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Chile votes to rewrite Pinochet era Constitution

Police fired tear gas at protesters in Valparaiso, where demonstrators forced their way into Chile's Congress building (AP: Matias Delacroix). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SANTIAGO, Oct 27, 2020, CD. Nearly fifty years after a US-backed coup toppled Chile’s democratically-elected President Salvador Allende and paved the way for military dictator General Augusto Pinochet to impose a rightwing constitution, Chileans have voted in a 4-to-1 landslide to approve the creation of a new constitution, Shingetsu News reported.

“Chile is reborn,” political theorist Melany Cruz said on social media. Cruz had explained earlier that the waves of privatization and other free-market policies implemented in the 1970s and 80s under anti-democratic circumstances led to vast inequalities, and rendered egalitarian reform exceedingly difficult, even in the post-dictatorship period that began in 1990.

There have been numerous attempts over the past thirty years to rein in market fundamentalism in Chile, but because neoliberalism was so deeply embedded into the country’s constitution during the dictatorship era, Cruz wrote in Tribune magazine, the reign of Pinochet’s politics outlived the military dictator.

Cruz called the historic referendum a “chance to bury Pinochet’s legacy… and rebuild the country on a truly democratic basis.”

The Chilean people responded en masse, seizing the opportunity to deliver a resounding blow to Pinochet’s constitution. The vote signaled the culmination of a decades-long revolt against the era of neoliberalism that was unleashed in the wake of the US-supported bombing of the Capitol Building in Santiago on September 11, 1973.

Celebrations erupted Sunday night as results of the plebiscite rolled in. The final vote tally showed that of the more than 7.5 million Chilean citizens who cast ballots, the vast majority—nearly 80%—were in favor of rewriting the country’s rightwing constitution.

“We’ve been living under an illegitimate constitution created by a military regime, that’s only allowed progress to those who have money,” Catalina Miranda told The Guardian. “There’s been very few times that Chilean people have shared a collective victory like today.”

Following Chile’s democratic triumph, progressive voices around the world on social media expressed solidarity and congratulations, noting that this outcome is the product of generations of struggle and sacrifice.

“Another historic victory for the people of Latin America,” wrote journalist Ben Norton, linking Chileans’ demand for a democratic constitution to last week’s defeat of authoritarianism, neoliberalism, and US imperialism in neighboring Bolivia.

Chile “is finally liberating itself,” Norton added, “from some of the institutional leftovers of the CIA-installed, US-backed Pinochet dictatorship.”

Progressive International followed suit, saying that “the people of Chile have shed the shackles of Pinochetismo—and opened a new chapter in their history.”

“Let this echo around the world,” declared Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, whose bestselling book The Shock Doctrine used the Pinochet era as a benchmark example of what she termed “disaster capitalism.”

In response to the decisive rejection of the neoliberal constitution adopted during Pinochet’s dictatorship, journalist Carla Astudillo stated that it is impossible to overstate “how historic this moment is!”

Many observers noted how the referendum itself was made possible by the nationwide protests against austerity that erupted last October following a transit fare hike. As Norton documented in February in The Grayzone, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera—himself a billionaire whose University of Chicago-trained brother served as one of Pinochet’s economists during the military dictatorship—responded viciously to the political unrest, shooting anti-austerity protesters, blinding, and maiming them by the thousands.

Despite the government’s violent repression of demonstrations, Chileans’ persistent and militant resistance forced Pinera last November to schedule a plebiscite for April, which was postponed until October due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As political scientist Lucia Dammert recently told the New York Times, rewriting the country’s constitution “wasn’t on anyone’s agenda” before last year’s protests. “The fact we are now discussing a new constitution is a victory of the social movement.”

“This historic day belongs to those who have struggled for decades, to those who have given their lives, to the tortured, to the mutilated, and especially to those who remain imprisoned,” wrote Daniel Jadue, a leftwing architect and mayor of the community of Recoleta in the Santiago metropolitan region.

Sunday’s call for a new constitution, Jadue added, “is the opportunity to transform Chile into a better country.”

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