Indigenous rights take center stage in Chile’s new constitution
Indigenous Mapuche Constituent Assembly representative Elisa Loncón raises her arms after she was elected president of the Constituent Assembly during the inaugural session of the Constitutional Convention at the Congress building in Santiago, Chile, July 4, 2021. La representante de la Asamblea Constituyente indígena mapuche, Elisa Loncón, levanta los brazos después de ser elegida presidenta de la Asamblea Constituyente durante la sesión inaugural de la Convención Constituyente en el edificio del Congreso en Santiago, Chile, el 4 de julio de 2021. | Esteban Felix / AP

Chile’s new constitution will give official recognition to the Indigenous peoples within its borders, making it the third plurinational country in South America, after Ecuador and Bolivia. It is part of the sweeping reforms of President Gabriel Boric Font, whose broad coalition of left-wing parties, including Chile’s Communist Party, came to power on Nov. 19, 2021, ousting President Sebastián Piñera, a conservative billionaire.

The new charter will replace the 1980 constitution of the Pinochet dictatorship. If allowed to reach fruition, some speculate the new government could even pave the way for a second revolution in South America, after the Bolivian Revolution of 1952.

On July 4, 2022, Elisa Loncón held up before the international press the final draft of the constitutional proposal, during its presentation at the National Congress in Santiago. Loncón is Mapuche, the largest Chilean Indigenous nation. She was elected the first president of Chile’s constitutional assembly, the body charged with writing the new constitution with the assistance of the U.N. Human Rights Regional Office for South America project, Chile: Human rights at the center of the new Constitution.

“Never before have the Indigenous communities of Chile been invited to help draft a new constitution,” said Loncón. She used to support her family by selling vegetables at a local market and went on to become a linguist and professor at the University of Santiago, having obtained two doctorate degrees.

“For the first time in our history,” Loncón added, “Chileans from all walks of life and from all political factions are participating in a democratic dialogue.”

The new constitution is one of the longest in the world, at 388 articles in length. Compared to the restrictive Pinochet-era constitution, it is wide-ranging and enshrines in law a host of social rights, including the right to free speech, abortion, clean air and water, and publicly-funded national health service.

To address historical inequalities and to protect minority groups, the constitution will protect the plurinational, intercultural, and ecological values of modern Chile. These nations are represented by seven Mapuche, two Aymara, and one representative for each remaining ethnic group: Diaguita, Quechua, Atacameño, Colla, Yagan, Kawesqar, Chango, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

The new constitution was adopted with 106 votes, accepting land restitution as a preferential reparation mechanism, which was celebrated by the 17 constituents who occupy seats reserved for Indigenous peoples in the Convention.

“Indigenous peoples have rights to the resources they have traditionally used or occupied,” said Rosa Catrileo, “which are found in their territories and are essential for their collective existence. Today the Constitutional Convention paves the way to the solution of historical conflicts related to the dispossession that Indigenous peoples have suffered.” Catrileo is Mapuche.

The Pinochet-era constitution and Decree Law 2568, promulgated in 1979, state that after the land was measured and divided, its inhabitants would no longer be classified as Indigenous. This legislation hit the Mapuche hard, as the government attempted to deny their existence, diminishing any sense of identity and community. These brutal policies were meant to nullify any attempt to claim Indigenous land rights.

The Chicago School of Economics used Chile as a massive experiment to inflict neoliberalism upon the Chilean economy and its people. Neoliberalism is enshrined in the 1980 constitution, in which the “morals of the market,” the free market, and private property ownership, are defined as human rights. This was central to the Pinochet government’s re-privatizing foreign and Chilean-owned assets that the Allende government had nationalized between 1970 and 1973.

The social disaster brought about by neoliberalism created a tsunami of popular protests in October 2019 known as the estallido social (Social Upheaval). The protests revealed the outrage felt after years of social injustice, the lack of dignity towards Chile’s indigenous peoples, and the country’s deep economic and social inequities. In 2021, millions of Chileans filled the country’s streets and public squares to demand change. One year after the protests started, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favor of drafting a new constitution.

