4, where voting in the deeply polarized country of 19 million people will be obligatory.
Rewriting the dictatorship-era constitution was a major demand of protesters who flooded onto the streets in 2019 and kept up weekly demonstrations for months before the coronavirus pandemic curtailed them.
In the first of the new constitution’s 388 articles, Chile is described as “a social and democratic State of law,” as well as “plurinational, intercultural and ecological.”
“It recognizes the dignity, freedom, substantial equality of human beings and their indissoluble relationship with nature as intrinsic and inalienable values.”
“I think we have met the social demands, with the desires of the citizens, which is what people hoped for and wanted of this process,” Barbara Sepulveda, a convention member from the communist party, told AFP.
“It is a proposal that represents a historic advance in terms of democracy and the guarantee of social rights for our country, and on top of that, it is filled with feminism from beginning to end,” added Alondra Carrillo, from the leftist Broad Front.
Some right-wing convention members were less enthusiastic.
For Cristian Monckeberg, this is a “missed” opportunity to “build something that unites rather than divides” the country.
But with just 37 out of 154 seats in the constitutional convention, which will now be dissolved, the political right was in a minority.
The process “was not as simple and friendly as many of us would have wanted and dreamed of,” writer and journalist Patricio Fernandez, one of the 104 independent members of the convention, told AFP.
– ‘From another era’ –
If the constitution is adopted, it will make Chile one of the most progressive countries in the region.
The nationwide right to abortion — something that has been overturned in the United States — would become enshrined in law.
“It’s a constitution from another era. I’m totally convinced that if it is approved, when we look back at this process… it will be seen with a lot more tenderness and affection than we see it now,” said Fernandez.
Split equally between men and women, the constitutional convention also contained 17 seats reserved for Indigenous people, who make up around 13 percent of the population.
One of those members, Natividad Llanquileo, an activist for Chile’s largest Indigenous group, the Mapuche, said the constitutional process represented “the most democratic space that we have known in the history of this country.”
As well as recognizing the different peoples that make up the Chilean nation, the new constitution accords a certain amount of autonomy to Indigenous institutions, notably in matters of justice.
Several times in recent weeks, millennial leader Boric has reiterated his support for the constitutional project, adding that the current document represents an “obstacle” to profound social reform.
Even so, several opinion polls suggest the new constitution may yet be rejected. With the full text still to be published, many Chileans say they are unsure.
In Monday’s ceremony, Boric warned against “falsehoods, distortions or catastrophic interpretations that are alien to reality” in the lead-up to the referendum.
Claudio Fuentes, a political scientist at the Diego Portales University, told AFP that those in favor of the new constitution “have to work to convince (others) that it will genuinely change people’s lives.”