What Is Behind Bachelet’s Push to Reform the Chilean Constitution?
By Andrea Kohen
The ruling progressive coalition’s idea is to rid the country of a document created by the military dictator Augusto Pinochet, and to introduce reforms to fix “the model that has generated so much inequality and social injustice” in Chile.
But is the Bachelet administration advancing an open, honest discussion to reform the Chilean Constitution or is it trying to masquerade an indoctrination agenda?
Though the current Chilean Constitution was established during the military regime, so much of it was reformed during the progressive Ricardo Lagos administration (2000-2006), incorporating so many of the democratic principles which we hold so dear.
“Today we solemnly signed a democratic constitution for Chile,” Lagos said on September 17, 2005. “This is a very big day for Chile. We have reasons to celebrate … at last a democratic Constitution, in accordance with Chile’s spirit, of Chile’s permanent soul. This is a victory of all Chileans. ”
Now the Bachelet administration has announced open town-hall meetings where citizens may participate in the discussion of changing the Constitution — under the supervision of “government facilitators.” The ideas of Chileans in these meetings will be “taken into account” in drafting the new Constitution, officials assure.
But what principles of the present Constitution deserve a change? Has the Constitution really stopped responding to the demands and reflecting the views of Chilean society?
If the government hasn’t taken into account the opinion of Chileans on past reforms such as health, transport or education, what hopes can they have that this time it will be different?
If the answer to any these questions is no, then it’s safe to assume that the current government has a vested interest for these reformist attempts, which will remove present or future obstacles.
Statements by José Miguel Insulza, the Chilean official at The Hague, represent an open opposition to the process: “I dream of being wrong, but I think this discussion process will not go too far … I do not expect much from the first stage, because the very people will not participate. ”
What are the town halls for? A scenario of national catharsis, perhaps, made for citizens to believe they have a say in the new constitution that will govern their lives.
This constitutional process is nothing more than an opportunity for citizens to let off steam, because usually a government claiming the need for this type of change wants to steer the country in a certain direction anyway. Not in vain the leaders of this process will be activists of the Socialist and Communist parties.
Where is the democratic principle of pluralism and freedom of thought in all this? Where is the debate of what needs to be changed or not? Is the opposition going to have a say?
Social media and other outlets have allowed Chileans to see that the ruling coalition and their followers are simply not open to dialogue, so much that they refer to any dissidents as “fascists, dictatorship lovers, pro-Pinochet, coup mongers, reactionaries, backward, and traitors.”
Is this the republic we want to live in? Will the new Constitution really guarantee the rights of everyone when the opposition is marginalized?
I just hope this process is done with soon, so that Chile can learn its lesson. Maybe then will Chileans realize which principles are the true foundations of a free society.
Andrea Kohen is a Chilean historian, economist, and educator. Follow her: @AndreaKohen.