By Sofía Barahona and Felipe Vial
On February 10, Chilean Deputy Gabriel Boric, of the Social Convergence party, spoke at Berkeley for CLAS. He discussed the social unrest in Chile and described the main agendas of reform that are being discussed in the country. There is a social agenda to find an answer to the most urgent problems of Chileans. There is also a human rights agenda, to guarantee the recognition, sanction, and reparation of numerous cases in which the rights of protesters have been violated, as well as the need to reform the armed forces and the police. Finally, there is the constitutional agenda that will be pushed forward by, among other things, the April 26 plebiscite to decide whether or not to begin the process of drafting a new constitution. (1)
On the constitutional agenda, Boric left us with several thoughts. The levels of violence and protests that Chile is experiencing as a country are a response to the institutional violence that generated decades of marginalization for a significant percentage of the population. The economic advances that positioned us as one of the most developed countries in Latin America are not reflected in the daily realities for Chileans. One reality is high student indebtedness linked to institutions that do not meet their promises of better jobs on graduation. Protesters’ demands also reflect widespread discontent with low wages, pensions, and a highly segregated education and health system.
It is this political and social climate that keeps Chile, as Boric stated, in a constant tension between anguish and hope. Its anguish is due to the urgent needs of the country that still have no solution, as well as ongoing violence, repression, and a lack of concrete programs to meet Chileans’ most urgent needs in the near future. The social upheaval these conditions have sparked is used by the most conservative politicians and their backers to oppose the constitutional agenda, arguing that the minimum conditions to guarantee a democratic process do not exist today. Those conservatives also argue that a constitutional change would take a long time, and that short-term reforms can solve the most urgent problems. It is ironic that those actors are the same people who opposed a constitutional reform process during Michelle Bachelet’s second government — in conditions that were much more stable than now — and have also labeled many of the recently proposed reforms as unconstitutional.
The second part of this constant tension is hope. The social upheaval in Chile grew in the face of institutional violence and has created a great opportunity for change. It is citizens who have declared themselves “awake” and with no intention of going back to sleep. The Congress began to legislate as never before, politicians managed to reach agreements, the people took to the streets, dialogues ensued, and people continued to participate. The only certainty we have is that, although the next few years will be difficult for everyone, there is the unprecedented possibility of building a new social pact created through reason and democracy, not imposed by force. An intersectional agreement such as our fundamental document, the social framework in which Chileans operate, has space for everyone.
1. Please note, since this blog was written, the plebiscite has been postponed until October 25, 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sofia Barahona is the Development Coordinator at Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, an San Francisco-based NGO working with LGBTQ youth. She has also worked in the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and OLAS-LGBTQ Sanctuary Project, two NGOs that work with Latin American migrants in the Bay Area. In 2017, before moving to the U.S., she was President of PUC Chile’s student union (FEUC) and a spokesperson for the Chilean Student Movement.
Felipe Vial is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in the Department of Economics at UC Berkeley. He received both his B.A. and M.A in Economics from PUC Chile. His research interests revolve around labor economics and political economy, particularly focused on unions and collective action.