The spirit of dictatorship

The Chileans celebrate the victory of their central demand at the Plaza Italia, which has been repeatedly banned by the government, even at the late hour. An end to the Pinochet Constitution of 1980, which established the neoliberal system of social lawlessness. A historic and moving event about which only a few journalists in Germany report accordingly.

“Lo venian venir” is a mantra born on this square – “they saw it coming”. With more than 30 dead and at least 450 partially blind victims of violence of the militarized Carabinero police and still at least 2,500 young detainees, the plebiscite “came”: the plebiscite.

Yesterday, Sunday, 25 October, for the first time in the 200-year history of the Republic of Chile, 14.7 million voters voted with a plebiscite on the constitutional legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship, which is still in force despite the end of the dictatorship thirty years ago. As might be expected, the “yes” for a new constitution – popularized in the media by the hashtag #Apruebo (“Approved”) – prevailed with 78.2 percent against the “Rechazo” (“Rejected”: 21.8 percent) of the mostly conservative to right-wing oriented voters.

The referendum was the first stage on the road to the new constitution, which is not expected until the end of 2021. It will be followed by a new vote on the candidates to be elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 2021. Their organic composition was voted on a second ballot yesterday. There were two options to choose from. On the one hand, the “mixed constitutional convention” – composed of about 86 parliamentarians in equal numbers and directly elected representatives of the people – on the other hand, the grassroots democratic “Parity Constitutional Convention”, in turn composed of 150 directly elected representatives of the people (50 percent of whom are women), but to the exclusion of parliamentarians. This second option won by more than 79 percent, sending further signals for a radical democratic turn in Latin America after the election victory of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, Alberto Fernandez in Argentina and Luis Arces in Bolivia a week ago.

The spirit of dictatorship

Counterfeiting, fraud and the authoritarian, neoliberal legacy of the Pinochet Constitution

Skeptical minds will rightly wonder how enlightened citizens can combine such diverse hopes for social and political progress with a “mere constitution,” since – especially in Latin American history, but not only here – “laws are there to be broken.” Some of the answer, conversely, reflects the catastrophic effects of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s 1980 constitution.

However, how threatening a new constitution seems to international financial capital and its financialization brokerise is illuminated by an article by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, editor of the Wall Street Journal, with the mood-making title Chile’s Suicide Mission. “There is no doubt that strong doses of Marxist indoctrination at Chilean universities and the income equality of intellectuals and the media have tilted the country to the left,” the libertarian O’Grady said. The WSJ editor seems to have put her binoculars in front of her eyes from the wrong side, she didn’t understand anything. Not even in the beginning that the ongoing social revolt with its plebiscite amounts to nothing more than a discreet social democracy.

What O’Grady defends happened in September 1973. Barely eleven days had passed since the coup against the government of Salvador Allende, when the Pinochet-led military junta forged long-term plans for rule and commissioned a commission to draft a new constitution “for Chile.” The goose-feet suggest that the Magna Charter was intended not entirely in Chile, but for a minority that Eduardo Matte Pérez – Chile’s foreign minister and founder of the Matte dynasty, one of Chile’s richest family clans – bluntly described around 1889 as saying that “the owners of Chile are us, the owners of capital and land.” For example, enréque Ortzar – former minister of Jorge Alessandri and his election director in the presidential campaign against Salvador Allende – took over the leadership of the Commission for the Drafting of the Pinochet Constitution, which was, however, overseen by the lawyer, fascist and Pinochet confidant Jaime Guzman, who was killed on 1 April 1990 in an assassination attempt by the guerrilla group Patriotic Front Manuel Rodriguez (FPMR).

The spirit of dictatorship

For seven years, according to historian Sergio Grez, the Commission met in secret without any public attention to its discussions and proposals; especially in an environment of suppressed freedom of the press, persecution, torture and murder of opponents. With the suggestion of Guzman and Ms. Madariagas, acting minister of justice and Pinochet’s cousin, a “referendum” was finally convened, which had been announced just under a month earlier. With the “vote”, Pinochet naturally tried to give legitimacy to his claim to power and its longevity.

