What Will Chile Do?

Are they on their way to a more participatory democracy in Chile? Will they overturn the 1980 constitution written under dictator Pinochet?

Sunday, May 7th Chileans will choose the 50 members of the new constitutional congress. Every adult over 18 years of age is required to vote or be fined. As a plus, voting days are national holidays in Chile.

Sounds like democracy, right? I hear voting and Constitution. However, the 24 people appointed by Chile’s legislature in January of this year to head the expert commission finished their new constitution draft already before the representatives the people elect are chosen. That does not leave the 50 with much influence.

So far, in the foundational points for the expert committee’s 2023 constitution, Chile is classified as indivisible, rather than plurinational as promoted in the 2022 constitution. As a conservative lawyer, Iván Cheuquelaf,* said in his address to the Expert Committee in April as part of his Indigenous Rights Experts Committee report, “Plurinationalism is behind us.” He is an ultraconservative with Mapuche heritage the right likes to feature to show indigenous support for their policies.

I remember what Elisa Loncón,* also Mapuche, the former leader of the 2022 constitutional congress said about the importance of a plurinational Chile for indigenous people to have the right to speak, educate in and preserve their languages. With the new constitutional congress and the 2023 constitution, it is not likely to be the case due to lack of representation of Native people. Spanish will most likely be the one official language. Unfortunately, that is a sure way to make Native languages go extinct. How common is plurinationalism?

Ecuador and Bolivia are plurinational. In Bolivia there are 37 official languages! In Ecuador there are 3, as there are in Belgium (however they don’t share one in common.) For countries with Native populations, as there are in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, official language status is key to preserving Native languages. Without constitutional support, the languages are in peril, because children will not receive their educations using their language heritage. That will shift their focus to Spanish to the exclusion of their Native language, as commonly happens today.

Not only the underpinnings of the new constitution are stacked against the indigenous populations, The personal representation of people of indigenous heritage is missing. In the expert commission, none of the 24 elected identify with having indigenous heritage. Half of the 24 are men and half are women. That is as diverse as the group gets. To match the 12.8% Chilean population of Native people (2 million of 17 million total Chileans), that number should be 3 people. In last year’s constitutional congress of 155 people, 17 were from Native Nations, a more appropriate 11% of the members.

According to the Chilean law passed in January 2023, there will be one to three Native representatives in the constitutional congress of 50 members elected Sunday. That is only one to four percent, nowhere near the 12.8% of the population that indigenous Chileans represent.

People from a recognized indigenous nation such as Mapuche, Quechua or Aymara will have the choice to vote for a regional representative or an indigenous representative, further fractionalizing the representation of their Nations. Why are First Nations people experiencing this renewed exclusion from politics? Was the status quo threatened by the measures in the 2022 constitution that stemmed from Loncón’s leadership and Native participation? The current process seems a return to top down governance.

According to all the major media sources in Chile, Sunday is a day to celebrate democracy. Is the process democratic enough? Chileans have two choices; vote or get fined. What do you think? What would you do in their zapatos?

¡Olé! –Rebecca

*PS Loncón heartily defeated Cheuquelaf in the 2021 elections for constitutional congress representatives.

Chilean Flag. Photo: R. Cuningham

This article is a Fake Flamenco exclusive. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Cuningham

55 thoughts on “What Will Chile Do?

  1. This somewhat disquieting post is so interesting, as little news from anywhere in South America ever reaches the British press, unless there’s an uprising of whatever kind. I rely on you to be my educator about issues from this part of the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Margaret. There are so many countries to learn about and digging through the news to find information about South America takes time. I am proud to be your source and hope to represent what I find faithfully.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for keeping me informed about the happenings in South America. They surely don’t get any press time here in the US. Although I wish a higher percentage of eligible voters in the US took advantage of their right to vote, required voting or the facing of a fine sort of rubs me the wrong way. It’s tragic that indigenous peoples’ languages are being squeezed out of existence. There is a renewed effort to teach Cherokee children on the Qualla Boundary in western NC the Cherokee language. I hope they haven’t waited to long to do it. Thank you for a very informative and timely blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Janet. In my research, I could only find the same information rehashed in English on the subject. I dug deep into Chilean websites and slowly more of the story emerged. Glad to hear about the teaching of the Cherokee language in NC, in the Qualla Boundary. Language education is so important because it preserves culture; a wwy of thinking snd living at the same time.


