Chile’s experiment could become a model for all of Latin America

It is to be expected that protests in Latin America will increase again. Chile is now trying to relieve pressure with a constitutional assembly as an outlet for the charged popular anger. Whether it will succeed is an open question. An exciting experiment in democracy begins in the Andean country this weekend.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung

 

Chile is now electing a constituent assembly. 155 members, half women and half men, will then negotiate Chile’s new constitution for a maximum of one year. Then, in the middle of next year, the revised version will be voted on by referendum.

The majority of Chileans demanded this constitutional change after the severe protests in 2019. Many of them are disappointed: because despite the high growth, improved social indicators and consolidated democracy for now 30 years, the majority of Chileans are bothered by the lack of opportunities for advancement and the poor basic services provided by the state. In education, health and especially in the pension system, the state fails those who cannot afford private benefits. It is foreseeable that the new constitution will contain more state and less market economy. The majority of the population wants a social democratic system.

But it is also concerned with modernizing society. Chile has changed a lot in the last ten years, as can be seen from the widely discussed topics of divorce, abortion and gay marriage. Trust in politics, political parties and the business community, but also in the police and the Catholic Church, has reached a low point. Numerous scandals have contributed to this, which have also severely shaken the self-image of a conservative, honest elite.

In short, while Chilean society has become increasingly liberal over the past decade, the elite has remained closed and conservative.

The new constitution is now an attempt to rebuild trust in institutions and democracy – not least to save the successful economic model in the long term. After all, Chile has long played in a higher league economically in Latin America.

If the country can now also be modernized socially by means of a constitution, Chile could also become a political role model for Latin America’s divided societies.

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