Chile – A new beginning?

Browse By

Machiavelli once said “it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.” There is undoubtedly a germ of truth in this, and it was at the very least the mantra of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled as Chile’s dictator for seventeen years. The General’s dark fame is drawn from the 40,018 known victims of his regime, who were tortured and imprisoned. A further 3,065 are classified as murdered or ‘forcibly made to disappear’, however, these figures are constantly being revised, such as in a Chilean commission report in 2011; a testament to the inescapable tragedies of Chile’s past. The wounds are still fresh, and in living memory, as Pinochet’s administration was only denied an extension in 1990. His infamous reputation preceded all conversations concerning Chilean politics, but that has changed with their latest democratic development.

On the 25th of October 2020, after an eruption of discontent and anger manifested itself in the protests of 2019, Chile firmly voted to make systemic changes through a constitution. The size of that margin of change, 78% of the country, solidifies the public’s intention to reduce inequality and to reinvent themselves. Over one million jobs were lost in Chile during the pandemic. The fiscal deficit rose to the largest in over three decades and an inequality rating of 0.46 by the Gini coefficient has only been inflamed by the events by the past year. People have voted for dramatic change, and to emphatically reject a figure who has stained their political system for so many years.

After two days of voting for the delegates who will make up the 155 representative convention, Chile has taken a major, exciting step towards a new future. The elections are significant for more than just the changes that they will implement, with both of the establishment parties being rejected by voters in favour of radicals and independents. The main body of influence is now situated in the hands of the 48 independent candidates, with another seventeen seats reserved for native Chileans.

A new constitution will mark Chile’s rebirth from its totalitarian past, and a new document to replace Pinochet’s 1980 text, which promoted his so-called ‘neoliberal’ economic theory. Once drafted, the population will have another opportunity to be heard by their representatives, as they vote on the document.

Expectations are for the constitution to refocus priorities onto finding solutions to the problems of mass inequity through intense funding of communal education, health care and water systems.

In conversation with the Guardian, law professor Fernando Atria commented, “we have seen the categorical rejection of the constitution and the political culture it fomented” whilst candidate in Santiago, Antonia Orellana, emphasised the significance of the decision, “It’s a game-changing moment, like when women won the right to vote”.

The World Bank suggests that Chile’s economy will reach pre-pandemic levels by 2022, accompanying the possibility of a new, successful constitution. Of course, it is always when the situation looks brightest that things are at their most precarious, and its many supporters are aware that a constitution is only a first step in fundamentally altering Chile’s political system. Talking to the Financial Times, Andrés Velasco noted that, “People with vague convictions didn’t go to the polls, while people with intense convictions did go”, indicating that delegates and hence their decisions could prove to be unrepresentative of the people, and the current surge of radical sentiment will be short-lived. Similarly, the Council on Foreign Relations warns of the danger of divisions in the political left on sweeping reforms. However, the hope of Chileans remains undiminished for the moment.

In the 1970s, 17 of the 20 countries in South America were led by dictators, but today, the overwhelming majority employ some form of democratic system. Chile’s alterations to a national document could cause social as well as political ruptures. It may also transpire that fighting over the direction of the country will reinforce an image of weakness rather than that of strength, but that is not to imply that the process of reformation will stagnate. Change is coming, and Chile’s days of being linked in its modern politics to Pinochet must surely be numbered.