On 4 September, Chile will vote to approve the text of the new Constitution. This historic event is largely ignored or little followed by the media, especially the European media.
We spoke about it with Tomás Hirsch, Deputy Hirsch of Acción Humanista and, above all, a political activist who has followed the whole issue of the Constitution.
Humanists have always put the need for a new constitution in Chile at the top of their demands. Tomás, could you give a brief summary of how we arrived at this plebiscite?
This plebiscite is the result of a long struggle of the people of Chile, of various social organisations and political parties. For many this originates in the social outburst of 18 October 2019, however this began long before. Already when the Constitution of the dictatorship was installed in blood and fire in 1980, we began to organise and precipitate the various social movements and political parties to have a democratic constitution. Moreover, that was one of the commitments of the first government afterwards, to put an end to the 1980 Constitution, which was not fulfilled.
In our case, for us as humanists it was always one of the fundamental demands for which we were precipitating; that is why when I was a presidential candidate, we made that gesture that was engraved in Chile’s memory of throwing Pinochet’s Constitution in the trash. And that act, which scandalised some powerful people and those who formed part of the political, economic and military elite of our country, had a profound effect on our people.
That mobilisation continued for decades, until after the outbreak of October 2019, as a way of giving course and channeling the very diverse social demands, the conviction was reached that the issue here was not to fix one or two aspects of the current legislation, but to go to the heart of the model and that meant assuming that we have been living for decades under a constitution that is profoundly anti-democratic both in its origin and in its content, that does not guarantee any rights, that establishes brutal differences between a small minority and the great majorities of the country. It was then that an agreement was reached to move towards a new constitution generated in democracy. A constitutional convention was elected to draft a proposal for a year and it is this proposal that will be voted on 4 September with two options: I approve or I reject. Thus, in an initial plebiscite, 80% of the voters voted in favour of a new Constitution and the same 80% voted in favour of it being drafted by convention members elected for that purpose and not by parliamentarians. Thus began the work of this Convention, the first in the world to be completely parity-based, with 50% men and 50% women, with a broad participation of representatives of the 11 native peoples and with an important presence of independents.
If the proposed text is approved, the process of implementing the new constitution and generating the hundreds of laws that must be implemented to make it a reality begins; if it is rejected, the Constitution of the dictatorship is formally maintained; but there is already an agreement that the popular mandate is the drafting of a new constitution, and the current one, although still in force legally, is already dead politically and in the hearts of Chileans. Therefore, even if the text is rejected in the plebiscite, we are going to promote the creation of a new convention to present a new draft that can be approved.
But of course, we hope and we are convinced that it will be approved, so we will have a new constitution from the 4th of September.
The new Chilean constitution has been described as avant-garde and revolutionary. What do you think are the most important points of this new constitution?
There is no doubt that this new constitution is absolutely avant-garde and revolutionary because it not only puts an end to a constitution generated during the dictatorship, which as we have already said is anti-democratic in its origin and content, but above all because it allows us to face the challenges of the 21st century in a new and better way; The rights of nature are incorporated in this Constitution, and I believe it is the first time in the world that this has been done in this way; the protection of other species is incorporated, recognising them as sentient beings, special emphasis is placed on care for the environment and recognition of the climate crisis we are living through, which is incorporated as one of the challenges to be met.
It is a constitution that from the first to the last article guarantees, protects, encourages and promotes gender equality, the rights of sexual diversity and dissidence, and incorporates the rights of transsexuals, which are issues that had never been considered before.
The new Constitution defines Chile as a plurinational country in which the 11 original indigenous peoples of our country are recognised: this is something completely new; a constitution in which water is restored as a common good that can never be privatised; the same with regard to the sea, with regard to natural resources. On the other hand, it incorporates direct participatory democracy with popular initiative of law, revocation of mandate, popular revocation of law, communal plebiscites. In other words, the State is modelled with direct citizen participation in political affairs.
And it is a constitution that guarantees social rights in a very important way; article 1 defines Chile as a social and democratic state based on the rule of law, plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological. I believe that this article synthesises in a very profound way a structural cultural change in our country and that is why it gives us so much hope to advance towards the construction of a fairer, more democratic, more participatory, more decentralised country with more rights for all.
There are reports of polls that give an uncertain result in favour of approval: what is your impression from your daily action in the election campaign?
Indeed, the polls continue to give a result in which rejection wins. However, in the last few weeks we have seen a change in the trend and approval is rising every week by two or three points and I think that in the polls in the next week or two we will see a triumph for approval. I have no doubt that approval will win on 4 September because there is an immense majority of Chileans who want a new constitution, that all these rights are guaranteed.
However, what happened during these months was a brutal campaign by the right wing installing fake news, falsehoods, manipulation of information with the control they have over all the media, television channels, newspapers, radio stations and even through social networks, with multimillion dollar campaigns in which they have above all disqualified the proposal based on falsehoods, outright falsehoods: that people’s houses are going to be taken away from them, that their pension funds are going to be expropriated, that the native peoples are going to control the justice system; in short, an incredible amount of lies, but which in many cases have permeated the public and have generated fear, uncertainty, doubt, and this is what in the previous period has been reflected in an eventual greater vote for rejection; But it is very clear that this trend is being reversed because in the last month the forces of approval have taken to the streets in masse, in large numbers, to go out into the neighbourhoods to talk to people; we are in a campaign called “two million doors for approval”, talking to families; things that the rejectionists cannot do because they do not have popular support.
So, in this last month, as happened in last year’s presidential run-off, we are sure that the result will turn in favour of approval.
What can we do, from the rest of the world, to support this constituent process?
I think that the support we can receive from the rest of the world is very important: firstly, to motivate Chilean communities living in other countries to participate, to vote, to be present: this new constitution also means better conditions for them; secondly, to help disseminate the text in other countries as well; thirdly, to express support for the approval and for those of us who are fighting strongly for the approval through the networks.
I think that these are at least some very concrete actions that can be carried out in other countries and that would undoubtedly help a lot in the campaign for a new constitution in our country.