the chilean crossroads

Image: Osvaldo Castillo


The proposal for a new constitution drawn up by the Constitutional Convention and the outcome of this electoral dispute is absolutely uncertain.

Less than ten days remain until the September 4 plebiscite in which the proposal for a new Constitution drawn up by the Chilean Constitutional Convention will be voted on, and the outcome of this electoral dispute is absolutely uncertain. “I approve” and “reject” are the alternatives between which more than 15 million Chileans will have to choose. If the “approval” wins, the 1980 Constitution imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship will end and a way out of decades of orthodox neoliberalism will open. If the “rejection” wins, the current Constitution will remain in force and its reform or alteration will depend on the political will of the forces represented in Congress, where the weight of the right is still decisive.

Last week, the last polls published, without exception, gave the option “reject” as the winner, confirming the trend that polls have been showing for months. For this reason, the “reject” camp feels confident of victory. In the case of “I approve”, on the other hand, there is a mixture of perplexity and hope that it will be possible to turn the tables. It is possible that, after a popular uprising like that of October 2019, the resounding result of the plebiscite the following year (when 80% of the electorate voted in favor of a new Constitution) and a constitutional proposal that embraces the most sensitive social demands of recent decades, will the alternative defended by the right and by the most conservative sectors of the country triumph?

To understand the levels of uncertainty with which we mobilize, it is necessary to consider some elements of the context, the constitutional process and the dirty campaign launched by the right. First of all, it must be taken into account that the scenario in which this election takes place has changed. The social energy that was unleashed in the revolt and that lasted in the plebiscite in favor of the constituent process, in the election of the Convention and in the presidential second round, has been eroded due to the pandemic and the economic crisis aggravated by the inflationary spiral of the last year. Added to this is the resurgence of social problems such as delinquency and organized crime, which have contributed to creating a climate of boredom and desire for order that is far removed from the spirit that prevailed in moments of more intense social mobilization.

Even so, it is necessary to recognize that the constituent process itself was generating a distance with citizenship, whether due to the aridity of certain discussions and the complexity of the procedures for processing the norms, or due to episodes in which the behavior of some of the constituents contributed to cloud the image of this body, as well as (and above all) due to a strong smear campaign led by those of the “rejection” since the beginning of the work of the Convention. These factors caused part of the citizenry to lose interest in the process and have a very critical evaluation of the constituents' work.

However, despite these difficulties that cannot be avoided, there are encouraging signs: the constitutional proposal has become the best-selling book in the country, every week massive acts of “approval” are held with a very wide calling capacity, throughout the entire country. national territory countless campaign activities are carried out where the people's interest and hopes are verified that with a new constitution it is possible to face the problems that affect the daily life of large majorities.

Today, the situation is open and both the forces of “approval” and those of “rejection” are using all their energies to win, aware that in this election the fate of the country is at stake, but also of the social and political forces in question. dispute.


The “rejection”: dirty campaign, camouflage and right-wing crisis

Since the beginning of the Constitutional Convention, sectors of the political right and the business community have committed themselves to installing a smear campaign that included attacks and provocations against representatives of indigenous peoples, obstruction of discussions and classist questioning of the popular character of most constituents. This served to install a discourse that casts doubt on the “quality” of the constitutional proposal with arguments that point to the lack of education and ignorance of the representatives, who come, without a majority, from the middle and popular sectors.

But, in addition to the delegitimization, supporters of “rejection” launched a campaign of lies to scare the population, touching on delicate issues that concern the vast majority. Through social networks and the mass media (all owned by right-wing businessmen), they installed false ideas such as the following: the new Constitution does not allow the right to own a home; consecrates privileges to indigenous peoples, transforming them into first-class citizens to the detriment of the rest of Chileans; the country will be divided by recognizing different nations; health centers will collapse forcing everyone to use public services; parents will not be able to choose the education of their children; the abortion will have no time limit. This is just to give a few examples. With the complicity of the mainstream press, which only in recent weeks has taken an active role in disproving false information, these lies have spread and become installed in public debate and in broad sectors of the population.

On another front, the television channel “rechaço” made an effort to install a driving idea: the constitutional proposal was made out of hatred and resentment and what is needed instead is a constitution “made with love”. However, his audiovisual pieces are full of aggression, machismo and, paradoxically, hatred. The most recent controversy occurred this week, when they used the story of a sex worker who was the victim of an attempted murder and who decided not to denounce her aggressor as an act of love, which generated a wave of criticism for the naturalization of sexual violence that the scene promoted. Questions like this show the Rejection's lack of understanding of some basic elements of Chile today, such as the condemnation of sexist violence.

