May 19, 2021 | News
By Javiera Martinez
Last weekend was a historic step forward in Chile. During Saturday and Sunday, the Chilean people voted in the elections to choose members of the body that will draft a new constitution (1). The 1980 constitution was imposed, through repression, under the dictatorship. Its legacy has been the prevailing neoliberal system (2), the one that has caused the profound inequality facing the country. The privatization of rights and resources, the extractive system and the accumulation of wealth in the most powerful sector of society, are some of the features imposed by the current constitution. In response to the great injustices, many social movements and organizations were born to demand a dignified life, as well as new political parties. It was in October 2019 that the political, economic, cultural and social crisis demonstrated the collapse of the model. The social outbreak in Chile managed to move the barriers of what was possible and a plebiscite was defined for constitutional change. The mobilization process in Chile has been marked by serious human rights violations by the government of Sebastian Piñera, never seen since the military dictatorship (3).
The process that Chile is going through is historic: after 40 years without structural changes, today Chile is finally deciding its destiny. The representatives that will make up the body to draft the new constitution were 100% democratically elected. In addition, the constitutional assembly will be gender-balanced, the first one in the world (4). It will also have seats reserved for indigenous peoples, historically excluded groups. The results of the elections have been a surprise to the entire Chilean population. The right-wing parties were the least successful(38 representatives), so they will not have the possibility to block the reforms. The traditional left obtained 25 representatives. The pact of the Communist Party and the Broad Front will have 27 representatives. 17 will be representatives of the 10 original peoples of Chile; and the great surprise was the social movements, territorial and independent organizations, who will have 48 representatives at the convention (5).
This weekend, Chile voted for transformation, for the protection of territories, for the right to water, for a feminist and plurinational Chile. A large number of environmental leaders were elected. Movements such as the Movement for the Defence of Water, Land and the Protection of the Environment (MODATIMA), indigenous ecofeminist leaders, environmental activists, the Movement for Water and Territory (MAT) and from social organizations for environmental justice and no more sacrifice zones will be part of this process. In the midst of a mega drought, large mobilizations for the defence of the territory and the climate crisis, these environmental leaders could be the ones who generate profound changes to the current extractive system and consolidate the historic demands for environmental social justice.
The constituent composition leaves the mining sector in a vulnerable situation. Large miners such as Anglo American, BHP or Antofagasta Minerals, which have benefited from the flexibility of Chilean policies, could face major regulations. It is expected that the historical damage caused in the territories (6), the indiscriminate use of resources and the impact on the environment by these mining companies will be restricted. Social demands try to increase environmental demands with respect to the extractive industry. The main issues are, first, the right to water. The new constitution is expected to declare water as a public good and to debate the current law under which water is under private ownership. An attempt will be made to review the property rights of water consumption by the mining sector and to impose fines on improper use, because there is a close relationship between water scarcity and the presence of mining in the territories, without forgetting the struggles for water by communities such as El Melón (7). Second, mining royalties (8) are one of the main legislative issues being discussed today. It is expected that there will be a distribution of the profits that the mining companies earn at the expense of the disasters they have left in nature and the territories. Mining companies are expected to hand over a larger portion of their profits to the state. The massive profits of the extractive copper mining companies have no relation to what they deliver to the State. It is hoped that the return of their earnings can benefit the development of social policies for the people of Chile.
Chile is moving towards a change at the hand of social movements, indigenous peoples and territorial organizations. It is expected that this new Chile will be based on a model of socio-environmental justice and that the mining giants will take responsibility for their disasters. Latin America is expected to experience a change that benefits all peoples and nature.
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