Chilean People Persist in Fight for Recognition of Their Rights

Plebiscite on New Constitution and First Anniversary of Revolt Against Neo-Liberal Piñera Regime

September 9, 2020 march in support of a new constitution.

One year after the popular revolt against the government of billionaire Sebastian Piñera and its neo-liberal wrecking broke out on October 18, 2019, the Chilean people continue to mobilize and organize to realize the political and economic change they require. They continue to press their major demands for a new constitution and for President Piñera to resign because of his government's anti-social economic measures, corruption and the brutal repression of the people.

TML Weekly salutes the Chilean people for continuing to advance their demands in the face of massive repression and the difficulties imposed by the pandemic, and calls on everyone to support their just cause.

October 25 Plebiscite on New Constitution

On October 25 a plebiscite will be held on whether to have a new constitution. The vote was originally scheduled for April, but the pandemic caused a postponement until October 25. On November 15, 2019, the people's sustained mass actions achieved a preliminary step in establishing the new constitution, when the deputies in the National Congress agreed that a plebiscite for a new constitution should be held.

The country's current constitution was written in 1980 and enshrines neo-liberal economic and reactionary political arrangements made during the Pinochet dictatorship, despite the end of the dictatorship in 1990.[1]

The plebiscite will ask Chileans whether they want a new constitution and, if so, whether it should be drafted by ordinary Chileans or a combination of citizens and legislators. If it is decided to have a new constitution, another vote on April 11, 2021 (in conjunction with municipal and gubernatorial elections) would elect members to the constitutional convention responsible for drafting a new constitution. A third vote in 2022 would decide whether to accept the new constitution.

A month before the vote, a grouping of political parties and organizations in favour of a new constitution launched an initiative called "We Approve a Dignified Chile" to promote a manifesto that the new constitution should enshrine rights such as the right to vote for those over 16 years of age; the right to free, quality public education at all levels; the creation of a social security system with tripartite financing and universal coverage; the right to housing; and the right to health care, among other demands.

On October 20, Marcos Barraza, former Minister of Social Development in the government of President Michelle Bachelet, warned that a plebiscite victory does not necessarily mean that those who benefit from maintaining the status quo have been defeated, and it is up to the progressive forces to properly reflect social rights in a new constitution. He added that one of the main strategies of those in favour of leaving the current constitution largely intact is to present the plebiscite as a simple democratic exercise without any real impact on people's lives.

News agencies report that the latest polls show 72 per cent of the population is in favour of a new constitution.

Mass Protest Marks First Anniversary of Popular Revolt

On October 18, tens of thousands of people rallied in Santiago's central square, Plaza Baquedano -- renamed Dignity Square by the people as a symbol of their striving for pro-social arrangements -- to mark one year of protests in which millions of people have taken to the streets. The mass action took place in defiance of the Piñera government's ongoing repression of the people's movement. On that day, 40,000 Carabineros -- the national police force -- armed with water cannons and tear gas were deployed against them.

The protests, which began early in the morning, advanced the demands of the upcoming October 25 plebiscite, and commemorated those who have been killed, injured, tortured and abused by state security forces over the past year.

Figures compiled by the North American Congress on Latin America indicate that by the end of February, 36 people had been killed in the protests, with 11,564 injured and 28,000 detained. According to Chile's National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), 964 people have been injured by rubber bullets, including 222 with eye injuries. The Chilean Ophthalmology Society states this is the highest number of such injuries recorded in any protests or conflict zones worldwide.

On October 3, a carabinero was caught on video pushing a 16-year-old youth off the Pio Nono Bridge in Santiago into the Mapocho River, which triggered mass protests demanding the resignation of the Chief of the Carabineros, General Mario Rozas. Although police originally claimed that the youth jumped into the river of his own accord, the officer was later charged with attempted murder.


1. A December 10, 2019 article by Camila Osorio in the New Yorker informs that the current constitution "was completed in 1980 and approved in a plebiscite that was widely viewed as fraudulent. Left-wing political parties were banned, and the armed forces were made the 'guarantors' of the state. The fourteenth chapter provided the key: any amendments to the constitution would pass only if approved by three-fifths of the Congress. If the President vetoed an amendment, it would require the votes of three-fourths of Congress to override it. If the President were to veto just parts of a reform, Congress would need a two-thirds majority to override that. If a reform were to pass all these obstacles, it would still face review from a constitutional tribunal, which had the power to reject it. [...]

"A particularly important aspect of the new process was that it insured that large majorities would be needed to challenge the neo-liberal economic policies that the junta was implementing. With the help of free-market economists who had studied under Milton Friedman, at the University of Chicago, Pinochet cut public spending, deregulated the banks, freed interest rates, and privatized the health, education, and pension systems."

(With files from teleSUR, Washington Post, Guardian, New Yorker. Photo: Izquerido Diario Chile.)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 40 - October 24, 2020

Article Link:
Chilean People Persist in Fight for Recognition of Their Rights: Plebiscite on New Constitution and First Anniversary of Revolt Against Neo-Liberal Piñera Regime - Nick Lin


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