Vote on Chile’s new constitution (September 4)

Focusing on indigenous rights

For the first time, indigenous rights will play a key role in Chile’s constitution. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) praised the forward-looking draft on which the people will vote on September 4. “After two hundred years of independence, the plurinational country of Chile is finally striving to make peace with the indigenous peoples. In the scope of the democratically drafted constitution, it is the basic rights – especially the land rights – that focus on this process,” stated Regina Sonk, the STP’s expert on indigenous peoples.

The new constitution envisages significant changes to the country’s political and economic orientation. The former constitution, which was introduced during the Pinochet era, was based on neoliberal ideals and privatization of the public sector. Thus, Chile can look back on a long period of economic growth, but this also caused massive social inequalities. In the areas of education, health, and basic security in old age, the social gradient is extreme. “On the other side, there is a well-financed right-wing campaign against the draft constitution – trying to sow doubt by means of misinformation and misrepresentation of the draft constitution. This seems to have an effect on many people,” Sonk explained. “In Chile’s major cities, there will be huge demonstrations in favor and against the new constitution. The vote on Sunday will reflect the division of society.” According to recent polls, the “no”-votes are leading the “yes”-votes, albeit closely.

According to the Mapuche activist, linguist, and university professor Elisa Loncón, Article 5 of the draft constitution governs that Chile will recognize a coexistence of different peoples and nations within a unified state. With the new constitution, Chile would – finally – also recognize the Mapuche, the Aymara, Rapa Nui, Lickanantay, Quechua, Colla, Diaguita, Chango, Kawashkar, Yaghan, Selk'nam, and other indigenous peoples. Mapuche lawyer Rosa Catrileo, member of the constituent assembly, stated that the indigenous peoples of Chile have already won “…regardless of whether the draft is rejected or accepted.” Further, she emphasized: “We have made our demands visible on a national level, and so never again will we be excluded from the conversation.”

If the draft were to be rejected, this would lead Chile into a dead end road. In October 2020, the people of Chile had decided that the country needs a new constitution. In the event of a rejection, there would be no alternative to a new constitutional convention. In the meantime, the constitution of 1980 would simply remain in place.