Press "Enter" to skip to content

The rebirth of a 210-year-old nation

After a year of violent protests, fireworks and cheers of jubilation erupted from the streets of Chile after it was announced that their constitution will be rewritten.

This is the moment thousands of Chileans have been hoping, praying and demanding for years. 

In 1990, Chile became a democracy, but the authoritarian principles written into the constitution by Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990, still had a tight hold on the country long after his reign. 

During his rule, the country was treated harshly. Almost 40,000 men and women were falsely imprisoned, tortured or killed. 

Pinochet wrote the constitution in 1980 in his favor, rigging the plebiscite to approve it. The self-written constitution granted him and other corrupt government officials powers, now referred to as “authoritarian enclaves,” that continued even after his reign. 

The constitution also allowed unelected senators to fill seats in parliament’s upper chamber, which prevented proper representation and gave more unchecked control to the government. Pinochet filled one of those seats for a while after he stepped down in 1990. 

As time passed and the country became more democratic, the new leaders created 42 amendments to the constitution. In 2005, the 10 remaining Pinochet-granted seats were eradicated. The new amendments also lessened the power of the military and placed the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

But despite the many amendments, the public continued to express their unhappiness toward the constitution.

“It’s like someone who owns a beautiful house, but they don’t want it anymore because it was built by a father who was a rapist. It’s not that the house is bad. It’s that it was built by that father,” said Patricio Navia, a Chilean-born professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University.

On Oct 25, almost 80 percent of the voting population voted to overturn the old constitution, and start fresh. 

President Piñera noted that the current constitution is “divisive” and the people will have to “work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future.” 

In April 2021, the country will vote on the convention members who will draft the new document, and then once the draft is complete after nine months, the people will vote on whether to pass or keep drafting.

“This is going to be a contentious process,” said Jennifer Pribble, an expert on Chilean politics at the University of Richmond. “Young voters are looking for a lot of specific guarantees and rights in this constitution.”

The Chilean people are breathing a fresh breath of air as they mend their wounds and rid the country of the last holds of Pinochet. Experts say the country has an arduous road ahead of them, but it’s a road Chileans are eager to take.