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Analysis: Next Constitution would turn Chile into a Plurinational State

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Chile can change its history and become this year a diverse and multicolored country with a Plurinational and Intercultural State that recognizes and promotes the development of the native peoples that inhabited its territory before the Spanish conquest.

By 112 votes in favor and 32 against, the Constitutional Convention approved a proposal with this definition. The initiative is already part of the draft of the Constitution that will be proposed to Chileans in August or September for its rejection or approval in a referendum.

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The Convention debates and drafts the first Chilean Constitution, the result of the work of 155 constituents elected by popular vote in October 2020 and who began their tasks on July 4, 2021, with a parity composition of men and women and with 17 members from native peoples. Their work may be extended until July 4.

Adolfo Millabur, Chile’s first Mapuche mayor, elected in 1996 in the southern commune of Tirúa, resigned his post to become a constituent for his people’s reserved seat. He argues that “if Chile is transformed and defined as a plurinational state, what changes are the vocation of democracy” (Photo internet reproduction)

In the country’s last census, in 2017, there were 2.18 million Chileans who said they belonged to an indigenous people.

This meant that 12.8% of the 17.07 million inhabitants that Chile had then (today there are 19.4 million) recognized themselves as belonging to one of the indigenous peoples that are distributed throughout the elongated territory of this South American country: the Mapuche, the most numerous, followed by the Aymara, Rapa Nui, Diaguita, Atacameño, Quechua, Colla, Kawesqar and Yagan.

Domingo Namuncura, a Mapuche social worker and professor at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, told IPS that “we face a significant historical event. The declaration of a plurinational state has always been a dream of the indigenous peoples of Chile.

The Convention was the response to a popular insurrection throughout 2019, whose repression overshadowed the second government of right-winger Sebastián Piñera, a businessman who had already governed the country between 2010 and 2014, and who will be succeeded from March 11 by leftist Gabriel Boric, winner of the December elections.

Until now, Chile has been governed since 1980 by the Constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who promoted with a framework of rules a neoliberal regime in the economic and vertical and authoritarian in the political sphere, which democratic governments have only partially dismantled since 1990.

The result is a country with a dynamic economy exporting mining and agricultural products, but with one of the most unequal societies in the world, which was at the basis of the outbreak of 2019, as well as the failure to fulfill promises of change, such as a new Constitution, the reform of the educational system or improvements in social rights.


No previous Chilean Constitution mentions indigenous people and their rights, as do other Latin American constitutions that have emerged in different processes since 1980. The only precedent of declaring a Plurinational State is that of neighboring Bolivia, which did so in the 2009 Constitution.

“The current Chilean Constitution and the previous ones do not refer to the word Indian, native, infidels, indigenous peoples, original peoples. Nothing. In the Constitution, they are erased because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically, and militarily,” said Namuncura.

Adolfo Millabur, Chile’s first Mapuche mayor, elected in 1996 in the southern commune of Tirúa, resigned his post to become a constituent for his people’s reserved seat. He argues that “if Chile is transformed and defined as a plurinational state, what changes are the vocation of democracy”.

“By recognizing the peoples that existed before the formation of the Chilean State, value is given to a collective actor. Different forms of relations should begin to be established, especially in political definition and participation,” he told IPS.

Lawyer Tiare Aguilera, a constituent of the Rapa Nui people, believes that “the most important thing is to arrive at the plebiscite with an informed citizenry about plurinationality and its implications”.

In her opinion, it is necessary “that we consider that through plurinationality, our country will finally be able to advance in reparations for the peoples of Chile”.

“There is a lot of ignorance among citizens. To the extent that we correctly inform and educate about its meaning and implications, we believe that the changes in the definition of the State will be well evaluated,” she told IPS.

For constituent Jaime Bassa, who was vice-president of the Convention until January, “the normative proposals approved in commissions and the plenary on plurinationality speak to us of a sense of reality, of accepting ourselves in legitimate diversity and coexistence, of recognizing our historical roots, of valuing ourselves based on the cultural identity that makes us up”.

“In comparative experiences, plurinational and multilingualism has brought about interesting cultural changes that have led to innovative and sustainable development alternatives,” he told IPS.

