One region, all voices




Read in

Chile: the Mirage of a Plurinational Country 

The defeat of the approval side in the plebiscite was overwhelming and decisive. Sixty-three percent of Chileans opposed the proposed constitutional text that the Constitutional Convention had been drafting for almost a year. The bad work of the Convention, the arrogance of its members, the mistakes and horrors of some Convention members, the fake news, the ideology, or the identity politics are some of the reasons that have been argued to explain, using soccer jargon, the defeat by a landslide of the approval. However, sectors of the political class, overtly or covertly, point to the recognition of plurinationality and to the alleged excessive ambition of the indigenous people’s representatives, who managed to include their demands successfully in the text, as one of the important factors of the defeat. Continuing with the analogy, “they played like never before, and lost like always”.

This becomes even more relevant, considering that even in areas with a large indigenous population, rejection of the proposal won. Thus, it is worth asking what will happen with the indigenous demands and representation, since many of them were part of the plebiscite text.

The process was born full of illusion. For the first time in more than two hundred years of republican history of domination and colonialism, the indigenous peoples would enjoy their own representation. That 20th-century chimera of achieving and having their own voice in matters that concern them was becoming real. However, it was an ephemeral mirage, a fleeting yearning that today hangs by a thread practically cut off at the root.

The Constitutional Convention had 17 indigenous constituents, seven Mapuche, two Aymara, and one Rapa Nui, Diaguitas, Changos, Atacameños, Quechuas, Collas, Kawashkar, and Yaghans: all elected from reserved seats. In other words, the Chilean State, recognizing the lack of protection and inequality in obtaining their own representation, granted indigenous peoples the certainty of being able to participate in the most relevant democratic instance in decades, being, therefore, protagonists, unlike what had happened until then, with their own voice and vote.

But to be more precise, without the active struggle of the indigenous movement itself, nothing would have been possible. Seen in retrospect, this representation might appear as an opening of the political class to the demands of indigenous peoples. However, a closer look reveals that the process by which the reserved seats were reached replicated the dynamics of the way in which public policies on indigenous peoples have been carried out. That is to say, from the top down, these are indigenist policies that have re-emerged after the electoral defeat of the proposal.

Despite this, the 17 seats were approved and demonstrated that, despite the differences or divisions that may exist among them, they were able to reach agreements both internally and externally. They participated in all the committees of the Convention, although at the beginning they were only wanted in an ad hoc committee and even positioned the Mapuche professor Elisa Loncon as president of the Convention for the first six months.

In this way, the indigenous constituents embodied in the text some historical demands of the indigenous peoples on territory, natural resources, collective rights, and, of course, the recognition of Chile as a plurinational state. They played the visitors’ game and obtained a beneficial result.

This did not go unnoticed by the right wing. Representing a central part of the campaign against the constitutional proposal, those who opposed the text argued that the indigenous would have privileges, that the Constitution was indigenist (using the term in a malicious way), and a series of directly fallacious and racist reasoning.

Before the elections, there were those who spoke of a Chilean Brexit. However, it seems that one could argue that it was more similar to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, where the campaign against independence was also based on fallacious arguments. Notwithstanding the above, it is completely impossible to explain the magnitude of the defeat by the disinformation campaign alone. There are multiple factors that can explain it, and the indigenous factor is undoubtedly one of them because it refers to the racism installed in an important part of Chilean society. Racialized ideology imposed by the dominant classes.

With the overwhelming triumph of rejection, the defenestration of what represents plurinationality and the indigenous have been practically transversal. From the delectation of the chauvinist and far-right to the more sedate arguments of the traditional left, all refer to a similar conclusion: to subtract power and influence to the indigenous peoples in a potential new constituent body and return all progress to the status quo of colonial and racial domination of the 19th century. 

The proposals being debated for another eventual constituent process reflect the aforementioned conclusion, either by subtracting seats for indigenous representatives or simply eliminating them, as the proposal of the conservative right does. This shows that the party elites in the negotiations blame the defeat on the performance of the indigenous representatives. Some have even gone further, demanding self-criticism and that they should ask for forgiveness for what happened. Likewise, for a possible new Constitution, plurinationality has already been discarded.

Regardless of the insolence of this sort of statement, the analysis of the role of the indigenous constituents must be made, but this must be constructive and real, far from the self-interested personal attack that populates the media after the plebiscite. But, above all, the witch hunt in search of a forced mea culpa does not lead to anything but represents only one more chapter in the undeniable relationship between domination and racism.

Returning to the soccer analogy, the fact that they should apologize for their performance is as absurd as demanding Uruguay to apologize to Brazil for beating them in the Maracanã Stadium in 1950, being a minority and with the public against them. In the case of the indigenous representatives, also playing with imposed rules.

*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Cientista político. Profesor externo en la Universidad de Girona (España). Doctor en Procesos Políticos Contemporáneos por la Univ. de Salamanca. Especializado en movimientos sociales y pueblos y movimientos indígenas de América Latina.


Related Posts

Do you want to collaborate with L21?

We believe in the free flow of information

Republish our articles freely, in print or digitally, under the Creative Commons license.

Tagged in:


More related articles