Four Big Things in Chile Right Now

Currently there are two major, nearly simultaneous political events occurring in Chile – the writing of a new constitution (to replace the 1980 constitution imposed by the dictatorship) and an election for president.

There are also two major, nearly simultaneous social realities that are capturing headlines currently – waves of undocumented immigration (mostly entering from Bolivia in the north) and uprisings, sometimes violent, in the south by Mapuche (indigenous) communities seeking greater autonomy and access to ancestral lands.

Details below.

The Constitution – In October 2019 the Santiago metro increased their fares and that set off a wave of protests. That was a kind of last straw, or a match that lit a bigger fire. Protests that began about metro fares then quickly went to wages, economic opportunity, wealth distribution, women’s rights, and more. The conservative president was overwhelmed, responded to the protests with a heavy hand, and the crisis grew. The protestors called for a new constitution. That was put before a popular nationwide vote, and 80% of the population supported the creation of an assembly to write a new constitution. This new constitutional assembly is explicitly progressive in make-up and mandate – it has commissions for women, for indigenous concerns, for the environment, justice, and more. A Mapuche woman heads the assembly. Of the 7 candidates that ran for President, only one of them – Jose Antonio Kast – voted against creating the new constitutional assembly.

The Election – On Sunday Chile held its first round of presidential elections. This was the first election since the return of democracy (1990) that wasn’t dominated by the traditional center/center-right parties. The social upheaval created a new dynamic that resulted in new parties and new coalitions dominating the election. Two candidates emerged as front runners, and will face off in a second round of elections on December 19.

José Antonio Kast, the only candidate who voted against the constitutional assembly, is a far right candidate that stokes anti-immigrant fear, wants to repeal Chile’s new (and extremely limited) abortion law, wants to strengthen the military and weaken the social protections in the current government bureaucracy. He is the son of a Nazi soldier, brother of a former minister in Pinochet’s government, and has said openly that if Pinochet were alive the former dictator would vote for him. He also has hinted at pardoning or commuting sentences for members of Pinochet’s military who are currently in prison.

Gabriel Boric is a far left candidate in his 30s, heavily tattooed, and who has the support of a coalition that includes socialists and communists. He calls for the complete dismantlement of the carabineros (the national, militarized police force), implementation of broad social protections, replacing the current privatized (and underperforming) market-based pension program, and expansion of abortion access and establishment of marriage equality for LGBTQ citizens.

Underscoring these two political currents is the Pinochet question – how does Chile look back at the 17 year dictatorship, and how does it move forward from it? I took these two photos in 1995 in the same city, around the corner from one another. One is a graffiti that says, “Pinochet – General of the People.” The other says, “Salvador Allende lives in the heart of the people.” That same tension persists – and remains unresolved – to this day.

Antofogasta, 1995

Immigration – as we’ve seen in the US, there is all kinds of scapegoating and fear-mongering around immigration. The immigrants usually cross through Chile’s land border with Bolivia, and they come from Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Haiti, and elsewhere. A senator-elect from Kast’s party has tweeted about immigrants raping women (women who should stay home rather than be out voting, etc.). A mob attacked a makeshift immigrant/refugee camp a month or so ago in Antofogasta (northern Chile), setting fire to beds and to the belongings the immigrants left behind as they fled. Kast, the rightwing candidate, has called for digging a massive ditch between Bolivia and Chile.

Mapuche uprising – the Mapuche community in the south has long been denied access to land and economic opportunity. Some of the more militant among the Mapuche have been setting fire to logging equipment and buildings, creating roadblocks, and more. It’s being called terrorism by the current conservative government, which has responded with a state of emergency in some parts of the Araucania (the name for the southern region where a significant Mapuche community lives). The state of emergency includes military intervention and check points. A recent altercation left a 14 year old boy dead. I believe he was in his house or on his lawn, struck by a (stray?) bullet.

Great sources for Chile News, among many:

Chile Today News – @chiletodaynews,
Benjamin Alvarez – @BenjAlvarez1 (Political correspondent at Deutsche Welle who covers, among other things, developments in Chile)
John Bartlett – @jwbartlett92 (journalist for The Guardian covering Chile)
Carole Concha Bell – @chiledissident (Chilean journalist living in England)
Latin American Daily Briefing –

NODAL – @infonodal,
Centro Latinamericano de Análisis Estratégico –
24 Horas – @24horas
The Clinic – @thecliniccl
El Mostrador – @elmostrador
CNN Chile – @CNNChile
El Desconcierto – @eldesconcierto

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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