The other strategy that “rejection” has used with relative success is to hide its main political and economic leaders behind the faces of “citizens” and figures of the old concertation who crossed the line and went to the "reject". Characters like José Antonio Kast or Sebastián Piñera remain silent, while former ministers of Michelle Bachelet or current senators from the Christian Democrats act as spokespersons for the reaction. In this way, from Pinochet ultraconservatives to ex-centrists, the field of “rejection” brings together heterogeneous groups that fail to develop a clear proposal for action in case the alternative they promote succeeds.

Although they have made efforts to install the story that the commitment to a new Constitution for Chile is still valid, and that what it is about is a “rejection to reform”, that is, continuing the constituent process, among their ranks there is no agreement on how this would be done and under what conditions. This week, representatives of the more conservative wing affirmed that it is not necessary to write a fundamental new Charter, others came out to qualify the Convention's parity structure in terms of gender as "stupidity", others to question the existence of seats reserved for indigenous peoples, others to say that the best thing would be for a new Constitution to be drawn up by a commission of specialists or parliamentarians.

The lack of agreement within the “rejection” field on which way to go, added to the lack of ideas and design of a campaign based mainly on fake news, show the deep crisis that the Chilean right is going through. They don't have any country projects to offer. They only oppose democratic advances and rights. However, and even in crisis, they have demonstrated an enormous capacity to influence the social scenario and generate adverse conditions for the victory of the “approval”.


The “I approve” campaign and the conquest of majorities

As you can see, in the field of “approval” things have not been easy. The results of the polls that week after week show “rejection” as the winner, added to the verification of the level of penetration achieved by the installed lies and the fear that exists in broad popular sectors, were hard blows to reality. In the peripheries and territories where the campaign began to unfold, there was distrust, disappointment and high levels of misinformation.

There it was realized that the race was starting at a disadvantage and that a massive political education campaign should be launched to reverse the trend and avoid defeat. However, the problem with starting with this disadvantage is that a lot of time had to be dedicated to dismantling the lies of “rejection” from a defensive position, which prevented taking the initiative and installing its own agenda and narratives. Moving from stupor to action, from the rear to the front, has been a difficult exercise.

In the last two months, the forces of “approval”, grouped in two national commands – the ApruebaxChile, which brings together official parties, social organizations, artists and intellectuals, and the command of Social Movements Approve New Constitution, led by Feminist Coordinator 8M e Modatima and made up of more than one hundred organizations at the national level – they were implemented at different scales: in territories with thousands of people going through neighborhoods, door to door, and holding workshops and political-cultural acts; and in the mass media and social networks.

This combination of actions at a communicational and territorial level seeks to combat disinformation, highlight the central aspects of the new Constitution project and convey confidence and certainty that the approval of this new Constitution project is the safest way to achieve well-being. and social peace.

Among the forces of “approval” there is the awareness of the enormous difficulties they face and that victory is far from being assured. There is also awareness, especially in left-wing groups, that the key to winning this election lies in the popular majority voting, mainly women and young people, sectors that were decisive in the victory of Gabriel Boric over the ultra-rightist José Antonio Kast and who, now , are no longer safe voters for “I approve”.

Regardless of what the polls say, it is clear that the path is arduous and that to win it will be necessary to win over the social majorities that today do not seem convinced that voting “I approve” is a guarantee of improvement in their living conditions. In this link lies a good part of the challenge of the forces of “approval”. Show how this proposal is the best alternative to fulfill the desire to live with dignity that was the engine of the popular revolt. Achieving this would be a successful case of political pedagogy towards the masses.

For now, in the days remaining until the end of the legal campaign, we are thousands of people engaged across the country, working to win the social majority necessary to succeed. For the forces of the left and social movements, a lot is at stake.

It's not just another election. The result of the plebiscite will mark the strengthening of the right and sectors that oppose the transformations or the opening of the way out of neoliberalism and the beginning of a cycle led by new social interests excluded from politics for decades. For this reason, aware of our historical responsibility, in Chile, the social and political left is giving everything.

*Pierina Ferretti holds a PhD in sociology from the Universidad de Chile.

Translation originally published on the website Other words.

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