Chile's Protesters Just Changed Their Constitution (Pay Attention, US)

Chile's Protesters Just Changed Their Constitution (Pay Attention, US)

Voting corrupt authoritarians out of office feels pretty mother-effing good, as a billion babies that will be churned out across the US precisely nine months from now will attest to. That said, it's not a good idea to get too comfortable after kicking a Mussolini-wannabe to the curb. Just look at Chile, which defeated the dictator Augusto Pinochet via a referendum in 1988 but only managed to get rid of the last remnant of his murderous government ... now. As in, last month. And it was all thanks to a bunch of turnstile-jumping schoolkids and pot-banging old ladies, not the country's politicians.

See, after last year's massive anti-inequality protests (which felt like a teaser for the rest of the world's 2020 -- everyone was wearing masks, under curfew, and cursing at their dumbass government), Chile just held another referendum to decide if Pinochet's constitution should stay or go. Here's a visual representation of the result:

Nearly 80% of voters chose to take Pinochet's legacy for a helicopter ride and draft a new, more equalitarian constitution. And that's good, but what the hell took so long? Well, what most feel-good movies about Pinochet's defeat don't mention is that, while he wouldn't have minded staying in power for a couple more centuries or so, he very much left under his own terms and remained involved in government matters until 2002. This was like breaking up with your abusive ex but letting him sleep on the couch and decide what to watch on TV for the next 14 years.

How did he pull that off? By rewriting Chile's constitution like a kid who makes up fake Monopoly rules when he's losing. Pinochet and his henchmen knew that the dictatorship would end one day, so they wrote the 1980 constitution to ensure things wouldn't change too much after they were gone, then forced it on the country via a bogus election (in which government agents were allowed to double or triple dip at the voting urns). The constitution permitted Pinochet, someone who stole millions of dollars from the country while killing and torturing thousands of citizens, to remain as Commander in Chief of the Army until 1998 and become senator-for-life after that.

Speaking of elected officials that nobody elected, the constitution also made it so a third of the senate was made up of "designated senators" handpicked by Pinochet's side to make sure the left-wing parties could never get a majority, even after winning every single election until 2005. And the modern right, despite being alllllll about "freedom" and "democracy," loved it.

Emilio Kopaitic/Wikimedia Commons
"Sorry, I didn't make the rules! Hahaha, wait, yes I did."

Before leaving, Pinochet also stacked the Supreme Court with judges he was chummy with, who went on to hinder human rights violations cases (a classic move for outgoing fascists, apparently). Post-Pinochet governments tried to amend the most blatantly anti-democratic parts of the 1980 constitution to continue using it, which is kind of like putting a turd in the dishwasher so you can eat the corn. Even in recent years, the constitution was used to kill or neuter popular bills like an abortion law supported by 70% of the publica pro-consumer law inspired by high profile collusion cases, and a law banning for-profit universities spurred by massive student protests. Every time the Chilean people get fed up with something and demand change, politicians point at the constitution, shrug, and go back to their crossword puzzle.

This ended up making most of Chile apathetic toward politics ... which was exactly what Pinochet and his buddies were going for. They believed political action led to conflict between the sides, so the best way to keep the country pleasant and peaceful was by making everyone feel like they shouldn't bother with silly stuff like "deciding who's president" or "demanding the end of an economic system that overwhelmingly benefits the ruling elites while screwing over almost everyone else." What Pinochet wasn't counting on was that one day, that apathy would inevitably evolve from "screw it, let's just stay home" to "screw it, let's just burn everything."

Paracrito/Wikimedia Commons
You can't tell people nothing they do matters and then act shocked when they start breaking shit.

Even though the 2019 Chilean protests had no leaders, the demands were pretty loud and clear, and the loudest and clearest one was "CHANGE THE PUTA CONSTITUTION." When the current right-wing government's initial "shoot everyone" strategy just made the crowds larger, a coalition of political parties announced the constitutional referendum that ended up taking place a few weeks ago (it was delayed because, well, 2020). But the shocking part there wasn't that the choice to rewrite the constitution won -- it's that, 30 years after the end of the dictatorship, 21% of voters still defend a regime led by a bunch of proven thieves, killers, and torturers.

Yep, turns out fascists don't operate by vampire laws: they don't magically crumble into dust when you get rid of the one that spawned them. One thing that has helped Chile's Pinochet lovers stay relevant for all these years is a media that seems obsessed with appearing balanced and centrist. Except when one side is saying "we want free education" and the other "we should kill all communists," the so-called center still leans to the right. Whenever Chile's authorities shoot at unarmed citizens, for example, the media will automatically frame the incident as a "confrontation" to avoid upsetting those who still make blind adoration for the country's police and military a central part of their identity. Anything is a "confrontation," from a farmer being shot in the head by special forces ...

... to teenagers being shot by cops, a story that just resulted in the resignation of the head of Chile's police, but you wouldn't know that from the major newspapers' front pages because the economy and soccer are more important than kids' lives.

The Chilean media's self-imposed conservative lean (born out of pure mediocrity, not government censorship) is why someone like Joaquin Lavin, a former Pinochet collaborator and one-time fervent defender, gets a disproportionate amount of screen time. It's gotten to the point that there's a Twitter account devoted solely to monitoring his inexplicable TV appearances. The constant media coverage has helped turn Lavin into the most popular (well, least unpopular) politician in Chile today.

Good thing America's "liberal media" doesn't pull stupid crap like that, huh?

The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times
Don't let the fonts fool you; these are all the same outlet.

In other words ... don't expect the Proud Boys and other Trump-inspired extremists to go away anytime soon. You're stuck with them for a long time, just like you're stuck with the judges he appointed and probably some emergency buckets of KFC stashed around the White House, to be discovered only by future archeologists. Hopefully, it takes the US less than 30 years to undo the damage done and remove the stench, both literally and figuratively.

Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile and is just jealous because he hasn't had KFC since February.

Top image: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile/Wikimedia Commons, Carlos Figueroa/Wikimedia Commons

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