Democracy resembles archeological sites as it is made up of layers and Chile is a country that fought for its democratization for centuries. Even though it constructed multiple layers onto where it started, it still could not solve its core problems that are due to neoliberalism and neoliberal democratization. If Chile cannot solve problems at its core; holding elections and changing constitutions will not carry Chile a step further. The struggle of Chileans for democratization, in a world in which populism is widely common, is so valuable and shall find a response. Latin America has seen lots of constitutional changes, so the challenge of constitution changing is about its applicability and becoming a solution for concrete and core problems. They can change the constitution, but will they be able to solve will be the challenge of Gabriel Boric.
Before the coup deta’t in 1973, Chile was considered one of the most stable democracies in Latin America (Navia, 298). It was examined by scholars as a distinct case because the democracies of other countries in Latin America were struggling. Chile, with Pinochet’s authoritarian regime, has lost a lot of effort on democratization. Even after Pinochet stepped down and Chile became democratic again, Pinochet’s legacy, the constitution, and neoliberalism have affected the lives of Chileans every day. Pinochet constructed everything in the constitution to remind Chileans that he is the father of Chile. He added details that will always favor rightist domination and neoliberal policies (Scott, 52). During the transition period, Amnesty Decree Law did not let the prosecution of the responsible for the disappearances and death of 28 000 people. Transitional justice, therefore, with Pinochet’s constitution never fulfilled its mission. However, in that period, Chileans exercised something that they did not demand: neoliberal democratization (Fernandez&Vera, 14). Neoliberalism created huge inequalities in Chile by providing privileges for the few. It created an economic elite in which 25% percent of the wealth produced in Chile is owned by 1% percent of the population.
Chileans requested this to change by electing leftist leaders, but instead Chilean left found neoliberal democratization as a solution, which did not bring prosperity or equality. It became a structural problem. Even during the 2000 elections, leftist candidate Lagos campaigned for “growth with equity”. However, neoliberalism is not interested in equality, and so is the Chilean structure. The problem of inequality creates different perceptions of Chile. Only 25% of the economic elite of Chile support stronger state intervention on the topic of healthcare, education, pensions, and copper mining whereas 75% of the ordinary citizens demand it (Heiss, 40). 28% of the Chilean political elite believe the government’s responsibilities shall be increased for social rights. Also, the majority of the elite request further privatizations whereas the majority of Chileans don’t (Heiss, 40). When politics started to serve for elite, it stopped serving its people.
The wealth accumulation of the rich continued while Chileans went onto the streets in 2019 for free education, free transportation, and re-nationalization of privatized companies. This was not the first time that they were trying to secure their democracy and demand equality on the streets. Chileans at elections showed that their demands are more important than their political ideologies. However, they could not see much of a change. There were amendments and reforms to the constitution in 2015 that eliminated the binomial electoral system of Chile which favored rightist parties and large coalition formation, but these reforms did not affect the overall picture of Chile. Chileans want something that will affect their life concretely, they want change that will be visible to them. Economic equality and gender equality will be visible to them. A growth that will be boosting their lives will be visible to them. They want a functioning government, not one that is bound or stuck by its constitution. Chileans are so active and distinctively insist on democracy and democratization. They are tired of leaders’ inability to solve problems. During the 2021 elections president Boric, who is a social democrat, promised them the elimination of inequalities and signaled more taxes implemented to the rich, however, with a constitution that incentivizes neoliberalism, he is so alone.
Chileans progress but within each progress, as is the case for peacebuilding, they come back to fight with very core problems because progress and democratization only happen to an extent even though they have fair and free elections or democratically elected leaders. Therefore, Chile needs to solve its core problems. Otherwise, reforms on the issues such as same-sex marriage or gender parity as Boric promised will help Chileans to be happy to some extent. For now, Chile is in progress in which they are trying to change the military constitution. By the plebiscite held in 2020, they approved making a new constitution. This can be the moment in which Chileans breathe and heal their wounds. Unless their wounds will be healed, they will be out on the streets because their constitution is the sword of Damocles. The provision of progress for the present-day of Chileans is dependent on the constitution-making process. It will form a new layer for the democratization of Chile if will succeed but if Chile will fail on progressing and on changing its constitution it will continue with its traumas and very structural problems. When Chileans feel unheard and inequal, Chile becomes polarized and cannot democratize further.
I believe that Chileans are not giving up on democracy and democratic tools. They insist on developing with democratic tools because they have seen how bad the otherwise can be under an authoritarian regime. They are hopeful but they are tired. The support of society for the new constitution during the drafting process declined because they thought that the articles enacted will not be the solution to Chile’s core problems. Even though Chileans do not give up on democracy if these problems will not be solved Chile can be caught up with the populism wave or polarize again.
To heal its wounds, Chile has to solve its core problems. Then, Chileans can sing gracias a la vida again.
Fernandez, A., & Vera, M. (2012). The Bachelet presidency and the end of Chile’s concertación era. Latin American Perspectives, 39(4), 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582×12442054
Heiss, C. (2021). Latin America erupts: Re-founding Chile. Journal of Democracy, 32(3), 33–47. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2021.0032
Navia, P. (2010). Living in actually existing democracies: Democracy to the extent possible in Chile. Latin American Research Review, 45(S), 298–328. https://doi.org/10.1353/lar.2010.0040
Osorno, Chile. 6 November 2019. Protesters burn a replica of the Chilean constitution. | Fernando Lavoz/NurPhoto/PA Images. All rights reserved
Sandra Cuffe, Al Jazeera, A protester in Santiago holds a sign calling for a ‘constitutional assembly for more democracy’
Scott, Sam D., “Transition to democracy in Chile | two factors” (2001). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 3938.
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