For the first time, this September 11, Chile would have been able to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état (1973-1990) without dragging the legacy of the dictator, encapsulated in the 1980 Constitution. However, a large majority of citizens rejected the proposal for a new Constitution that was voted on just a week ago. For now, the Magna Carta established during the dictatorship is maintained for one more September 11.
After last week’s negotiations, some, like Isabel Allende, a senator from the Socialist Party and daughter of former President Salvador Allende, hope to be able to reach the 50th anniversary of the coup with a new Magna Carta. They want it to be drafted by a new constitutional convention and to move away from “maximalisms” and other “mistakes” made in the first stage. The parliamentarian talks with elDiario.es about the future of the constituent process, the management of the government of Gabriel Boric, and the debts of the Chilean State in terms of memory and human rights.
Are you one of those who thought that Chile would commemorate 49 years of the coup with a new Constitution?
I am one of those who believed that the result of the plebiscite was going to be very narrow, three points up or down, approval or rejection. I never imagined this result. We were aware that the rejection led to a very intelligent and brutal campaign, with a lot of fake news. But there were also reprehensible behaviors of the conventional, lack of ethics and a lot of lack of information and pedagogy. There were maximalisms and intolerance and there was a lack of capacity to generate broad agreements, beyond the fact that each article required 2/3. Also, people didn’t read the Constitution and stuck with certain headlines. Others associated the constitutional proposal with the Boric government, whose adherence has decreased because there is a complex economic situation, inflation, there is no longer universal aid. There were a multiplicity of factors that influenced this result. It made me think that it was very difficult to win, but I had hope.
How did it affect that part of the center-left opted for rejection?
The triumph that the right boasts of is a result that not even in its wildest dreams could it obtain. They managed to drag sectors that belonged to the Concertación [coalición de la centro-izquierda tradicional] and that they left with the rejection, and add other people who voted for the first time. It was the first election with compulsory voting and registration [al padrón electoral] automatic. The participation was unprecedented.
How weakened is Boric’s government now, of which his party is also a part?
It is weakened because there was an association of the new Constitution proposal with the government. However, he did very well to react quickly and make a cabinet change. Two women joined [Carolina Tohá como ministra de Interior, y Ana Lya Uriarte como ministra general de la Presidencia] with trajectory and experience in public service and that will contribute. There is also a new balance in the political committee [círculo duro de ministros que toma las decisiones], which was too loaded towards the coalition of the president himself. The presence of our coalition, Democratic Socialism [conformada por la centro-izquierda tradicional]is balanced with that of Approve Dignity [que forman el Partido Comunista y el Frente Amplio]. In this government there are two governing coalitions, which are diverse, with different histories, different cultures and the relationship between them has not been easy. This is unprecedented.
There have been mistakes by the government that have betrayed the lack of experience. Governing is complex and, above all, when there are no majorities in Congress
Was there a lack of government experience?
Yes, because there were very young or highly academic people, but without a track record in public service. There have been mistakes by the government that have betrayed the lack of experience. Governing is complex and, above all, when there are no majorities in Congress. Parties with a very low percentage of adhesion have been allowed to enter Parliament. There are more than 25 parties and movements in the Chamber of Deputies and that hinders good management and that is why people with more experience were needed.
This week we have seen an image of all the forces of Congress gathered to define a new constitutional itinerary. The leading role now returns to Congress, but the parties and institutions were rejected in the first agreement for a new Constitution, in the midst of the social outbreak of 2019, due to a deep crisis of legitimacy. What has changed now?
It has to return to Congress because that is where a constitutional reform must be legislated to regulate the conditions under which this new stage is going to take place. It is necessary to define the number of conventions, the method of election, the electoral characteristics (lists, parity, seats reserved for native peoples, etc.). Until now, the right has said it is available for a new Constitution. I hope that what they said was out of conviction and not out of electoral opportunism before September 4. Voices have arisen that are already beginning to blur the compromised agreements, but I hope they keep their word and a new constitutional process can be established.
Can this new stage be read as an opportunity for citizens to once again trust Congress and institutions?
I see it as an opportunity, but it is not easy. The degree of legitimacy has been high and in this country there is a lack of civic education. Chile was a country that was characterized by the fact that people had a high civic and political awareness, but it has been losing it, also because of the voluntary vote. The parties have to show that we have learned the lesson and be more rigorous with transparency and accountability of public funds. We have a citizenry tired of abuse, mistreatment and not having access to quality services because in our country that depends on the pocket. We must listen more to the people, because the 1980 Constitution did not allow spaces for consultation and participation.
It would be a great and very relevant milestone if, 50 years after the coup, the 1980 Constitution, imposed during the dictatorship and with this subsidiary nature, is finally left behind
What axes of the new Constitution must be maintained in the second proposal that is drafted?
Some for me are central, such as establishing a democratic and legal social state, the closest thing to a welfare state, in which rights are protected and guaranteed, which we do not have today; ensure parity; the representation of the native peoples; express concern about the environment and climate change and decentralization.
There is talk of September of next year as a possible date for the second proposal for a new Constitution. Could the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coup coincide with the new Constitution?
It would be a great and very relevant milestone if, 50 years after the coup, the 1980 Constitution, imposed during a dictatorship and with this subsidiary nature, is finally left behind. We have painfully learned that democracy must be protected with more democracy. I can’t say for sure that it’s going to be for 9/11, but at least in the year the 50th birthday turns.
Would it be the final closure of the transition?
Exactly. We would finally leave behind the Constitution that meant ties, supraquorums, appointed senators, a binomial system that until 2017 ended up tying the opposition and the ruling party, etc. We have been prisoners for more than 40 years of a Constitution that tied the beginning of democracy. The democratic transition that has been very slow, in part, due to this factor.
What debts in terms of human rights and memory does the State of Chile have pending resolution?
We have advanced and there is a good part of the imprisoned dome, some with hundreds of years of sentences, but it is not enough. There is a lack of answers to find the remains of relatives of detainees and disappeared. There are still open trials, and they are slow and people still feel that justice is not forthcoming. And, on the other hand, more emphasis must be placed on training in human rights, especially for the police. In the outbreak there were reprehensible acts such as looting, but on the other hand, there was a repression in the street that showed that we need to advance in democratic protocols. It is a country that has been doing justice very slowly and much remains to be done.
Outside of Chile, especially the international press, has compared President Boric with his father, in particular because both governments are leftist. Do you find similarities?
There is a similarity because President Boric proposes a series of important transformations. Salvador Allende would feel that it is admirable that so many years later he would take the leadership of a young person, 36 years old, who has this sensitivity to generate transformations, but aware that they require large majorities. Salvador Allende would like to get to know a process like this with great interest and would like to see that there are two coalitions, that there is diversity between them, with different histories, but with the idea of adding them together, of learning to listen to the other and that maximalisms make us bad plays.
Would your father also have thought that maximalisms have played a trick on him?
Of course. There were moments in his government when some wanted the revolution ‘already, now and in any way’, or tried to go beyond the limits, for example, with agrarian reform. Salvador Allende leaves us the experience that the processes are gradual and with large majorities and Boric emphasizes that a lot. He really likes to learn about past history and always recognizes that what is today rests on the shoulders of many generations who worked for it.
Can you anticipate something of the preparations for the commemoration of the 50 years of the coup?
The government will create a commission to prepare it because it will not be indifferent. At the Salvador Allende Foundation we are working on three lines: the challenges of democracy, solidarity and recognition of international committees and countries that helped from outside, and human rights. We will also begin to organize different activities and coordination with the countries that want to join the commemoration. It will not be just one date, but throughout the next year.