Chilean voters, responding to a new obligatory mandate to vote, soundly rejected the new constitutional project.


“Fear governs us. That is one of the tools used by the powerful; the other is ignorance.”     Eduardo Galeano

Recently, there was a vote in Chile. That vote decided whether that country would approve or reject a project for a new constitution. Many people, including myself, believed that the new constitution would be a very positive achievement. Perhaps an example for the world to follow.

Nevertheless, Chilean voters, responding to a new obligatory mandate to vote, soundly rejected the new constitutional project. Now, we try to make sense of a nonsensical result.

That new constitution would have replaced the current one, created in 1980 while the country was under the control of the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The 1980 law was written by one individual, the right-wing ideologue Jaime Guzmán. It was implemented with no opposition and it has served the military and the Chilean upper classes well. 

When a timid democracy came back, it was not challenged by the various “transitional” democratic governments elected in Chile after Pinochet. Only minor, almost aesthetic changes were applied to it. Those governments included a right-winger, some Christian Democrats and some “moderate” Socialists, such as Michelle Bachelet, the first woman elected President.

Unchallenged, the Pinochet-Guzmán constitution was the law of the land for over 30 years. Today, until further notice, it remains as such. 

Contrastingly, the 2022 Constitutional project, heavily scrutinized and attacked even before it was written, was the result of an open and democratic process. That process happened within a nationwide, democratically elected assembly of 150 people. By design, the assembly had a well-balanced number of male and female participants. It was eventually rejected on September 4, 2022—62 percent voted against it, and 38 percent voted to approve it.

The 2022 project created hopes — and fears — in Chile…and all over the world. Hopes that seem eternal and fears that also appear to be deeply entrenched. 

Those hopes and fears also surfaced in 1970, when a slim majority elected Doctor Salvador Allende as President. It was the first time in political history that a Socialist was chosen via a democratic process. 

Allende was overthrown by a military coup, three years after his election. A coup instigated and supported by the U.S. government and the Chilean upper classes…with help from some other Chilean nationals, from the middle and even the poor working classes. This same puzzling development occurred this year when that new constitution was rejected. Why would poor people reject laws that were meant to help them? Largely, because of fear and ignorance.

What hopes? What fears? Who hoped? Who feared? Who ignored? Both in 1970 and today?

The hopes are old aspirations. They have been around since the beginning of Chilean history, but had been warming up rapidly since the “Estallido Social,” (“The Social Explosion”) a lengthy, country-wide series of protests that started in October 2019, creating the possibility for the writing of a new constitution. Those protests are credited with helping to shed the fears to challenge the perennial Chilean political system.

Hopes for a truly democratic society were indeed attended to in the 2022 project. 

They included a national single health system, a free educational system guaranteeing access to higher education for all, and a just system of taxation, which would demand more from the Chilean rich, a minority that has controlled the economy in Chile for its own profit. 

Some articles would have guaranteed the very necessary right to abortion, with few restrictions. Of course, in a country like Chile, still dominated by Catholicism and patriarchy — a country that only recently had approved divorce — those hopes also created fears among many potential voters. Most likely, that particular issue drove many people to vote against the new project. 

The new constitution also included the hopes for a truly multicultural society, which would guarantee the rights of the indigenous people of Chile, long neglected and oppressed. Although most Latino countries are heavily indigenous, indigenous people, historically, have been the losers. In most Latino countries, the equivalency of the “N” words is still the word “Indio.”

With the new constitution, the country most likely would have moved to dismantle a system of neo-liberalism which had been in place for over 30 years. During his campaign, the newly elected President of Chile, Gabriel Boric, a supporter of the new constitutional project, declared: “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.” It was the turn of the powerful of Chile to fear.

Fearing the radical changes proposed by the new proposed constitution, afraid to lose their historical privileges, those who have controlled the political life, the economy…and the media, immediately started their work to stop it. Turning the television on was to turn on an advertisement for the rejection of the new constitution. 

In truth, the upper classes have not been alone in preventing changes. With Eduardo Galeano, I agree that fear and ignorance among the working classes of Latino America have always been the main reason why projects such as this new constitution have been defeated. 

On Sept 4, the upper classes, in control of the media in Chile, with international help from Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook, The Washington Post, and others, stirred enough fears and lies among the masses. Fear of communism, or the destruction of the Chilean national essence by new immigrants. The traditional owners of Chile have historically worked to divide the people, creating a false nationalism. It reminds me of the U.S., today.

I have just scratched the surface. Perhaps I have been neither clear nor daring in my opinions. Thus, I will end up with a quote from Simone de Beauvoir, the French existentialist philosopher, writer, social theorist, and feminist activist. A phrase far more direct: 

“The oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed.”