The Chilean Constitutional Convention has been working at full speed. We are months away from the deadline for the constituents to draft a New Constitution. The deadline established under Law 21.200 (Agreement for Peace) is a maximum of 12 months and will end on July 4.
In the current stage of discussion, the topical Commissions are debating and voting on the first constitutional norms. These norms must then go to the Plenary of the Convention, where they will be debated and voted on by the 154 constituents (Rodrigo “Vade”, the constituent who resigned, was not replaced). Voting in the Commissions is by absolute majority, that is, more than 50% of the votes. The first votes in the Plenary will start this week.
In the last weeks, several votes in the Commissions attracted attention and triggered harsh attacks from big business and its representatives (politicians, journalists, intellectuals) towards the constituents. Here we would like to mention four initiatives that were approved in the Commission of Environment, Natural Goods and Economic System, which are among those that generated the most commotion, and one in the Commission of Fundamental Rights.
The first important initiative was proposed by constituent Natividad Llanquileo and others, raising the right of pre-existing peoples and nations to the land, territory and natural resources. The initiative proposes the return of lands traditionally occupied by native peoples. In order to determine which lands should be returned, a special, plurinational parity commission will be formed to be in charge of the identification and return of the lands, under the authorization of the CONADI. The law also proposes the termination of all mining, forestry, electric energy megaprojects and other concessions that have been granted without the consent of the communities that inhabit these territories.
This initiative was harshly attacked by big business. In the words of one of the right-wing constituents in the Commission, Roberto Fontaine, the initiative is totally “crazy”. We will see other creative adjectives used by the representatives of the owners of the country to speak against popular demands.
The second initiative that drew many comments was the one that repeals the current Water Code, allowing water-use rights to expire, even without compensation, in the case of mining, forestry companies, agro-industry, sanitary companies and any industry that has made intensive use of water. This initiative was presented by Isabel Godoy (constituent of the Colla people), with the sponsorship of other independent constituents, of native peoples and the CP. The norm also states that water uses will be redistributed within 2 years in accordance with the new Constitution, taking as a priority the maintenance of natural cycles, the preservation of ecosystems and the subsistence and welfare of the people.
This regulation also generated a strong reaction from the business community, particularly from the agricultural sector. The president of the National Society of Agriculture, Cristián Allendes Marín, referred to the approval of the regulation as “terrible news”, saying that such a proposal could affect more than 100,000 farmers.
The third and most heavily attacked initiative was the one proposed by Ivanna Olivares, with the support of our colleague María Rivera and other constituents. This initiative proposes the nationalization of the companies of the large-scale mining of copper, lithium and other strategic goods. Such initiative was based on the project of the Popular Norms Initiative (Iniciativa Popular de Norma) created by several organizations, among them the MIT, and which will be discussed and voted in the next weeks.
The nationalization proposal was approved in the Commission with 11 votes in favor (out of the 19 members of the Commission) and was subsequently widely attacked by the business community. Bernardo Fontaine, defender of the country’s owners, imaginatively said that the Convention had entered “Fantasyland”. Pablo Toloza, from the UDI, said that it was the “craziest” thing he had seen in the Convention. In turn, the president of the National Mining Society, Diego Hernández, said that this norm was “barbaric”. These adjectives should not surprise us. A few years ago we saw how Cecilia Morel, Piñera’s wife, described the popular demonstrations as an “alien invasion”.
Constituent Ivanna Olivares interviewed by CNN
Another controversial initiative is the one that proposes that the Chilean State should review and withdraw from all Free Trade Agreements that go against popular sovereignty. It also proposes a series of democratic mechanisms so that the population can be informed and decide whether or not to accept a free trade agreement. Likewise, it prohibits the use of international tribunals for dispute settlement and proposes the withdrawal of Chile from ICSID, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, the main international “court” that protects foreign investments to the detriment of nation-states. That norm has been described by Rodrigo Alvarez, a right-wing constituent, also of the Environment Commission, as a “very wrong norm.”
The fifth initiative among the most important that were approved is the one that guarantees sexual and reproductive rights, among them, the legalization of abortion. This has been a historical struggle of women and has gained enormous strength in recent years due to the huge movement of women, mainly young women.
The tricks of the business world: private interests presented as general interests.
In addition to moving to block proposals using procedural minutiae, big business has consistently used a simple tactic to attack popular demands and policy initiatives that propose profound changes in the country: they present their individual interests as if they were the interests of the entire population. Thus, they say that the nationalization of big mining will bankrupt the country due to the high compensations that we will have to pay, or that de-privatizing water would mean harming more than 100 thousand farmers and generate hunger, since that would destroy food production. And so they continue to try to rule out popular initiatives.