In May 2022, the Constitutional Convention approved provisions related to the Indigenous peoples’ right to their territories and resources. The constitutional process results from a broad national agreement among political parties in Chile to end inequality and poor public services. Many Chileans blame the old constitution for the creation of one of the most unequal countries in the world. It led to acts of violence in the south of the country, where forestry and agricultural companies occupy, without Indigenous permission, territories that Indigenous peoples have inhabited for centuries. The intruders were met with arson attacks on machinery and property, fatal shootouts, and hunger strikes by Indigenous prisoners.

Chile’s new constitution will replace the free-market-centric economic system of the Pinochet period (1973-1990). Environmental democracy and consultative resource management with the Indigenous people hold an important part of this constitution, as does mining, which is central to Chilean economic dependence on its export of natural resources.

The new government has already begun the nationalization of the country’s biggest copper and lithium mines. Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and has two important lithium mines. The “Lithium Triangle” constitutes Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. At 8.6 million tons, Chile’s lithium reserves are the largest in the world, followed by Australia. Lithium mining takes an environmental toll as the refining process is water-intensive. Between 2000 and 2015, lithium mining in the Atacama Desert greatly depleted the local water table.

In 2021 Chile produced 5.6 million tons of copper, nearly 25% of the world’s total. The government is about to spend U.S.$70 billion in new mining projects, once it has nationalized the nation’s mineral resources. A new mining royalty bill will raise tariffs on companies based on gross sales and profitability. FTI Consulting reports in its Mining Royalties, the Elections and the Constitution in Chile (2022) that tax rates will increase to as much as eighty percent and profit margins will consequently drop by more than 50%, at current copper prices.

“Chile would become the nation with the highest tax burden on copper mining, forcing companies to revisit the viability of their current and future investments.” These are the same arguments used by the CIA in the 1970s to discredit the Allende government, leading up to the infamous coup of Sept.11, 1973.

The neoliberalism experiment, introduced under Pinochet, has been a massive failure in Chile, as witnessed by the increasing concentration of wealth by a few families and the growing level of poverty and homelessness, as evidenced by the increase in size of the slums. Private property as a human right did not have a positive impact during Pinochet, nor under the democratic period that followed.

It failed to improve human rights, deemed worse than dismal by the international human rights organizations, resulting in the massive failure of social justice and increased poverty. Nor did it attract FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) after its widespread privatizations. The economy continued to fail. Even after the end of the dictatorship, unemployment levels increased. The State-Owned Enterprises would have produced greater wealth for the Chilean people and have had a better impact on Chilean society, than by privatizing them.

The International Property Rights Index is a measure created to offer a comprehensive insight into the international status of property rights. In 2021 Chile ranked 31, the highest in Latin America, compared to the UK at fifteen, Australia at eleven, and the U.S. at six. Despite the country exhibiting some of the largest measures of financial market depth among emerging market economies, Chile still suffered from significant social and political problems.

Even though economic growth had rebounded to 5.5% with a GDP at U.S.$252.9 billion, poverty increased from 8.1% to 12.2%, with more than 30% of the population being economically vulnerable, suffering from the consequences of high-income inequality. This culminated in months of widespread social unrest, met with savage repression by the Carabineros (police), who shot people in the face, blinding them, or fired shotguns at journalists’ legs, crippling them. This technique of crowd control was taught to them by the Israelis.

Under such social hardship, the 2021 election saw Boric win 56% of the votes, compared with 44% for his conservative opponent, José Antonio Kast. Boric was a student leader in the Chilean capital, Santiago, who rallied against the country’s privatized education system and led a broad coalition that included Chile’s Communist Party.

On Sept. 4, Chileans will participate in a referendum to approve the new constitution. Whether the U.S. State Department and the CIA will interfere in the referendum and support the far right as it did leading up to the violent coup against Allende, with its concentration camps and mass graves, remains to be seen.

The Guardian (Australia)


Graham Holton
Graham Holton

Dr. Graham E.L. Holton writes on global political economy. Dr. Graham E.L. Holton escribe sobre economía política global.