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A Chile Referendum To Reform Pinochet-Era Constitution

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

The Constitution of Chile was put in place 40 years ago under the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. On Sunday, Chileans will decide if they want to replace it. And for those who back a new constitution, it's not just about removing a dark stain on the national history; they say the current constitution has led to massive income inequality. Earlier, I spoke with Amaya Alvez Marin. She's an associate professor of law and political science at the University of Concepcion. And I asked her - why, after so many years, is this finally happening now?

AMAYA ALVEZ MARIN: There are so many people who fought, even during the dictatorship, not to have this constitution. And while this last year nationwide uprising, people came to terms that it could be actually the way out to draft a new constitution because the 1980 constitution drafted a system based on privatization of very relevant what we could call social and collective rights. So, for example, health was completely privatized - education, pensions, let's say water (ph) - everything. It's covered by private property and a private system. And that makes some people very well off, but I think most people very, very unequal. It's a very unequal system.

MOSLEY: This is very interesting context to understand what's happening there because Chile is often perceived as a model of economic success in Latin America. But the social unrest really suggests otherwise. Why do you think there is this contrast between outside perception and reality?

MARIN: I think in economic terms, we are - like, in comparison with other countries, we are in a better situation. But as I said, I think it's a very unequal result. So, like, a little bit of the population is better off, but so many people don't have access to basic things. But in a way, we always have been part of this, we could say the periphery of what is the area of influence of the United States, and some people think rightly so. For example, in a way, people who agree with the national regime, with its neoliberal framework, think that it's very good to have the United States as an example.

MOSLEY: Is it expected to pass? And who would draft the new constitution?

MARIN: On Sunday, at this national referendum, they will pose two questions. One will be either to approve or reject this constitutional change, and I think it's very obvious that the option to approve the constitutional change will win. But they will also ask a second question, which I think is interesting - so who should author this new constitution? And there are two options. A mixed assembly of politician and citizen, and the other option is an assembly entirely integrated by citizens. And I would rather have the citizen assembly, but I'm not exactly sure who will win. I think that's more not sure.

MOSLEY: I understand that you're an Indigenous person. How do you view this moment?

MARIN: Yeah. I'm a Mapuche person. I identify myself with the Mapuche people, who are the biggest Indigenous group in Chile. And, actually, this is a very relevant moment because for the first time, there are discussion to create some seats for Indigenous people in the constituent assembly integrated by citizens. And that could be a big change. I don't know. We have never been included. We have had in the past 12 constitution, and Indigenous people have never been part of it. So it's a big moment, I think.

MOSLEY: Amaya Alvez Marin, professor at the University of Concepcion in Chile.

Thank you so much.

MARIN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.