As the Constitutional Convention begins early in July, we all need to pay attention to those who support and decline to support the manifesto, signed by 34 members of the Constituent Assembly grouped under the Voice of the People list.
By the Executive Committee, MIT (Movimiento Internacional de Trabajadores, International Workers’ Movement) and María Rivera, Constituent-elect, Chile, translated to English by Dolores Underwood
The manifesto written by members of the Voice of the People puts forward six central points that are necessary to guarantee a democratic process during the Constituent Assembly: 1) an end to political prisoners; 2) an end to impunity for human rights violators; 3) reparations for victims of repression; 4) the demilitarization of Wallmapu (the ancestral territory of the Mapuche people); 5) an end to the illegal deportation of foreigners; 6) sovereignty at the Constitutional Convention (which means voting no on the Agreement for Peace). MIT entirely supports these six points and for that reason our elected constituent, María Rivera, is one of the signees and drivers of the manifesto.
The manifesto’s publications generated lots of debate on TV and in the large media conglomerates. Politicians, journalists, and businesspeople, essentially anyone who has benefitted over the last 50 years from neoliberalism in Chile, have condemned the manifesto: this includes the right, the establishment “exConcertación” parties that have ruled since 2010, the Edwards family through the newspaper they own, El Mercurio, and some of the richest families in the country. Of those who are supposedly on the “left” of the political spectrum, we saw distinct responses: Gabriel Boric (a member of Social Convergence and currently serving as a member of the Chamber of Deputies) defended the Agreement for Peace while Daniel Jadue (a member of the Communist Part of Chile-PCCh) gave an ambiguous statement that, while “defending” the manifesto also supported the need to maintain institutionalism.
In our opinion, the manifesto doesn’t leave room for ambiguous responses, principally on the grounds of the last point, the problem of sovereignty.
The constitution and the problem of sovereignty
What is a constitution? A constitution is a country’s most important legal document dictating supreme law. From the constitution, rules and laws are established that will regulate the functioning of all state institutions. All the legislation elaborated after the writing of a constitution must comply with it, or it will be defunct.
In Chile, the Constitutional Convention that will begin in the first weeks of July has the objective of writing this new constitution. As the organism that will redact the most important laws of the country, it should not be allowed to be subjected to any power nor previous rules and regulations. The next constitution should be written with a blank slate and should have the power to realize whatever changes necessary. In other words, the organism that redacts the new constitution must be sovereign.
As it turns out, the Constitutional Convention expected to start in July is not a sovereign body. This is because Law 21.200 (known as the Agreement for Peace) establishes what the convention can and cannot do. The political parties that signed on to the agreement that was later approved in parliament already placed limitations on what can occur in the convention. If the constitution is to elaborate on the most important law of the land, it can’t be submitted to preemptive laws and regulations. So, we have a problem.
Let’s look at this issue more closely…
In the first place, law 21.200 established that the convention cannot be sovereign, leaving it to be subjugated to the Constitution of 1980. This is the same constitution that 80% of the plebiscite voted to change on 25 October. So, we have a Constituent Process already limited by the rules of the same institutions that the people voted to entirely change.
Secondly, the new constitution cannot change nor suspend any of the international treaties already signed by Chile. Therefore, the constitution that comes out of this convention will not be the supreme law of the land because there are treaties that can overrule it. Among these treaties, the most important is the treaty on free trade. And why can’t these treaties be rediscussed in the new constitution? Because they are the backbone of the neoliberal capitalist economic model and the base of the country’s domination by foreign companies and the richest families in Chile. By ensuring that discussions on these treaties will be avoided, the reigning economic model will be defended and upheld.
Chile is the country with the most free trade agreements in the world. These agreements maintain that the Chilean economy functions principally as an exporter of copper, fruits, cellulose, fish, meat, etc. In other words, primary products. Through free trade agreements, these products are easily exported to other countries, in most cases with low tax rates. On the other hand, free trade agreements allow other capitalist countries to sell Chile manufactured goods such as televisions, cars, airplanes, computer chips, cell phones, machines, and other technology almost without taxes. If the current free trade agreements are maintained, we will not be able to resolve environmental problems as this would require facing the large mining companies that are currently protected under free trade agreements. We won’t be able to return territory to the Mapuche people because free trade agreements secure the land necessary to exploit primary goods in the forestry and paper industries currently in Mapuche territory. If Chile keeps these free trade agreements, it will never be able to develop its own national industries and technologies as the country will continue to be bombarded with foreign products. If free trade agreements are maintained, the majority of employment generated in Chile will continue to be precarious because they will be tied to the whims of foreign corporations. The national development of technology, industrial or scientific, will not be possible. Education will continue to be catered towards creating cheap laborers and pushing families into debt. For this reason, MIT argues that free trade agreements are the spine of Chilean capitalism. And for that reason, the political parties that signed the Agreement for Peace are trying to ensure that they are not brought up in the assembly.
