Referendum agrees to scrap the Pinochet-era constitution

Chile protests 2019, photo Carlos Figueroa/CC, photo Carlos Figueroa/CC

Chile protests 2019, photo Carlos Figueroa/CC, photo Carlos Figueroa/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mass protests, including a general strike, in 2019 – triggered by a movement of young people in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, over a metro fares hike – forced the right-wing Piñera government, despite vicious state repression, to make political and economic concessions. One of these was a referendum on changing the country’s despised constitution, introduced during the dictatorship of general Pinochet.
Celso Calfullan, and other Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Chile) members, report on last month’s historic vote.

After postponement, a referendum was finally held on the Chilean constitution on 25 October, and resulted in a crushing majority in favour of change. On a 51% turnout, 78.28% voted to change the constitution that was bequeathed by the Pinochet dictatorship, with 21.72% voting against. This represents a crushing defeat for the far right and the supporters of the previous military dictatorship.

In a hypocritical volte-face, all of the political parties and leaders, including President Sebastián Piñera, ended up supporting the vote to change the constitution. This is despite the fact that for 30 years, including under the so-called ‘left’ Socialist governments of Michelle Bachelet and Ricardo Lagos, they did nothing to propose getting rid of the Pinochet constitution.

Right-wing general Augusto Pinochet, with the backing of the Chilean capitalist class and the US administration, seized power in a bloody coup d’état on 11 September 1973, ousting the left president Salvador Allende. In 1980, to consolidate his grip on power, Pinochet forced through a new constitution in a rigged referendum. However, Pinochet suffered a setback in 1988 in a referendum when voters – despite enormous state intimidation – rejected an eight-year extension to his presidency.

As millions took to the streets in October 2019 demanding an end to student debt, low wages, the economic system, and for a constituent assembly, Piñera and his government opposed any change to the constitution. Brutal repression was unleashed against the protests. Hundreds of youth lost their sight, either partially or completely, after police fired pellet guns directly at their faces.

Today, the capitalist politicians all sing a different song. They called for a ‘yes’ vote for change in the referendum and proclaimed the result a victory for them, their political parties, and the ‘democratic process’.

Incredibly, they now refer to last October’s protests as ‘peaceful’ as opposed to the ‘violence on the current protests’. Yet during October 2019, the protesting youth were also denounced as ‘violent criminals’. Over 2,500 of them are still in jail for participating in the protests.

It is crucial to continue the struggle to fight for the immediate release of all the youth held in jail. Popular tribunals are needed to put on trial those responsible for the killings of more than 30 people during the protests and for state torture, sexual abuse, and violence.

2019 movement

The referendum vote was a victory of the mass protests and demonstrations held last year. It is a victory for the street, not the capitalist political institutions. Without the mass mobilisations, change would not have taken place.

However, a vote for a new constitution is one thing. The system whereby a new constitution will be drafted is little more than a trap.

Two options were also put to the vote during the referendum. One proposal was for a mixed convention of elected representatives of the political institutions and other ‘citizens’. The second, which was overwhelmingly endorsed, is a Constitutional Convention of 150 representatives, elected directly, which would then draft a new constitution to be put to another referendum in 2022.

If this proposed new constitution is rejected, then the Pinochet constitution is reintroduced.

In reality, the existing political parties will determine the candidates for the Constitutional Convention. Through this, they will aim to maintain control of the process.

Constituent assembly

Some efforts are being made to present lists in the elections to the Convention which exposes the fraud taking place. The intention is to campaign for a genuine constituent assembly, elected by local assemblies of the workers, poor, and all sections of society that are exploited by capitalism. This would form a government of the workers and the poor.

Following this victory, the struggle needs to continue, to build mass assemblies to convene a genuine constituent assembly to act in the interests of the workers and all those exploited by capitalism.