Chile presents Gabriel Boric with a draft constitution. Now he faces a vote.

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SANTIAGO, Chile — In 2019, when hundreds of thousands of Chileans took to the streets in protest, a young, tattooed politician helped broker a deal to end the unrest. The pact called for a new constitution to appease protesters demanding a fresh start — and a voice for those who had long been mostly excluded from the politics of this South American nation: women, indigenous people, the LGBT community.

Now this young politician, a 36-year-old shaggy-haired former student activist named Gabriel Boric, is the president of Chile. And this week he received a document that could become Chile’s new constitution, a 388-article charter that envisions a progressive and feminist future for the South American nation.

“Today we begin a new phase,” Boric said Monday at Chile’s former congress building in Santiago, the 19th-century palace that has hosted the constitutional convention for the past year. “Once again, it will be the people who will have the final say on their fate.”

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Chileans are due to vote on September 4 on the document, which would enshrine many of the priorities of social movements led by younger generations: gender equality, environmental protection, the rights of indigenous peoples and guaranteed access to education. The constitution is one of the first in the world to be drafted in the context of a climate crisis, and to be drafted by a joint convention. He recognizes the sensitivity of animals and their “right to live a life free from abuse”.

It is a woke constitution propelled by leftist millennia and built for a modern nation led by one. The question is whether the Chileans are ready for it.

“What Chile decided…was to be part of the new demands raised by a specific generation,” said Sergio Toro, a political scientist at the University of Chile’s town hall. Their success, he said, depends on their ability to achieve this new social pact. “If they succeed, it will mean the start of a different country.”

The experience could serve as a case study for writing a progressive constitution in the 21st century — and the challenges of getting a divided nation to accept it.

After the 2019 protests, nearly 80% of Chileans voted in 2020 to draft a new constitution to replace the country’s Augusto Pinochet-era Milton Friedman-influenced charter. But it now looks increasingly unlikely that Chileans will approve it – polls show the vote to reject it hold a clear lead.

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At one point, the first democratically drafted constitution in Chile’s history included 499 articles, which would have made it one of the longest such documents in the world. It was reduced to 388, plus another 57 to ease the country’s transition to the new charter.

This is a marked departure from the current charter, which did not mention the indigenous peoples of Chile.

The document would enshrine Chile as a plurinational – containing many distinct peoples – and raise the possibility of autonomy for indigenous territories. An article would guarantee the return of historically indigenous lands at a “fair price”. Another would make the government responsible for preventing, adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change. Elsewhere, the document would guarantee biodiversity protections, enshrine a right to nature, and pave the way for the replacement of the country’s deeply unpopular system of private water rights.

“This is an unprecedented process because we were able to take all the evidence of climate change into account when developing the new constitution,” said Cristina Dorador, 42, a microbiologist from Antofagasta. “I hope that all this can serve as an example for other countries.”

The charter would oblige the government responsible for free higher education, health care and many other services. It would guarantee a right to housing and free time. It should that at least half of all members of government and congress, as well as employees of public and public-private enterprises, be women. It would also recognize the government’s responsibility to eradicate gender-based violence.

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The first article defines Chile as an inclusive and egalitarian country.

“Feminism appears in the Constitution as one of the central pillars of the redistribution of power,” explained Constanza Schönhaut, 33, delegate from Santiago.

It would upend Chile’s political system, abolish the Senate in favor of a “chamber of regions” – an upper house made up of elected delegates from each of Chile’s regions – and lower the barriers preventing independent candidates from running for office. elected positions.

“This proposal is completely different in form and content from the 1980 constitution,” said Kenneth Bunker, director of Tresquintos, a political analysis site. “If it was drafted in one piece by four generals, then this new proposal was drafted in full plurality.”

The 155-member constitutional assembly was composed mostly of independent and leftist members. Seventeen seats were reserved for the country’s 10 indigenous communities.

The composition of the assembly has been the subject of criticism.

“The proposal is radical because it only represents a sector of the left, which is obviously not what our country wants,” said Arturo Zúñiga, a conservative delegate to the convention who waved the national red flag, white and blue. at Monday’s ceremony. “In my view, the way forward is to find a new way to write a constitution that unites our country.”

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The tumultuous negotiations were punctuated by controversies that helped fuel a campaign to discredit the convention.

Delegate Rodrigo Rojas Vade, a popular figure at the 2019 marches, was elected to the convention on promises of free, high-quality healthcare – and because of his experiences with a rare form of leukaemia. It turned out that his diagnosis was wrong and he quit.

The spread of misinformation and selective readings of the text have sparked battles. A conservative senator, Felipe Kast, the nephew of José Antonio Kast, whom Boric defeated in December, falsely tweeted that the proposal would allow abortions at any time during pregnancy.

The text would guarantee the right to make free, autonomous and informed decisions about one’s body, procreation and contraception; as well as the right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy. But he specifies that abortion would be regulated by a separate law.

If voters reject the document, the 1980 constitution would remain in effect and the country would likely have to assemble an entirely new constitutional convention to restart a drafting process, said Tania Busch Venthur, a law professor who teaches constitutional rights at the university. Chilean Andrés Bello. .

“Chile is a country where people are not good at talking about things directly,” she said. “It may be a process where, for the first time, we sat down to speak honestly, and we saw that our differences were deeper than we thought.”

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