Chile, the transition begins

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes
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By ATILIO A. BORON*

After a very difficult birth, Chilean society restarts its transition to democracy

Chile faced an unprecedented historic challenge this Sunday: for the first time in history, its people were consulted on whether or not they wanted a new Constitution and, if the affirmative answer was a majority, what type of body would be in charge of writing the new Magna Carta. There were two alternatives: a “Constitutional Convention” made up of 155 people exclusively elected for that purpose and which, once the process is over, must be dissolved, or, on the contrary, a “Mixed Convention”, formed by 172 members, with 50% of parliamentarians and 50% of citizens equally elected for this purpose.

This consultation was not a gracious concession by the post-Pinochet political caste, but the result of a long process of popular struggles that reached their peak in the days that took place from October 18, 2019. They threw to the ground the fanciful image of “ Chilean model”, that supposedly virtuous paradigm of democratic transition and economic success disseminated without scruples and incessantly by dominant interests and by the empire. The protests ruined, in a furious blink of an eye, the thick web of official lies, exposing a country with one of the highest rates of economic inequality in the world, with the most indebted families in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a social security system that, however forty years old, deceived retirees and pensioners, and a country in which, as research shows, women born in the popular communes of Greater Santiago have a life expectancy 18 years lower than those lucky enough to be born in Providencia, Vitacura or Las Condes. “Chile borders the center of injustice”, sang Violeta Parra in the mid-60s, at a time when injustice had not reached the unimaginable extremes that it would reach thanks to Pinochetism and its successors.

The resistances and struggles never subsided, reaching a cumulative inertia that produced the social eruption of October. From the deep underground of Chile, the truth emerged that the dictator and the protagonists of the failed “democratic transition” tried to hide. No one was more eloquent than the wife of President Sebastián Piñera to describe what was happening in the country when, in distress, she confessed to a friend that “we are absolutely suffocating, it's like a foreign, alien invasion”. His reaction is understandable: those faces tense and fed up with so much oppression and injustice, those bodies that heroically opposed the criminal shootings of the security forces had been invisible for almost half a century, and, for the dominant culture, they were “aliens”, a threatening populace that came to disturb the comfortable existence of the country's owners and their wealth. And, after the results of the plebiscite, it seems that the “invaders” do not want to return to the past. They want to build a new constitutional order that gives them back the violated rights, appealing to trickery and tricks of political propaganda perversely managed by the media mafia, with the aim of The Mercury forward.

The result of the plebiscite is categorical and unappealable. After a very difficult birth, Chilean society restarts its transition to democracy. The new Constitution will have to dismantle the complex and intricate tangle of privileges and authoritarian enclaves established over half a century, and for that it will be essential that the masses maintain their presence in the streets and squares. His demobilization or his withdrawal into quietism prior to the events of October would be fatal. The drafting of a new Constitution, a delicate watchmaker's work, will only be the first step in the long march that begins for Chile to rediscover democracy, brutally mutilated by the 1973 coup, and only reconstructed in its external appearances in the long thirty years of right-wing government of the old and new type. Strength Chile! All of Latin America embraces you with joy and hope!

*Atilio A. Borón is professor of political science at the University of Buenos Aires. Author, among other books, of Minerva's Owl (Voices).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

Originally published in the newspaper page 12.

 

 

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