Constitutional referendum in Chile

A new start with real participation for indigenous peoples (Press Release)

Next Sunday, October 25, more than 14 million voters will be able to decide whether Chile should have a new constitution. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) advocates a new start – as the previous constitution continues problematic traditions from the military dictatorship. "A new constitution would offer Chile the opportunity to heal old wounds and to effectively involve the country's indigenous inhabitants politically," stated Yvonne Bangert, STP expert on indigenous peoples. "…and they must already be involved in the drafting, to ensure that they can actively participate in shaping the rules that affect them." ILO Convention 169, which Chile has ratified, demands this participation as well.

The country's current constitution discriminates against the indigenous population. According to Bangert, the anti-terror laws from the time of the dictatorship are almost exclusively used to criminalize leaders of the Mapuche land rights movement. "Due to a multitude of unfair rules, many of them are locked up in prison for years without being charged – and if there are court proceedings, anonymous testimonies invite abuse, and interpreters into Mapuche language are not provided," Bangert stated. "Many Mapuche women have reported degrading treatment following their arrest. There are frequent raids in villages, and deaths are sometimes declared as suicide or not investigated properly. A new constitution would offer the opportunity to get rid of these relics from the Pinochet era – and to establish a rule of law that also treats indigenous people fairly. In addition, constitutionally guaranteed rights could be claimed.

Another shortcoming of Chile's current constitution is the extensive privatization of the most important foundations of daily life. "Since the dictatorship, even the education system and water supply have been in private hands," Bangert criticized. "As a result, poorer population groups such as the indigenous communities can hardly afford education, and even drinking water is often unaffordable. Instead, they have to watch as their waters are rendered unusable for them due to dams or fish farms". Thus, as the expropriations are the starting point for today's land rights conflicts, it will be necessary to initiate a land reform that gets rid of the expropriations of the Pinochet era.