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By Ignacio Torres
Excuse us for coming to put the bitter note to your “Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution,” but we recovered the historical memory and we are not willing to be passed over twice. There are reasons to be suspicious.
There are people who do not remember it clearly, but there has already been an agreement of these same characteristics in our recent history. It was called “National Agreement for Democracy and Constitutional Consensus” and was produced in 1989. It was possibly the broadest political agreement produced in Chile so far and was presented as a profound reform of [Pinochet’s] 1980 Constitution and the serious legal and constitutional inauguration of Democracy, after years of dictatorship.
It was nothing less than 54 Constitutional Reforms (yes, fifty-four) that came to guarantee political pluralism, end exclusions, facilitate the change of the Constitution itself. In good faith it was signed by practically all the political parties of the time and a ratifying plebiscite was called so that the citizens could participate and express their opinion.
That plebiscite took place on July 30, 1989 and is the second most massive electoral event in the history of the country, surpassed only by the Yes and No Plebiscite of October 5, 1988. The participation was 93.73% of the electoral roll and 91.25% of the valid votes were in favour of the Agreement and the Constitutional Reforms. Levels of participation and electoral support typical of an authoritarian regime that arranges elections, but produced when the dictatorship ended and in a free and fair election.
So far, it seems like the democratic dream of those who dream of those photos of all united and with their hands held high, celebrating the great agreements and consensus. A political pact with broad citizen support. Ideal.
But what were the consequences of the 1989 Agreement?
First, it has been used for 30 years as a justification for the 1980 Constitution. If Pinochet’s Constitution had an authoritarian origin, there are dozens of politicians, parties and study centres that proclaim its democratic character based on the 1989 Plebiscite that, despite having been expressly done to reform that constitution, would be the legitimization of it through the ballot boxes.
In the second place, it meant a constitutional blockade for more than 15 years, since only in 2005 did a reform of the Constitution take place with some degree of depth. In 1989 the qualified quorums for the most important laws were consecrated, the binominal electoral system, the senators appointed and for life, in short, all the locks of the Chilean democracy of the 90s and 2000.
In third place, it installed the political culture of the “great agreements” and the “consensuses” in Chile, according to which the main political parties opted to avoid the political dispute and rather to agree between them on governability agreements. This was the starting point of what today is called “political caste” or “political class”, in which it is extremely difficult to discern the programmatic differences of the political organizations and, for the citizens, the organic policies are presented as a whole, indistinguishable from each other and that “settle among themselves”, by their practices of agreement and negotiation instead of generating dynamics of dispute and differentiation. This is what has been called the “neoliberal consensus” and which hits the left-wing parties the hardest, since its principles, practices and slogans are blurred, moving towards a consensus framed in a neoliberal political, economic and social model.
And, fourthly, the most serious consequence: the Agreement and the Plebiscite of 1989 meant the demobilization of the citizenry, which came in a long dynamic of social activation since the beginning of the 80s fighting against the dictatorship. With the negotiation of the Agreement the political initiative was transferred exclusively to the leaderships of the parties and it was understood that the policy was developed exclusively in the negotiation rooms. With the Plebiscite, social mobilization was transformed only into one-time electoral participation. With the culture of consensus that followed, the social articulation developed over the years was deactivated and any dispute avoided.
The tragedy of the Agreement and the 1989 Plebiscite consisted in the fact that through necessary democratising reforms of the Constitution the material foundations of the budding democracy were deactivated, which came from the struggle against the dictatorship: social mobilisation, citizen participation, party differentiation, political dispute. That is why we had the democracy we had during the 1990s.
And that is precisely what connects with the Agreement signed now, in November 2019: the risk that the political parties, the majority present in the 1989 Agreement, will repeat the dynamics of the late 1980s and deactivate the social mobilisation that began on October 18 and that is the material foundation of the constituent process in which Chile finds itself.
There are reasons for concern. In the first place, the 2019 Agreement is carried out exclusively between the leaderships of the political parties through negotiation between them, tending towards agreement instead of differentiation, all being presented as an undifferentiated whole. Dangerously similar to 1989.
Secondly, the Constituent Convention and its quorum of ⅔ inevitably tend to seek very broad agreements and institute a veto power of the minority that achieves a third of the constituent delegates, who are also elected over the eaves of parties that must form electoral coalitions to be able to elect, without election mechanisms for social organizations, territorial assemblies, or other forms of political participation other than party affiliation. Politics in the hands of political parties that tend towards agreement, without the presence of social actors. All very similar to the consensus policy of the 1990s.
And, thirdly, the 2019 Agreement reduces citizen mobilization exclusively to electoral participation in three electoral events: Entrance Plebiscite, Election of Constituent Delegates, Plebiscite of Ratification of the New Constitution. It is not established in the Plebiscite of Ratification that the citizens settle points of dissent of the Constitutional Convention even less mechanisms of deep participation in the elaboration of the new text, such as town councils, election of constituent delegates with specific mandate or others.
Thus, the 2019 Agreement dangerously resembles the 1989 Agreement and, therefore, there are well-founded fears about its consequences. On whether it is an advance of the social movement or a usurpation of representativeness transmitted live by all television channels.
Excuse us for not celebrating. There are reasons to be suspicious.
Translation Pressenza London