Unió Europea i el Món

Chile: A new generation for a new constituent process

Chile: A new generation for a new constituent process
Chile: A new generation for a new constituent process

It was back on the 14th of October, 2019, just a few days after the public transport price hike, which although it was “only” a 4% increase, represented the umpteenth blown to the economy of the Chileans. What no one expected was the spark that ignited an unprecedented riot. Within minutes, the Santiago Metro was filled with thousands of students rallying round the single cry of “¡Evade!” The protests did not go unnoticed by Chilean society, that saw how the Carabineros gendarmerie arbitrarily shot and detained those youths, setting small sparks flying that would collectively end up kindling a huge blaze. The 18th of October thus became the first day of the Estallido Social or Social Uprising, the day that Chile began to awaken.

On the 19th of October, at thirteen minutes past midnight, President Piñera declared first state of emergency since the Pinochet dictatorship—besides those arising from natural disasters. The rest is history. Little did people think that the small gesture of some brave young high-school students would be the beginning of a process for the creation of a new constitution and would allow the victory in the presidential elections of Gabriel Boric Font, a former student leader of the FeCh, the Federation of Students of the University of Chile.

How did a 4% price-hike in public transport lead to a constituent process in a country labelled as “the most stable” in Latin America? Perhaps one of the reasons is the inability of the neoliberal model to meet both the needs and the economic expectations and aspirations of the Chilean people, the expectations of one of the richest countries in copper and lithium in the world.

That Uprising, in a context – COVID aside – of a marked reduction in poverty and inequality in the country, might seem paradoxical. Since 1990, the Gini Index – a measure of inequality – had fallen sharply from 57.2 to 44.4 in 2017. As for the Human Development Index or HDI, this increased during the same period from 0.706 to 0.851, the highest in Latin America. While in 1990 the wealthiest 20% of the population accounted for 62.5% of national income, that figure fell to 51.3% in 2017. As for the poorest 10%, while in 1990 it accounted for 3.4% of national income, in 2017 it represented just 5.8%, a figure comparable to that of other countries such as Spain.

The issue in Chile may thus be subjective rather than objective. After the bloody dictatorship that had made the Chilean people guinea pigs of the failed neoliberal experiments of the Chicago Boys, the Chileans had turned the page breaking neither with the Pinochet constitution – although extensively reformed – nor with neoliberal dogma. The new generations that had by now been socialized under a “democratic” regime, have seen their aspirations stagnate and they now demand broad social improvements. Since the mid-2000s, there have been student protests demanding social rights, culminating—inevitably?—in the so-called Estallido of 2019. So the political and social consensus after the 1988 plebiscite was blow to pieces, and it is no wonder that one of its main guarantors, the Concertación coalition, went the same way. As a much-criticized right-wing Chilean journalist said overcome by sincerity on social media, “We knew there was inequality, not that it was so vexing.”

To date, the Chilean constituent process has been a successful one. In the last few years, and especially after the last presidential and legislative elections, a new generation of political leaders who mean to lead the constituent process has reached the helm of the nation. The fact that part of Boric’s new cabinet springs from the large student mobilizations is meaningful. Ministers such as Camila Vallejo at the General Secretariat of Government, Izkia Siches at the Ministry of the Interior, Giorgio Jackson at the Ministry of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, and the President of the Republic of Chile Gabriel Bòric, were all leaders. Another mention to be made is that the new Minister of Defence Maya Fernández is the granddaughter of Salvador Allende himself, establishing a symbolic link between the new government and that of Allende’s Unidad Popular, overthrown by Pinochet.

To paraphrase Allende, “history is ours and it is the people that make it.” What comes next in Chile’s history will be decided by the Chileans themselves. Boric's challenge is capital: to culminate a constituent process satisfactorily while maintaining a cohesive government, a diverse government made up both of members of the former Frente Amplio and the former Nueva Mayoria – the heir to the Concertación. We shall see whether the Chilean people have truly awoken, or if in reality everything has been just a dream.

“Keep in mind that much sooner rather than later, the great avenues where the free man shall walk will be reopened to build a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!”

Former President Allende in his last speech while Pinochet’s army was executing a coup d’etat, 11th September 1973.


Max Zañartu

Secretary General of Esquerra’s European Union & International Affairs Committee

Marcel Josep Rodríguez

Member of the International Affairs & Cooperation Committee of Jovent Republicà, Esquerra’s youth wing