  3. Like the others, I want to say thanks for sharing. I studied Latin America while at uni but haven’t really kept up since. I’m sorry that people are being marginalised.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very good Rebecca. It is a touchy issue. On which I might raise a discordant voice. I am not sure I am in favour of “multi-language”. There is a risk of further isolation of each community. A risk. Let me add my perspective: I’m Breton. On both sides. Until the end of the 19th century, Brittany was a largely… “abandoned ” region. Very high illiteracy. I seem to remember a figure of 40% Bretons unable to read or write. (Many French regions had high illiteracy rates too.) Many Bretons spoke only Breton. Now, what happened, end of the 19th century? Jules Ferry, secretary of education launched a massive nation-wide campaign to eradicate illiteracy. Brand new young teachers were sent to the provinces to teach the Younguns how to read and write. In French of course. In the process, Breton school kids were punished (caning generally) when speaking Breton…
    To cut a long story short, Brittany is now one of the most dynamic regions in France. Only a minority still speak Breton. But the music, the traditions, the folk-lore has been maintained… I only speak a few words of Breton. I am French first and foremost. Though I love Breton music.
    In a nutshell, I would move that any state should do two things:
    1) Educate the poorest, most remote communities, open up their chances. In the main national language.
    2) If there are still resources, give a space to local, indigenous traditions.
    But only in that order.
    37 languages in Bolivia seems to me unmanageable. It will pull people apart.
    A final example: India must have dozens and dozens of languages. Hindi is the national language. There are probably “legal” local languages, but there has to be a common ground…
    That’s all.
    Thanks for the thought, and have a great week-end

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comments, Brian. I like to debate as I’m sure you’ve noticed. 🙂 Sad the Bretons lost their language, glad they maintained traditions. What schools in the US are learning is that bilingual education is a great boon to students, especially those who speak another language at home than the mainstream language. That way students become literate in both languages, they get more education, better jobs and preserve their home languages. I better research Bolivia more to see how their Constitution is working for indigenous communities. Appreciate your comments and examples!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gracias a tí! 😉 The Breton language is not totally lost. Fortunately. There is a revival, many options to (re-) learn the language which are working well. (Problem in France is that public education – in French – has deteriorated so much, we now face other issues: a high % of kids can’t read correctly at the time they enter secondary school. Which of course sets them way back.
        Bilingual? e.g. English/Spanish? That’s useful. Here we put our daughters in the French Lycée which basically teaches all in French. Otherwise they would have lost the French language. The bonus is that they came out trilingual: Spanish, French and English…
        Bonita semana. 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah both of them. Fortunately. Some bloggers I know have their kids scattered all over the globe. The youngest is in Argentina for a coupla weeks right now, coming back next week…
        Bonita semana Rebe.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. PS. As a final thought, it seems to me that the language issue is often used by politicians as a “cover-up”, or an excuse to leave people in their margination. I would be in favour of: Get those communities out of poverty first, then we’ll see about languages… 😉
    (Have I signed my death warrant?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, no death warrant. You may have different opinions than the blogger here. I agree poverty and illiteracy are large problems for marginalized populations. I think bilingual education can help remedy both ills.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Regional language are taught in the school. But not the local languages.
        We have hindi, English and also Sanskrit for our state. Then for other state, other language is added (minus hindi).
        India have so many languages, so it’s impossible to include all of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That is a truly amazing total number. Testament to an old and venerable yet vibrant civilization. I like to hear about the 22 official languages. That is so important ti keep languages alive. Could be really wonderful for indigenous cultures in Chile.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. My school was English medium.
        So speaking Hindi there was a crime 😝
        Only in Hindi period.

        Local languages are not taught, like marwari etc.

        Tamil, punjabi, telgu, gujarati in their respective states.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It was an English medium school, but more importantly it was a Christian school.
        I’ve been punished several times for hindi 🫣. But, that helped me to be better in English.

        However, I speak more hindi than English. So my spoken English is off.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting, Rebecca. Thank you. It is disheartening to read about the threat to Native languages. An issue not isolated to Chile, of course. I do wish voter turnout was greater in our country, but I don’t think “forcing” people to vote is the right course.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Indeed a complex situation. It would be good to overturn the 1980 referendum, although Chile is in a better place than Venezuela’s dire position right now. I recently worked with a Venezuelan that said it was too dangerous for him to visit Venezuela let alone for me as a foreigner, as I’d really love to return one day.

    On the language front, when I was living in Italy, I did a little research but locals also told me that there are 34 native languages made up of 28 indigenous and 6 non-indigenous languages, and over 300 dialects of which no one really knows the exact number. I’m glad the unification of Italy didn’t quash the array of languages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Nila. The situation in Venezuela is sad to see, so many people are suffering economically and many have lost their confidence in the government. Sanctions may not improve matters for the people. As for Italy, it does have many regional and historic languages. Many of the regional languages are official, which helps their preservation. But at least 31 of the languages of Italy are in danger of extinction. Appreciate this dialogue with you!

      Liked by 1 person

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