World, Americas

Chileans expect much in 2020 after mass protests

April 26 plebiscite to change Constitution most tangible result from demonstrations

Sergio Garcia Hernandez   | 09.01.2020
Chileans expect much in 2020 after mass protests

BOGOTA, Colombia

In 2020, Chile will take part of the imminent creation of a new Constitution that will end the ghost of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, that lasted from 1973 to 1990.

Thirty years after the end of the regime, Chile could change its current Constitution which, despite many amendments, has a negative connotation because it was created in 1980 while Pinochet was in power.

The first step toward a new Magna Carta is voting a plebiscite April 26 where Chileans will decide whether they want a new Constitution.

The vote was called by President Sebastian Pinera on Dec. 23 and was the most tangible result of demonstrations that began in October.

Pinera announced the plebiscite after the enactment of a reform to change the Constitution, which was approved with broad support in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The reform had been endorsed, prior to Pinera's enactment, in the House of Representatives by 127 - 18, with five abstentions. In the Senate, 38 congressmen supported it, no one voted against it and just 3 abstentions.

The reform was the result of an agreement reached by several political parties in November in response to demonstrations that took place at the end of October in which at least 26 people died, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

"The Constitution is the great framework of unity that provides certainty, stability, and security for the future of our people," said Pinera during the enactment of the reform.

Mauricio Jaramillo, a researcher at Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and former advisor to the UNASUR regional body, said consultation in Chile is a "catalyst" for unprecedented demonstrations that have taken place in the country since democracy was restored.

"It would end up completing an unfinished transition to end Pinochet's legacy," Jaramillo told Anadolu Agency.

He indicated that after the protests, with the plebiscite, there will be a return to a normal situation in institutions. He said Pinera faces the challenge of recovering his margin of governance, which he described as "seriously compromised" after the demonstrations.

In 2019, Chileans managed to put pressure on their democratic institutions to change the Constitution after months of protests that were triggered by increase fares in subway rides in Santiago.

Soon, the discontent over the fare increase became an unprecedented mobilization since the end of the dictatorship. Chileans mobilized against the high cost of living, high prices of education and medicines, income inequality and low pensions.

The government suspended the rise in subway fares in response to the demonstrations but declared a state of emergency in response to the massive mobilization.

The measure was unprecedented in democratic times and was accompanied by successive curfews and the presence of war tanks in the streets of main cities. The scene brought back memories of the most repressive times during the Pinochet era.

Pinera argued that the Constitution allowed him to use military force under the cover of the declaration of the state of emergency. Nevertheless, there was excessive use of force according to several human rights organizations.

That is why Chileans started asking for Constituent Assembly and the draft of a new Constitution. All this could be achieved in this crucial year.

*Jose Ricardo Baez G. from Colombia contributed to the story

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