Without a doubt, the next “supreme” law of the land that comes out of the constituent assembly will not be supreme. We could say, beyond any doubt, that the supreme law of Chile are free trade agreements and that they hold more power than even the Constitution.
Thirdly, Law 21.200 establishes that the Constitutional Convention must reach a two-thirds quorum to approve projects. What does that mean? It means that any project which does not receive the support of 67% of the constituents will not be approved as law. What this really means is that a minority can decide what can and cannot be approved. While the right wing doesn’t make up one-third of the constituents, the parties that have governed the country over the last thirty years in the service of corporations do make up this minority. Therefore, they can veto whatever conflicts with the interests of their patrons, the businesspeople who finance their campaigns.
Fourthly, the convention cannot depose any public official. In other words, the convention must write the new constitution (that we’ve already demonstrated is not so supreme), but those that govern will continue to be the same people who arrived in their seats of power thanks to the former constitution. And what if we demand justice of and punishment for those that assassinated people in the streets? And we demand that Piñera be expelled from power? How will we be able to do that if the convention isn’t sovereign?
And if these four previous points weren’t enough, the potential differences that emerge during the convention and challenge the underpinnings of Law 21.200 will be resolved by… five ministers of the Supreme Court! The Supreme Court is comprised of 21 ministers, all appointed by previous Chilean presidents (11 of the 21 were appointed by Piñera himself) and voted on by the Senate, one of institutions least trusted by the people. What Law 21.200 attempts to do is make it so that the explosion of social unrest begun by the youth to be entirely stomped out, and, if necessary, by the 21 ministers that are part of the very elite being challenged and who have an average age of 67.
So, let’s be clear: the convention not only won’t be sovereign, but it will also be entirely subsumed to the institutions that currently exist, protected by Pinochet’s constitution (and maintained by the democratic governments that succeeded him).
The Agreement for Peace is very clear: it guarantees that political and economic power will continue to be in the hands of the large capitalists and that the people will continue to be subordinated to its orders.
The Convention must declare itself sovereign
The Convention must be sovereign. In the first place, it must be allowed to set its own rules and to discuss and decide on everything. This means not following Law 21.200, which is totally illegitimate, not least because it was signed into law by the same governing parties that are being questioned by the majority of Chileans. As a sovereign entity, the convention must begin to write the new constitution, and for the extent of this project, it must hold power above all other institutions. The current constitution, written by Pinochet and maintained by all successive democratic governments, is illegitimate in the eyes of the people, and with it all the institutions of the Chilean state, including the president, the supreme court, the parliament, the army, and the federal police.
For this reason, we propose that the Constituent Assembly, after declaring itself sovereign, must take the following measures:
Depose Piñera’s government and parliament and assume legislative and executive power;
Condemn the politicians and military officers responsible for civil repression;
Free all political prisoners, Chilean and Mapuche, from before and after the uprisings;
Depose of the military’s leaders, discuss mechanisms for democratic participation among troops in the constituent assembly and submit control of police and military forces to an organized civil body;
Implement a series of democratic measures that permit the extension of direct popular participation in the process of the constituent assembly. These measures must move towards democratizing the judicial system;
Guarantee an emergency plan against the pandemic to safeguard the lives of working people, to be supported in the following ways: rent control that allows for the possibility of working people to actually quarantine to end the pandemic; double the investment in public health and invest in the national production of vaccines; suspend the current labor code to reduce daily working hours while guaranteeing employment and rights to all workers; get rid of the existing pension fund system (AFPs) and create a public social security system; invest in an emergency plan to build housing to end the overcrowding at homeless camps. All of the financing for this plan must come from the nationalization, without compensation and under worker control, of the large mining companies, banks, and other businesses of the ten richest families in the country;
Immediately demilitarize the Araucanía region and return all land to the Mapuche people;
Renegotiate all free trade agreements signed in the last decade with the objective of guaranteeing national sovereignty;
Immediately break all ties with the governments of Colombia and Israel, responsible for terrible crimes against humanity
The implementation of these measures will allow for the majority of workers, and the hundreds of thousands who marched in the streets, to discuss democratically what the future of Chile should be.
Do the Communist and United Front parties want to implement real change?
The United Front and Communist parties say that they are against the 1980s Constitution and that they are for a new constitution that will break with the legacy of the dictatorship and the thirty years of neoliberalism that followed it. Fine. Then we would like to ask them if they believe the Convention should write a new Constitution that dictates the Supreme Law of the land, and whether they believe another law or institution holds more power than the Constitutional Convention.
