I appreciated Cristián Warnken and his “Belleza de Pensar”, when he devoted his time to literary interviews. I can’t say the same now that he has turned to politics. His yellow effort, which brings together those upset by the transformations of a new Constitution, tries to project his personal anxieties to Chilean society as a whole. He reiterates this in a recent article devoted to what he calls “the ghost of rejection” which, according to him, is sweeping the country (El Mercurio, 07-04-2022). I regret the new path that the lawyer is treading.
Warnken, thanks to El Mercurio, which supports him enthusiastically, has become a spokesman for the satisfied defenders of the 1980 Constitution and is also encouraged by some of those on the centre-left who frustrated the path of change of a model marked by injustice and inequality. Thus, born neoliberals and defenders of the Gatopardo-style transition smile with their fevered lines.
The columnist, in his publicity exercise, uses the phrase from Marx’s Communist Manifesto as a disturbing metaphor (A ghost haunts …) and afterwards threatens with the What To Do (quoting Lenin), because of the uncertainty that his announced Rejection inspires. In doing so, he tries to show himself as a connoisseur of Marxist thought, but above all he reveals his anxieties and his own ghost: the fear of the changes announced by the new Constitution.
Warnken announces that the rejection of the new Constitution would be going through the roads of Chile, forgetting that there is still a long way to go: on 4 July the final text will be delivered to the President and on 4 September there will be a plebiscite. In reality, what is going around the country is a systematic and very well-planned campaign by “the party of order”, the businessmen and the right-wing media to discredit the constituent work.
Those who do not want change in Chile did very badly in the election of the conventions and have taken great pains to disqualify their performance with enthusiastic support in the mainstream media. They do not even point to the final decisions of the Convention, but to the thousands of very diverse initiatives from citizens’ organisations or individual constituents that are falling by the wayside.
The critical lawyer characterises the work of the Convention as “maximalist and refoundational”, using debatable examples: regional decentralisation, which he describes as “infinite autonomy of the territories”; parity, which he calls “gender bias”, going so far as to ironise the plurinational agreement. Warnken is unaware that these three issues, among many others, have not emerged from the head of some left-wing extremist, but represent massive, long-standing citizen demands, which regained force with the historic milestone of 18-O, questioning centralism, the opprobrium of women and the repression of indigenous peoples.
There is no maximalism here, but rather the challenge of opening the way to full democracy, with changes that will ensure a fairer country. As the transition did not end up guaranteeing political, economic and cultural rights to the majority, it took the 18-O revolt to demand indispensable transformations. And then, in the face of an unavoidable emergency, the Peace Accord laid the foundations for a Constitutional Convention to define new rules of the game, to put an end to the half-hearted democracy we have experienced. And that is where we are.
Curiously, Warnken’s vast literary culture has not helped him to understand and respect the demands of citizens seeking to recover full democracy for the country, which was violated by the Guzmán-Pinochet Constitution and by the neoliberalism of Friedman and his Chicago Boys. In this there is no maximalism whatsoever, but the purest republican interest for decency to prevail and for abuses and injustices to end.
In addition to accusing the constituents of being maximalists, the lawyer dares to describe them as refoundationalists, of wanting to reinvent the country. He is confused, because those who refounded the country were conservative lawyers and neoliberal economists, supported by Pinochet’s weapons. Contrary to what Warnken believes, the effort of the constituents is not to reinvent Chile, but precisely the opposite: to put an end to the neoliberal refounding and recover a democratic Republic.
The task of the convention members is undoubtedly a difficult one because they have to draft a constitutional framework that generates, among other things, conditions that guarantee universal social rights in health, education, welfare and housing; that gender parity puts an end to the abuse of women; that the presence of the regions leaves behind the oppressive centralism; that environmental protection is an unavoidable component of national life; and that the right to work is a substantive part of the country’s economic development strategy.
The constituents elected to the Convention come from all regions, from different political parties, including a large number of independents, representatives of indigenous peoples and guaranteeing gender parity. Certainly a diversity that was not present in traditional politics. They were part of the excluded in the semi-democracy of the transition, now they are participating in the drafting of the new Constitution and from now on they will be an active part of national political life. Warnken does not like or understand this.
It is true that in the constitutional discussion some citizens’ representatives put forward insane ideas or proposals, which is not alien to the national parliament either. But this is part of every political discussion and of life itself. More importantly, as Fernando Atria points out, the Convention managed to give representation to voices and sectors that were excluded from citizen participation.
Consequently, to describe the work done by the vast majority of the constituents as “immoderate” or “inebriated”, as Warnken does, is highly arbitrary. It is what leads him to end his column in El Mercurio, as a professional agitator would: Let’s say no… oh, oh!
Thus, as an opinionated speculator, five months before the plebiscite, he advances an oblique rejection to the new Constitution and encourages his yellows, when the proposal to plebiscite has not yet been drafted. A curious democrat.
Certainly, some of the proposals that have emerged from the Convention’s committees are more than questionable, and the important thing is to focus attention, with rigour, on those that are approved in the plenary of the Convention to be submitted for the citizens’ consideration. There is still a long way to go. Neither Warnken nor the polls have the last word.
What the bookman-turned-politician does, faced with the remoteness of a revolution or a possible “communist totalitarianism”, is to imagine and reproduce new confrontations. For him, the maximalists are in the 2/3 who approve rules that he does not like. He does not notice those maximalist constituent right-wingers, such as Teresa Marinovic or Marcela Cubillos, who defend Pinochet’s Constitution, disqualifying the work of a despicable majority.
Neither the Peace Agreement of 15 November nor the election of Boric to the presidency were maximalist resolutions. They expressed forcefully a majority yearning for a just and democratic country, which we still lack as a society. In stark contrast, the right wing of the UDI and J.A. Kast, of Kaiser and Marinovic, is maximalist, continues to identify with Pinochet’s constitution and dictatorship, accepts abuses and inequalities as part of its economic conception and does not respect people’s rights.
Warnken invents enemies. The ghost that haunts him does not exist. He is playing with people’s innocence. His desperation to attack the Convention, bringing together traditional politicians, ultimately protects the neoliberal refoundation that Pinochet installed by crushing democracy.
There is no shortage of intellectuals, or aspiring intellectuals, who have tried to turn to politics only to end up crashing against the wall of reality. The case of Vargas Llosa is a striking example. Keeping proportions in mind, this is something that Warnken seems not to perceive despite his quality as a committed reader.