In his opinion, “the model of growth and development to be advanced in the framework of the constituent process underway should promote ethics and inter-territorial solidarity, care for the environment and sustainability, as axes of political equality, to ensure collaborative, resilient contexts of respect for rights that allow us to broaden and deepen our democracy.”

Bassa indicated that the Convention “is working on a proposal for a parity, plurinational and decentralized legislative power, which will enable spaces of territorial representation, which will participate in the law-making process, effectively representing the peoples and nations that coexist within the State”.

The norm approved on February 17 defines that “Chile is a Regional, Plurinational and Intercultural State made up of autonomous territorial entities, within a framework of equity and solidarity among all of them, preserving the unity and integrity of the State”.

According to Namuncura, who was the first Mapuche to serve as ambassador of the country, in Guatemala, “Chile has always been plurinational because it is constituted based on different native populations that were already in this territory and that joined as native peoples or nations, by force or not, to the construction of the national State”.

“From the Aztec, Mayan, Inca, Mapuche cultures, before the arrival of the Spaniards, America was already a plurinational continent populated by more than 1200 indigenous nationalities that were constituted many centuries ago,” he recalled.

The Convention also debates other norms for native peoples such as their courts of justice coordinated with the national justice system, a parliament with indigenous representation, and a regime for natural resources located in their territories.


This process generates enormous concern among the business people grouped in the Confederation of Production and Commerce (CPC), whose directive, headed by Juan Sutil, met successively with the president of the Convention until January, the Mapuche Elisa Loncón, and with her successor, María Elisa Quinteros.

The CPC promoted numerous Popular Initiatives of Norm to include its positions in the debate. It invited everyone to support these initiatives “that defend the values of freedom of thought, free enterprise”, among others, to achieve “a robust democracy” with public-private collaboration.

The CPC gathered 507,852 signatures and managed to submit 16 initiatives with its views on the constituent process. Three of them have already been rejected: “Emprende Libre”, “Economic model, freedom of entrepreneurship and promotion of MSMEs”, and “Water for All”. One more is still pending: “For a sustainable mining for Chile”.

Business leaders have raised the tone of their opposition to the Convention, which they accuse of distancing itself from the authentic Chile and the work for a Constitution for all.

“I am concerned that a Constitution is being drafted that is not generating adequate balances and is not being a Constitution that is gathering all the sensibilities of all Chileans,” said Sutil.

Those sensitivities, he said, are mainly of “a minority sector, which could be the center-right, the right and even people of the center within the Convention itself who are not being considered at all”, he told a local radio station.

“Chile is much more than what the Constitutional Convention is. The correlation of forces is very different in real Chile than what happens in the Convention,” he added.

According to Sutil, criticism of the Convention is widespread, and “this is bad not only because it puts the process at risk, but also because it puts the future of the country at risk from the institutional point of view, from the point of view of its development and growth”.

The forestry companies own approximately 1.9 million hectares in a macro-zone in the south, across three of the country’s regions. A significant part of these hectares is ancestral lands.


The Historical Truth and New Deal with Indigenous Peoples Commission, created by the then President Ricardo Lagos in 2001 and composed of 24 members with cross-cutting representation, recalled that 500,000 hectares were adjudicated to indigenous peoples between 1884 and 1929. This was verified after reviewing 413 titles issued between those years.

The purpose of the Commission was to “correct the historical invisibility of these (native) peoples, recognize their identity, repair the damage done to them and contribute to the preservation of their culture”.

In its final report, in 2003, the Commission proposed a hundred measures. In the land area, it called for the protection of land belonging to indigenous peoples, the demarcation and titling of land showing ancestral ownership, and the establishment of a land reclamation mechanism.

Regarding natural resources, it proposed recognizing the right of ownership, use, administration, and benefit, the preferential right in State concessions, and the right of use, management, and conservation.

Namuncura believes that a future task will be “to reach a political agreement with the large forestry companies so that a part of those lands that today are their property be returned to the indigenous peoples via a long-term political and financial commitment, with the possibility of considering the value of this restitution”.

The wording already approved for the first draft will now be analyzed by the Harmonization Commission, which will ensure “the concordance and coherence of the constitutional norms approved by the Plenary”.

The version that emerges from there will be voted by the plenary, which, by two-thirds, will define the text to be voted in a referendum by all Chileans.

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