Chile's New Constitution

By Katie Lloyd

For many Chileans, the creation of a new constitution has been forty-two years in the making, ever since the current constitution was put in place in 1980. At that time, Augusto Pinochet had been president for seven years, and would be for ten more (Posner, 2019). Before claiming the presidential title, Pinochet was a military man and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army by President Salvador Allende in 1973. Eighteen days after this appointment, Pinochet realized his plan to perform a military coup against the contemporary elected government (Britannica, 2021).  

Pinochet was responsible for Operation Colombo, a scheme to eliminate Chilean leftists, and Operation Condor, a conspiracy perpetrated by South American dictatorships to assassinate challengers of their regimes (Britannica, 2021 & Operation Condor, n.d.). The US-backed dictatorship was found to be responsible for the disappearance, kidnapping, torture and killing of thousands (United States Institute of Peace, 2014 & Kornbluh, 2020) 

When free elections ended the dictatorship in 1990, the constitution remained and Pinochet only stopped being Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army when he arrested by British authorities in 1998 on charges related to human rights violations (Connett et al., 1998 & Britannica, 2021). This did not end the discontent felt by the majority of the population though. The economy of the country grows by a relatively large percentage every year, but this growth only benefits the rich (Posner, 2019). To put it into even more perspective, fifty-three percent of Chilean households are considered economically vulnerable by the OECD, compared to the average of thirty-nine percent (OECD, n.d.).  

The constitution of 1980 privatized the primary charge of social services and created a free market economy without any support for workers. Both laborers and specialists have limited rights to unionize, meaning that their collective bargaining power is low. Retirement plans became mostly private and companies do not contribute to employees plans. The constitution paved the way for a privatized for-profit health care system. Today, it is rather costly, and the public alternative is inferior in quality and not given the funds it needs (Posner, 2019). 

In the United States, the concept of changing the supreme law of the land is extremely radical and is even considered to be treasonous by many Americans. But in Latin America, this has been done many times: fifteen in between 1978 and 2008 (Ambrus, 2016). The last major change to the constitution of a Latin American country was Bolivia in 2009 (Romero, 2009).   

This process to create a new constitution was started by the announcement of an increase in the price of the subway fares on the 18th of October, roughly equivalent to four cents. Shortly after, students began protesting in Santiago. They assembled in subway stations, avoiding fares in whatever way they could. These protests continued into the night and next day, and in response, Sebastián Piñera, the current president, declared a state of emergency (Vergara, 2019). 

Due to the current constitution, Piñera was able to call in the military, a show of force not seen since the dictatorship. This demonstration did nothing to deter the protesters, and in fact motivated more people to show up in support. Additionally, the mechanism they were fighting against expanded to the price of other necessities, like water and prescriptions, and protests arose in other cities across the country (Vergara, 2019).  

The protests caused Piñera to put a hold on the price surge and consequently agreed for a referendum to be held in November 2019, in which the population could vote on whether a new constitution would be created or the old one kept in place. The COVID-19 pandemic caused several bumps in the process, as it has worldwide, but the referendum went ahead with a six-month delay. A new constitution won by seventy-eight percent of the vote, marking a victory to protesters for which the referendum itself was huge win (Watson, 2020).  

In May 2021, Chileans voted on which 155 people would represent them in the Constitutional Convention. The assembly has seventeen seats set aside for indigenous groups and the remaining 138 seats are required to be divided evenly among men and women (McGowan, 2021 & “Chile constitution: Sweeping changes possible as independents win,” 2021). Forty-eight of the seats were acquired by independents, thirty-seven by the right, twenty-eight by the left and twenty-five by the center-left. The representatives were not current elected politicians and are made up of a variety of professions (BBC, 2021 & Chile begins drafting new post-Pinochet constitution, 2021). 

The drafting of the new constitution began in July 2021 and will be required to have a two-thirds majority for constitutional proposals to pass (BBC, 2021 & Chile begins drafting new post-Pinochet constitution, 2021). The draft of the new constitution will arrive in April 2022, unless the congress votes for a one-time allowed extension of three months (ChileAtiende, 2021). From there, a referendum will be held after two months and the public will decide if the newly drafted constitution will actually replace the 1980 era constitution (Gobierno de Chile, n.d.) 

 


References 

Ambrus, S. (2016, December 7). Latin American Constitutions: The Struggle for Pluralism and Stability. Ideas Matter; Inter-American Development Bank. https://blogs.iadb.org/ideas-matter/en/latin-american-constitutions-the-... 

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, December 6). Augusto Pinochet. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Augusto-Pinochet 

ChileAtiende. (2021, September 23). Chileatiende - Proceso constituyente. ChileAtiende. https://www.chileatiende.gob.cl/fichas/72504-proceso-constituyente 

Chile begins drafting new post-Pinochet constitution. (2021, July 4). France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/americas/20210704-chile-begins-drafting-new-... 

Chile constitution: Sweeping changes possible as independents win. (2021, May 17). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57142087 

Connett, D., Hooper, J., & Beaumont, P. (1998, October 18). Pinochet arrested in London. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/1998/oct/18/pinochet.chile 

Gobierno de Chile. (n.d.). Proceso Constituyente. Gobierno de Chile. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.gob.cl/procesoconstituyente/ 

Kornbluh, P. (Ed.). (2020, September 14). “Extreme Option: Overthrow Allende.” National Security Archive; The George Washington University. https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/chile/2020-09-15/extreme-option-... 

McGowan, C. (2021, May 14). “A game-changing moment”: Chile constitution could set new gender equality standard. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/may/14/chile-constit... 

OECD. (n.d.). Chile: focus on reducing inequality to strengthen social and economic recovery from COVID-19. OECD; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/chile-focus-on-reducing-inequality-to-stre... 

Operation Condor. (n.d.). CELS; Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from http://www.cels.org.ar/especiales/plancondor/en/#una-asociacion-ilicita-... 

Posner, P. W. (2019, November 12). Chile’s political crisis is another brutal legacy of long-dead dictator Pinochet. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/chiles-political-crisis-is-another-brutal-le... 

Romero, S. (2009, January 26). Bolivians Ratify New Constitution. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/world/americas/26bolivia.html 

United States Institute of Peace. (2014, October 2). Truth Commission: Chile 90. United States Institute of Peace. https://www.usip.org/publications/1990/05/truth-commission-chile-90 

Vergara, E. (2019, October 20). Chile’s president rolls back subway fare hike amid protests. AP NEWS; The Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/3ffac92680fd4db2aee7a28ea96228dc 

Watson, K. (2020, October 26). Jubilation as Chile votes to rewrite constitution. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-54687090 

 

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