Chile’s Constitutional Reform
By: Emma Dart
Protests started on October 18th, 2019 over what is the equivalent of a four-cent raise of the metro fare. The protests over the metro tax grew extremely violent and transitioned into protests claiming that the income in recent years has not been able to keep up with other rising costs such as education, health care, and housing (“What’s Behind the Chile Protests?”). One particular protest totaled over a million people which is the largest in the nation’s history. Since October, there are approximately 20 Chileans dead and 2,500 wounded (Krygier). The protesters demanded that Piñera, the president of Chile, institute new reforms and resign. This call comes after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported Chilean security forces were abusing their power and torturing citizens. Others accuse Piñera directly with the Communist Party suing him in the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Krygier). Currently, the policies implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have quelled the protests, but it is unsure whether the protests will resume once normal activities resume. Since once the interests of the people are improving the health care system, how Chile handles this pandemic will have to do with how many people return to protesting. Recent polls indicate an increase in Piñera’s approval rating (“How Coronavirus Will Affect Latin America’s …”). Overall, Chile has taken significant steps to ease the impacts of the social distancing of workers and to curtail the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, the virus has also caused a recession in the economy of approximately 1.5-2.5% which is expected to recover in 2021 (“How Coronavirus Will Affect Latin America’s …”).
The Current Constitution
There are three main issues that Chileans have with the current constitution. First, the constitution was established during the U.S. backed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (Flor). Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship marks a dark period for many Chileans that occurred from 1974 to 1990. As part of the dictatorship’s constitution, the constitution is framed more like an oligarchy and less of a democracy. Although the constitution was first amended considerably in August 1989 there have been twelve other years where it has been amended (“Timeline of Constitutions.”). Yet the constitution, according to other Chileans, puts too much power into the hands of the president instead of the Congress and courts (Albert). The complaint that most Chileans have is that the current constitution lacks the establishment of individual rights. Instead, they are granted certain “liberties” such as having the ability to have an education, but not the right to one. The protestors seem to be most concerned with how their constitution lacks these basic rights (Albert).Current opposition to a new constitution believes that there are select laws that need to be fixed, not the entire constitution which has been in place for around 40 years. They believe that if the constitution has worked for this long, don’t get rid of it. The opposition believes that the current constitution protects democracy and their liberties and that if there is a chance they could end up like Cuba or Venezuela (“’No Seremos Cuba Ni Venezuela’, Gritan Manifestantes Contra La Reforma Constitucional En Chile.”).
After options proposed by Piñera were shut down by the citizens, Piñera has agreed to a referendum on the idea of a new constitution. On October 25, Chileans who the constitution should be written by (“Presidente Promulga Reforma Que Posterga El Plebiscito Para El 25 De Octubre.”). According to recent polls, 82% of Chileans want a new constitution with 60% wanting it to be written by popularly elected citizens and 30% wanting a mix of politicians and citizens (Miranda) . Chile has also passed a gender equality policy for the convention with requirements for how many women must be present (“Habrá Paridad De Género En La Reforma Constitucional De Chile: Se Aprobó En El Congreso.”). If the vote continues, the citizen election portions of the convention would occur. This convention could then take up to a year to draft. The resulting draft would have to pass the convention with a two-thirds majority. If the draft passes the convention then it would need to be ratified during a nationwide referendum (Cuffe).
Impacts on U.S. Foreign Policy
This constitution allows Chile to adopt a more democratic system with individual rights. In 1988 the C.I.A.wrote on how authoritarian was the current constitution of Chile, and which they concluded would allow Agusto Pinochet to remain in power such as being named Senator for life (Chile: How Authoritarian is Pinochet’s Constitution?). While the United States has not released any official position on Chile’s constitutional reform since then, who the U.S. decides to support (or not support) could represent some indication of where U.S. values are trending.
Impacts of U.S. Support of Chile’s Constitutional Reform
If the United States is dedicated to its pursuit of supporting countries that share its same democratic values, then the United States will support the Chileans’ right to a new constitution. The issue becomes more complicated if the Trump Administration decides to back Piñera instead of the Chilean people. Piñera has been accused of crimes against humanity (Krygier), so by backing Piñera, the United States sacrifices supporting democratic values for the possibility of maintaining the status quo which isn’t much better with the frequent and violent protests over these issues that can be addressed in a new constitution. The United States could support the people of Chile by reducing tensions with China in the US-China Trade war because much of Chile’s economy is dependent on the price of copper and the trade war has made Chile’s economic problems worse (“What’s Behind the Chile Protests?”).
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