Chile’s draft constitution could hurt, not help, minorities


In 2020, a man waves flags in favor of rewriting the Chilean constitution to replace the one dating from the Pinochet dictatorship.

In 2020, a man waves flags in favor of rewriting the Chilean constitution to replace the one dating from the Pinochet dictatorship.

AP Photo

Chile has drafted a new constitution which if approved in a plebiscite on September 4 will give extraordinary political powers to indigenous minorities. But there are growing questions about whether it’s gone too far and whether it will hurt the very people it’s supposed to help.

Several Chilean experts, including some human rights activists, told me that the new constitution grants indigenous peoples a disproportionate share of political power and would effectively turn them into a key voting bloc in Congress. If the new charter leads to chaos or a populist authoritarian state, as critics fear, many Chileans would attribute the country’s downfall to the “minority rule” of indigenous peoples, they say.

Former President Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist Party leader who is one of Latin America’s most respected statesmen, echoed fears that the new constitution enshrining a “plurinational” state could lead to a greater great polarization.

“Chile needs a Constitution that leads to consensus,” Lagos wrote in a statement urging the country to improve parts of the current charter. “A Constitution cannot be partisan.”

The draft constitution, which was officially submitted to leftist President Gabriel Boric earlier this week, is one of the longest in the world. It has 388 articles and 57 additional “transitional rules” to facilitate the transition to the new charter.

It was drafted by a Constitutional Convention made up mostly of progressive and leftist members, elected by an overwhelming majority of Chileans after massive street protests in 2019.

While Chile has been the most developed country in Latin America in recent decades, many Chileans feel they have not benefited from the country’s macroeconomic success. The proposed constitution enshrines a long wish list of social, gender and environmental rights.

Indigenous leaders who support the new constitution say its content is representative of the will of the Chilean people, as 78% of voters approved the drafting of a new constitution in 2020, and a 2021 election named all 155 drafters of the constitution. new charter.

But skeptics note that the constitution’s proposed creation of a “plurinational” country would further divide it. Moreover, the rules of the constitution would politicize the judicial system and weaken the independence of judges, they say.

“It’s an authoritarian constitution,” José Miguel Vivanco, the former head of the Americas division of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told me. “The way it’s written, it’s bound to lead to more conflict and more instability.”

Vivanco, who like Lagos supports replacing Chile’s old constitution from the days of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet, told me that giving designated seats to long-neglected indigenous peoples in Congress is not a bad idea, as long as it’s done. like in new zealand taking into account the actual number of aboriginal voters.

But the proposed constitution would create a huge overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the new Congress, Vivanco says. That would automatically give them about 17 designated seats in Congress, which would amount to swing voting and veto power, based on 2017 census figures that may overestimate the size of the country’s indigenous population.

The proposed constitution is based on the assumption that there are 2.2 million indigenous people in Chile, or about 12% of the population. But many experts say the real figure is closer to 500,000, as many Chileans have falsely identified themselves as descendants of indigenous people in hopes of obtaining government grants.

Senator Ximena Rincon, a centrist who served in the center-left Chilean government of former President Michelle Bachelet, told me that depending on the composition of the Constituent Assembly the proposed constitution would give each native voter three times more representation in Congress than a non-native voter.

“If the proposed constitution is approved, Chile will cease to be a united nation and will become a group of several nations,” Rincón told me, “You really don’t need to disintegrate the country to recognize the plurality of cultures .”

Although current polls show 51% of Chileans leaning towards voting against the constitutional text proposed in the September referendum, the outcome of the vote is far from clear. Boric supports the approval of the constitution, assuming that its shortcomings can be corrected later by implementing regulations.

But it’s a tricky proposition. Chilean constitutionalists tell me that the text contains ambiguous clauses which, if the constitution is approved, would make its modification extremely difficult.

The best outcome for Chile would be for voters to reject the proposed constitution in the next plebiscite and draft a new charter that increases indigenous rights without dividing the country. The current text is a recipe for more polarization, violence, capital flight, economic stagnation and greater poverty.

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This story was originally published July 6, 2022 6:26 p.m.


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