Chile: From the Anger of Destitution to the Hope of a Constituent Assembly

30.05.2021 - Santiago de Chile - Efren Osorio

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Chile: From the Anger of Destitution to the Hope of a Constituent Assembly
(Image by Enzo Blondel)

More than a week after the constituent elections in Chile, all analyses agree that it was an election which disgraced the traditional parties, with a right wing and a DC obtaining their worst results, a social democracy which is submerged in a bitter crisis and the left-wing pact, Apruebo Dignidad, which achieved important results, escaping well from this institutional earthquake and remaining as the coalition with the best chances of contesting the next government, although eclipsed by the success of the independents and the People’s List, who – without a doubt – are the big winners.

But how to explain this political earthquake?

To try to understand what happened, we have to go back to the social outpouring of 18 October 2019, where an abused people unleashed the anger accumulated over 30 years, putting Piñera’s government in check. It was an uncontrollable, non-violent outpouring, without leaders or organisations, full of symbolism and challenging the entire institutionality. That is to say, although it would only be noticed months later, a real process of destitution, diverse, varied and heterogeneous, had begun.

A month after the revolt, the anger could not yet be contained, which is why the threatened institutionality signed an agreement establishing an institutional path to change Pinochet’s constitution, which was still in force. This agreement strongly divided the progressive and left-wing sectors, between those who supported the agreement and those which did not want to sign it, because we understood that the institutional struggle should be at the service of the social struggle.

But the demonstrations did not stop and in parliament the legislative discussion of the agreement signed in November began. And this is when the virtuous combination of a social movement which expresses itself, pushes and demands; and left-wing and progressive parliamentarians which are correctly placed, legislating in the face of the people and with their backs to the institutionality. These left-wing parliamentarians took a gamble so that the agreement signed in November, which established a rigged constitutional convention, limited and full of Guzmanian traps, would be strained in the legislative discussion and end up as close as possible to a Constituent Assembly.

Thus it was that between December 2019 and March 2020 laws were passed which would be key to explaining the results of the recent elections: it was approved that the future constituent convention would be parity, that is, that it would be composed of the same number of men and women members; that there would be seats reserved for indigenous peoples and that independents could register their own lists, without depending on the parties, as it was correctly understood that the future Convention could not be a simple mirror of the current parliament. This legislative process, hard and rough due to the fierce opposition of the right and the indecision of sectors of the neoliberal centre, allowed the mistrust and recriminations of the left as a result of the November agreement to be gradually overcome.

But the anger continued to be expressed without which no one or anything could stop it, reaching its peak in the massive feminist March 8 of 2020. Then came the pandemic and the institutions breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that it would be an opportunity to quell the outpouring and recover the “threatened order”. But the pandemic would trigger a major economic crisis, further exposing the injustices of the neoliberal model and demonstrating that Piñera’s government was only concerned with large economic groups, to the detriment of the lives and health of the most vulnerable sectors and the impoverished middle class. While the common pots were multiplying, Chileans were learning with indignation which super-millionaires, including Piñera, were increasing their personal fortunes by billions of dollars. The people accumulated more and more anger.

This was how the first institutional milestone of the itinerary proposed by the November agreement and improved in the legislative discussion was reached. In the plebiscite of October 2020, an overwhelming 78% of Chileans declared themselves in favour of constitutional change through a Convention, demonstrating that the energy for the removal of power was still very much alive and giving a slap in the face to the conservative right but also to that purist left which had called not to vote.

Between that plebiscite and the recent elections, the second wave of the pandemic arrived, worsening the economic crisis and demonstrating the indolence of the Piñera government which continued to protect the big economic groups. To alleviate the economic crisis, parliament approved for the second and third time which allowed people to withdraw 10% of their pension funds, and once again Piñera did everything imaginable to prevent it, shamelessly protecting the interests of the AFPs over those of the people. The anger grew.

And that is how it came to the election of constituents. The independent sectors realised that the legal changes made were a great opportunity which should not be discarded and, abandoning their mistaken and comfortable abstentionism, they decidedly organised themselves into multiple lists, the People’s List being the only one which achieved national coordination and identity. During the election campaign, in an operetta rehearsed for thirty years, the traditional media gave their screens and their written and virtual pages over to the usual right-wing and neo-liberal centre; they accused the left of being responsible for the division of the opposition, positioning it as irresponsible and an enemy of the “lost order”. In addition, they raised media personalities to usurp the role of being the “spokespersons of the people”, demagogic and populist characters which, disguised as leftists, dedicated themselves to demonising the parties and leaders of the Apruebo Dignidad list. But the more they demonised the Apruebo Dignidad list, the more it became clearer which left was not part of this false and sad operetta. To be sure, in this operetta, very different from Fuente ovejuna, there was no room for independents or the People’s List, they were simply invisibilised and ignored, but these lists cleverly used social networks and alternative media to spread their message challenging institutionalism.

During the campaign, the People’s List, which brought together independent sectors closely linked to the mobilisations in Plaza Dignidad and the territorial struggles, skilfully occupied the free TV slot to which all competing lists are entitled and, with the help of actors known and loved by the people, sent a very provocative and differentiating message about anything that smacked of institutionality.

The final results of the election of constituents were already mentioned at the beginning: a real electoral earthquake which dislodged the right, Christian Democracy and social democracy, the sectors which have governed for the last 30 years; which left the left-wing list Apruebo Dignidad, made up, among others, of the Communist Party, Acción Humanista and Frente Amplio, very well placed; and which, without a doubt, left the People’s List and the independent sectors which organised themselves outside the party institutionality as the big winners.

Unlike the current parliament which is a true mirror of the elites, where the vast majority of parliamentarians come from public schools and a few universities, the elected Convention is clearly a mirror of the real Chile: 67% of the Convention members studied in subsidised or municipal schools and of the 33% who studied in public schools, very few come from the classic elite schools. If we add to this the fact that there will be 77 women and 78 men, 17 representatives of indigenous peoples and 8 from the LGBTIQ+ community, then we can clearly conclude that the real Chile will be very well represented at this convention. Moreover, about two thirds of the constituents do not belong to parties and no list reached the one third of constituents to veto the transformations.

That is to say, this Convention, initially designed to be very rigged and Guzmanian, could be substantially transformed thanks to parliamentarians which legislated in the face of the people. But then, thanks to an intelligent and courageous electoral mobilisation, the people transformed it into a real Constituent Assembly. In short, an electoral earthquake triggered by the anger unleashed in October 2019 and which, unlike other moments in history, when anger was expressed by cutting off heads or setting fire to palaces, in 21st century Chile the anger took the electoral channels to overthrow and overwhelm the entire institutionality.

All this opens up a great hope, a unique opportunity to build the Chile we want. It will not be an easy task; we will have to overcome the opposition of a defeated right wing and a neoliberal centre, which still maintain great institutional power. At the same time, it will be necessary to overcome mistrust and suspicion, between a left which fought a great institutional struggle in the face of the people, managing to overcome the differences expressed in the November agreement, and which now has to win the trust of the social movement which had the courage to take on the electoral struggle. For its part, it will be up to the social movement to assume a new role, overcoming its endemic tendency to fragmentation and division, and being able to distinguish the different from the traitor or the error from the horror.

With the election of this true Constituent Assembly, the cycle of the anger over the removal of power should come to an end and a new, difficult but challenging cycle should be inaugurated: the cycle of constituent hope.

Categories: Opinions, Politics, South America
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