But even the “hardest” of the junta-obrists, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh Guzman, accused Pinochet of forgery and fraud. In an interview given to the discontinued Cauce magazine in July 1985, Leigh reported that the dictatorship’s first computers at the time had already been fed in advance with the “voting results,” that thousands of representatives and agents of the dictatorship had cast their votes several times at different polling stations, and that there were no electoral registers at all that could have proved the vote as a legal document. These had been burned by the military.

The social scientist Edison Ortiz certifies the Pinochet Charter as “ten lies”, including in particular the authoritarian abolition of fundamental freedoms under the rule of law, the erosion and abolition of labour rights – for example, with the explosion and prohibition of trade union representation, or the claim to unity – as well as the radical privatization of public property and institutions such as the state, solidarity pension system, controlled by Pinoet’s Chicago boys. In short, in the words of Sergio Grez: ‘It is a constitution that does not guarantee social rights, but only the freedom of business, private property and the free market’.

But the Pinochet Constitution also contains an assortment of subtle, common-dangerous hooks: it installed the so-called “autonomy of the bodies”, including the Constitutional Court, but very seriously, but above all, the administrative and political inertia of the armed forces and Carabinero police, whose budgets, doctrine and decisions are not known to the executive or the legislature, and have been saved as explosive pandora’s cans.

The “Silence Pact” and the patchwork of the centre-left governments

It is not true, as some articles claim, that the Concertacion governments, which ruled for more than twenty years after Pinochet, had acted indifferently against the fraudulent and authoritarian Pinochet Charter. From a democratic point of view, the Concertacion is to be accused of irresponsibility and a huge amount of cowardice.

“The inexplicable came later,” recalls historian Sergio Grez, referring to the agreements between socialist President Ricardo Lagos and pinochetist Pablo Longueira, which culminated in the 2005 constitutional reforms, which theoretically sought to eliminate the anti-democratic excesses of the military constitution, but which were updated and legitimized a second time.

According to Grez, the first act of legitimation of Pinochet’s charter was sealed on 30 July 1989 after the triumph of “no” to Pinochet’s continuity. With the dictator still in power, the Concertacion accepted a previously packaged project of 54 constitutional amendments that led to a strange referendum in which the Socialist Party demanded rejection, while the Communists advised to annul the election. According to Grez, the center-left governments alternating in power engaged in a steady laissez-faire, culminating in transitional agreements agreed to legitimize the Pinochet Constitution, committing to higher quoren for constitutional reforms that tied the coalition’s hands for two decades. Despite a majority in parliament, things are not much different today, Grez warns.

On the other hand, president Michelle Bachelet owes a portion of credit to this narrative of the allegations. Bachelet entered her second mandate in 2014 with the campaign promise of constitutional reform. With 204,000 participants in the provincial and regional councils, an observer citizens' council, the local civic assemblies (ELAs) convened by the grassroots and a budget of several million euros, Bachelet tried to adopt a new constitution with a basic democratic “citizen’s seal”.

The citizens' debate, which lasted several months, produced 113 pages of amendments and motions on several dozen articles of the Pinochet Constitution. Although the Cabildos (People’s Councils) had submitted key constitutional proposals such as the guarantee of social rights, the right to work or housing, numerous agreements were rejected and replaced by counterproposals by the bureaucrats of the La Moneda Government Palace. When the project reached parliament, it was not only boycotted by the ultra-conservative, neoliberal-oriented opposition, but either eaten with “long teeth” or even ignored in the ranks of the centre-left factions. Bachelet’s colossal mistake was to tackle the promised constitutional reform too late, in the last year of its administration, and not to have a plebiscite in the first place.

“They saw it coming.” And so it came to 18 October 2019 and yesterday’s referendum. The decision to vote for the Joint Constitutional Convention, excluding the established parliament, illustrates how discredited the political establishment is.