This tactic is not new. The bourgeoisie has always used it to defend its interests. Through their media, they spread these lies to generate disinformation and fear in the population. They want the whole population to think that, if we attack the bourgeoisie’s privileges and their interests, we will be attacking the interests of the whole population. We must explain to the millions of workers that all this is a lie, it is false. These norms approved by the Environmental Commission go in the right direction to solve the problems of the country and to recover all that big business has plundered: minerals, land and water.
We salute the constituents who approved such norms, but… here the problems begin.
One step forward, “two thirds” backward
All the norms approved by the Commissions must subsequently be discussed and approved (or rejected) by the Plenary of the Convention. The biggest problem is that in the Plenary, those norms require the approval of ⅔ of the constituents, that is, more than 103 votes.
This quorum is one of the main obstacles imposed by the November 15 Agreement or Agreement for Peace to the Constituent Assembly. With this “pact”, big business knew that, even with a minority of representatives, it could keep the bulk of its interests intact. That is what is going to happen now.
The newspaper El Mercurio, one of the main mouthpieces of the Chilean and transnational bourgeoisie (belonging to the Edwards family), stated the following in its editorial on February 6: “it is true that many of the most controversial initiatives will not be ratified in the plenary, which requires a two-thirds vote; however, several of them could be approved and the mere fact that they are advancing in their processing already does significant damage to the country’s image”. And further down, the editorial continues, making a direct appeal to the future government and its parties, stating that they are the ones who have the responsibility to lead this process so that the Constituent Assembly does not “go off course”.
The following day, the right-wing convention member Cristián Monckeberg, made a call to the FA and PS to “stop being childish” and assume the articulating role to “end the Constitutional discussion, and end it well”. In other words, what does it mean that a right-wing constituent makes a call to the FA and PS to bring about the end of the Constituent Assembly? Behind this message there is a call from the big bourgeoisie to the future government and its coalition to resolve the Constituent process without making any major changes to Chilean society.
That same day, the Executive Board of the Convention (María Elisa Quinteros and Gaspar Domínguez, both “independents”) held a meeting with the heads of the different benches and groups of the Convention, proposing that there was a need to “reach broad agreement” to meet the deadlines of the Convention, even calling to set aside the most controversial norms which have no possibility of being approved. In other words, it seems that they are all talking about the same thing.
What is the problem with “broad agreements” to reach the ⅔ and meet the deadlines? The problem is that the terms of those agreements will be set by the Frente Amplio-SP-CP alliance, that is, by the future government, which is making pacts with big business. What we are seeing is the beginning of a new round of “social consultation” between the government and the public, now supported by a Constitutional Convention that was generated from popular protest, but which faces enormous obstacles in its path to fulfill the historic role of profound transformation of Chilean capitalism.
Evidently, none of this will be simple or easy, because there continues to be enormous popular discontent. The great majority of the population wants real changes to health, education, labor rights, access to water, etc. People are tired of promises and will not be satisfied with a new Constitutional text and a few “sweets” thrown in.
It is important that the working class has an understanding of what is happening and what is going to happen in the coming months. In the Constitutional Convention, the tendency is for negotiations between political parties and independent constituents to take precedence over popular demands. The democracy of “Popular Participation” will probably be crushed in a back room, as it has always happened in Parliament, if we do not change this course.
Only one thing can change the game
Only one thing can change this reality: popular mobilization. Today, a series of popular norm initiatives are being submitted to the Constituent Assembly, important matters are being approved in the Commissions, but, if there is no mass popular mobilization to support them, none of this will be approved by the Plenary. The majority of the constituents are more concerned with meeting the deadline of the Peace Accord and reaching broad agreements that do not bother the owners of the country.
From the MIT we make a broad call to the independent constituents of the left; popular, social and territorial organizations; and unions to unify around a list of demands and generate mobilization strategies in their territories, workplaces, and in the Constitutional Convention. We already know what these demands are, some of them have already been approved by the Commissions: Repeal of the Water Code and redistribution of water; public and free health; nationalization of Big Mining; end to the AFPs; end to the Labor Code and guarantee of the right to strike; collective bargaining and end to unjustified dismissals; right to abortion; return of lands to the Mapuche people; etc.
The next step that the massive October 18 social movement has to take is to seize these demands into its hands and organize social mobilizations so that the Convention approves them and the next government is obliged to fulfill them. If Boric and the Convention do not make profound changes in Chile, they will merely be paving the way for the next social explosion.