Secondly, they say they want to end neoliberalism. So, are they in agreement that we must revise the free trade agreements developed over the last thirty years that delimit national sovereignty? If we’re in agreement on this matter, then we look forward to them proposing a regulation declaring the convention sovereign.
Jadue, member of the Communist Party, has stated that he’s always been in favor of a sovereign constituent assembly. However, he only proposes changes to permit pleibiscites when the convention deems it necessary in a future congress (that will be elected with the current rules of the Constitution). Is this the sovereignty that the Communist Party is defending?
If the Communist Party and the United Front do not support a sovereign Constitutional Convention, this means they are defending the free trade agreements, corporate power to veto, and are in defense of Sebastián Piñera. We’ve heard promises in every election of implementing profound change. These same politicians have governed the country for the last two decades and look where Chile is now.
If they don’t support the sovereignty of the convention and the manifesto, the Communist Party and United Front will be leading our historic struggle down the wrong path. The uprisings that began on October 18th will be tempered. Even if we achieve new social rights in the new constitution and Jadue or Boric is elected president, they will have to govern with the support of a Parliament elected by the same corrupt rules that define today’s government. This will bring the newly elected leaders into constant negotiations with the same ruling exConcertación bloc and even the right-wing parties. Furthermore, if we do not implement immediate mechanisms to take power away from large corporations and the military leadership, these groups will impede whatever structural reforms we try to achieve, as they have in the past. Without so doing, a Jadue or Boric presidency could possibly not be able to implement any of the reforms they are proposing. Chile could arrive at the same place as many Latin American countries, who have approved constitutions with vast social rights like in Colombia, Brazil or Bolivia, without being fulfilled because the economic and political power continues to be in the hands of large capitalists.
What is the path forward? Social mobilization or negotiations?
The last decades have shown us that everything we achieve, we achieve through mobilization, including the current constituent assembly process. Those in power are afraid of the people. The general strike on November 12, 2019, that brought to fruition the constituent assembly, demonstrated the impact that solidarity between young, old, and the working class can achieve. The uprising on the 12th showed us the means to a victorious path. However, we can’t continue forward with unorganized and spontaneous mobilizations. We need to unify the working class, north to south. The Voice of the People, the group of 34 or 40 constituents has a fundamental role to play, particularly because they have legitimacy and the platform to organize a movement on a national level that prepares the struggle for the points propose by the manifesto.
It is critical that we now organize meetings with the 600 organizations that signed the manifesto and the most important labor sectors of the country. We know that many national unions have lost legitimacy because of the bureaucratic hold on their leadership. For that reason, it is crucial to organize rank-and-file meetings, within and outside of our places of work, to create pressure on unions and to bring them back into this fight. We must unify the struggles amongst the distinct ecological, feminist, and human rights organizations. We applaud the initiatives moving in that direction, such as the Encuentro Plurinacional de los Movimientos Sociales (Plurinational Organization of Social Movements). However, we believe that we must extend this same call to the organizations throughout the territory, be they social, political, or unions so long as they agree with the six points outlined above.
The Second declaration published by the Voice of the People, in our opinion, goes in the wrong direction by inviting all the constituents into dialogue about the convention’s commencement. Through our comrade and constituent-elect María Rivera, we have repeatedly voiced within the Voice of the People that we should concern ourselves with dialoguing principally with the distinct social movements to prepare a large mobilization at the beginning of the constituent assembly. However, it appears that the priorities of the group are going towards negotiation with the constituents of the diverse political blocks (including the right-wing in these conversations). For that reason, we didn’t sign the second declaration of the Voice of the People.
Towards a workers’ government without big corporations and their political allies
It is critical that we struggle for a truly sovereign Constituent Assembly that can discuss and make decisions on all issues. If the people force the Constitutional Convention to move forward in the way we outlined above, removing Piñera and beginning to take democratic and independent measures that the country needs, we will be going down the right path. If not, the experience will show the working class and youth that this convention will not be able to achieve what they demanded on the streets.
We are certain that when the people that live in Chile begin to take charge of the country’s wealth, companies, and land, we will effectively be able to say how to use the riches to resolve structural problems. This will only be possible if we can break with the free trade agreements and large corporations, transnationals, and imperialist financial institutions. We want to discuss this with each worker and the youth of the country, that the only way out of Chile’s current predicament is to build a socialist society where the workers have the political and economic power in their own hands. The experience of the Constitutional Assembly and with the governments that will follow it will show who is right.
The original version of this article can be found in Spanish here