On Sunday, December 17th, Chile prepares to make history as people gather to vote on a new draft constitution. This referendum, the second in as many years, has sparked significant debate, particularly among Indigenous advocates who have expressed strong opposition to the proposed changes.
The new draft, led by Chile’s far-right Republican Party, has been criticized for favoring right-wing priorities and neglecting the needs of historically marginalized groups, including Chile’s Indigenous peoples. Indigenous representatives argue that the draft constitution fails to ensure their institutional representation in Congress or the Senate and overlooks their historical demands for respect of ancestral territories.
This constitutional revision process began in response to widespread anti-government protests in 2019, with demands for better public healthcare, fairer access to education, and pension reform. Many Chileans saw the existing constitution, a relic from General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, as the root cause of social inequality and injustice.
The first attempt at rewriting the constitution in 2022, led by a council comprised mostly of left-wing leaders, was rejected by voters for being overly progressive and confusing. The current draft, however, is seen by critics as a regression, potentially tightening Chile’s already restrictive abortion laws and failing to acknowledge Indigenous rights adequately.
The new draft defines Indigenous groups as “part of the Chilean nation, which is one and undivided,” a stark contrast to the previous version’s vision of Chile as a “plurinational” country. This change has raised concerns among Indigenous communities about the continuation of their marginalization and the protection of their cultural patrimony.
President Gabriel Boric has indicated that this referendum will be the last opportunity to replace the Pinochet-era constitution during his term. The outcome of this vote will not only determine Chile’s legal framework but also reflect the nation’s stance on social welfare, Indigenous rights, and the role of government in addressing inequality.
As Chileans head to the polls, the decision they make will have far-reaching implications for the country’s future direction. The debate over the new constitution underscores the ongoing struggle to balance diverse political ideologies and the need for a legal framework that reflects the aspirations and values of all Chileans, including its Indigenous populations.