Chileans seek new con­sti­tu­tion

By a wide mar­gin, vot­ers fa­vor re­plac­ing Pinochet- era char­ter.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Jorge Poblete and Pa­trick J. McDon­nell Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Poblete re­ported from San­ti­ago and Times staff writer McDon­nell re­ported from Mex­ico City.

SAN­TI­AGO, Chile — Chileans voted over­whelm­ingly Sun­day to re­write the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion, which dates from the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship of Gen. Au­gusto Pinochet four decades ago.

With 99% of bal­lots counted, 78% of vot­ers fa­vored draft­ing a new na­tional char­ter, while 22% re­jected the ini­tia­tive, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial re­sults.

The mar­gin of vic­tory ex­ceeded pro­jec­tions in polls that about 70% of Chileans would fa­vor a re­write of the 1980 con­sti­tu­tion.

The con­sti­tu­tional vote — a re­ac­tion to last year’s civil un­rest that par­a­lyzed this South Amer­i­can na­tion of 19 mil­lion — be­came a kind of ref­er­en­dum on the coun­try’s fu­ture. Crit­ics said a new con­sti­tu­tion was needed to re­form deep eco­nomic and so­cial in­equal­i­ties, while sup­port­ers of the cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion feared chang­ing it could lead to in­sta­bil­ity.

Pres­i­dent Se­bastián Piñera, who had main­tained a pub­licly neu­tral stance on the is­sue, con­firmed that the move to draft a new con­sti­tu­tion had tri­umphed. “To­day, unity has pre­vailed over di­vi­sion,” Piñera said in an evening ad­dress to the na­tion. “And peace over vi­o­lence. This is a tri­umph for all Chileans who love democ­racy, unity and peace.”

Thou­sands of Chileans gath­ered Sun­day night in Plaza Baque­dano to cel­e­brate the vote. Fire­works mark­ing the bal­lot­ing il­lu­mi­nated the cap­i­tal’s sky­line.

Chile’s ref­er­en­dum, orig­i­nally sched­uled for April but pushed back be­cause of the COVID- 19 pan­demic, was the gov­ern­ment’s ma­jor con

ces­sion to the mass protests.

Chileans also voted for the new con­sti­tu­tion to be drawn up by a 155- mem­ber assem­bly to be elected in April. Vot­ers re­jected an al­ter­na­tive that would have seen a mix of cur­rent law­mak­ers and elected cit­i­zens rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion. The de­ci­sion would ap­pear to re­flect a lack of faith in the coun­try’s cur­rent elected lead­er­ship.

“I want a new con­sti­tu­tion, and I want new peo­ple to draft it be­cause trust in politi­cians is over,” said María José Ugarte, 30, a yoga in­struc­tor lin­ing up to vote at San­ti­ago’s Na­tional Sta­dium.

The sta­dium had been used as a prison camp af­ter the 1973 mil­i­tary coup led by Pinochet that over­threw the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment of left­ist Pres­i­dent Sal­vador Al­lende.

“I know changes won’t hap­pen right away, but we need rad­i­cal change,” Ugarte said.

Once a new con­sti­tu­tion is drafted — af­ter up to a year of work — the doc­u­ment would be sub­mit­ted to vot­ers in yet another ref­er­en­dum sched­uled for 2022.

Chile’s cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion en­shrines the freemar­ket prin­ci­ples en­dorsed by the for­mer mil­i­tary lead­er­ship.

“I hope that a new con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees health,

ed­u­ca­tion and hous­ing as hu­man rights,” Jorge Molina, 86, a re­tired en­gi­neer, said af­ter vot­ing at a school near down­town San­ti­ago.

Molina said he re­ceives a pen­sion of $ 750 a month but spends more than half of it on med­i­cal bills — he has di­a­betes, prostate prob­lems and glau­coma. His life sav­ings, he said, were drained by treat­ments for the can­cer that aff licted his wife be­fore her death.

“I re­ceive a rel­a­tively high pen­sion for Chile and look how I am,” he said. “Imag­ine how the rest of the old folks do here.”

Op­po­nents wor­ried that con­sti­tu­tional re­forms could dampen prospects for growth and heighten pres­sure on state f inances al­ready stretched thin by the pan­demic.

“It’s true that there are many in­equal­i­ties here, but there have to be bet­ter ways to han­dle the prob­lem,” Fer­nando Ca­bello, 45, son of one of the thou­sands of Chileans ex­iled dur­ing the dic­ta­tor­ship, said af­ter vot­ing against the con­sti­tu­tional change at a school in the cap­i­tal’s Prov­i­den­cia neigh­bor­hood.

“I grew up in Venezuela, so I wit­nessed the Chav­ista revo­lu­tion,” he said, re­fer­ring to the left­ist gov­ern­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

“I’m to­tally against that way of mak­ing changes.”

Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum took place 32 years af­ter Chileans went to the polls in a landmark plebiscite and voted to end the dic­ta­to­rial rule of Pinochet. The 1988 plebiscite led to Pinochet step­ping down in 1990.

Dur­ing the 17- year junta, Chile be­came known as a leader of the free- mar­ket phi­los­o­phy widely re­ferred to in Latin Amer­ica as ne­olib­er­al­ism. Left­ist govern­ments in Mex­ico and else­where in the re­gion have de­nounced ne­olib­er­al­ism as a strat­egy that height­ened in­equal­ity and spread poverty through­out Latin Amer­ica.

“We never thought there could be a new con­sti­tu­tion,” Fabi­ola Campil­lay, 37, told lo­cal me­dia who were wait­ing for her out­side her home in the work­ing- class neigh­bor­hood of San Bernardo, south of San­ti­ago, on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Last Novem­ber, Campil­lay lost sight in both eyes, as well as her sense of taste and smell, when a tear gas can­is­ter f ired by po­lice hit her face. At the time, she was wait­ing for a bus to take her to the spaghetti fac­tory where she worked.

The of­fi­cer who f ired the tear gas shell was dis­missed and is in prison, while Campil­lay, a sup­porter of the con­sti­tu­tional change, be­came a sym­bol of last year’s protests.

Ac­cord­ing to Chile’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights In­sti­tute, al­most 4,000 civil­ians were in­jured in the protests and clashes with po­lice, in­clud­ing 460 who suf­fered eye in­juries.

“Now we have to keep f ight­ing,” Campil­lay said Sun­day. “We have to keep fight­ing so that the con­sti­tu­tion is writ­ten by the peo­ple and not by the same politi­cians as al­ways.”

Este­ban Felix As­so­ci­ated Press

PEO­PLE gather in in San­ti­ago, Chile, on Sun­day, when vot­ers de­cided to re­place their con­sti­tu­tion.

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