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Latam Brief: Chileans to vote on conservative constitution

A citizen receives a copy of the proposed new Chilean constitution ahead of the upcoming December 17 constitutional referendum, outside the government palace in Santiago, Chile November 27, 2023. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
A citizen receives a copy of the proposed new Chilean constitution ahead of the upcoming December 17 constitutional referendum, outside the government palace in Santiago, Chile November 27, 2023. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Latin America Daily Briefing

Chileans will plebiscite a constitutional proposal drafted by an elected, conservative led council on Sunday. It will be the second time in two years the country has voted on a proposal to replace the current, dictatorship-era magna carta, an initiative born of massive social protests in 2019.

The current proposal is actually more conservative than the one it hopes to replace, according to critics who say the new charter does nothing to address the social discontent — related to health, education and social security — that fueled the agreement to draft a new constitution for Chile.

Polls indicate that the new charter will be rejected by voters, with the caveat that the number of people who say they would vote in favor has been increasing. Cadem’s last numbers showed that 38% would approve the new constitution, up six points from mid-November, while those against fell three points to 46%. The latest AtlasIntel poll puts votes in favor at 48.4%, with 7.6% undecided.

About 15.4 million Chileans are legally obligated to vote, the third election since mandatory suffrage was implemented. This make the results more uncertain.

“Most Chileans prefer a modernized charter that addresses the public policy issues that are not getting resolved—namely, a text that does not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. This is why a Magna Carta that enshrines either ideological extreme has only minority appeal,” writes Arturo C. Porzecanski in Americas Quarterly.

The leftist Boric administration unofficially supports the “no” vote on Sunday. However, the arrest on Thursday of a man in relation to an attempted kidnapping, could alter the equation. The man, Luis Castillo, was pardoned by Boric a year ago for crimes related to the 2019 protests. The pardons have been controversial, and the episode puts public security, a key concern for most Chileans, in the spotlight. Advocates of the proposed constitution say it advocates for security.

The new document was drafted by the party of far-right leader José Antonio Kast, who lost to Boric in the 2020 presidential election. If it passes, it will severely undermine Boric’s political agenda for the remainder of his mandate, according to some analysts, and strengthen Kast’s political fortunes.

A progressive proposal drafted by an elected constitutional convention was rejected last year. If this one fails, Boric has said he will not pursue another rewrite, but could try to introduce amendments to the existing constitution.

(El País, El País, Reuters, Guardian, Perfil, Chile Constitutional Updates)

More Chile

  • The draft generally reflects the Council’s conservative majority, writes Richard Sanders for the Wilson Center. “One provision, for example, calls for the deportation of undocumented immigrants “as soon as possible.” It also adopts conservative priorities for the country’s pension, health, and education systems.” (See Chile Constitutional Updates)

  • The draft constitution makes no explicit mention of abortion, but it states that the “law protects the life of who will be born,” rather than the current “the life that will be born.” Feminists say the phrase seeks to grant more entity to the embryo, further complicating efforts to terminate pregnancies. (Infobae)

The leaders of Guyana and Venezuela, Irfaan Ali and Nicolás Maduro, promised not to use threats or force against each other in the midst of a border dispute involving Venezuela’s claim to two-thirds of its neighbor. However, they failed to reach agreement on how to address the disagreement that has raised concerns in the region of armed conflict. (See yesterday’s post.)

A joint commission composed of the foreign ministers of both countries and other officials will address the problem, with a report expected within three months, according to the Associated Press.

Both governments have committed preventing an escalation of the conflict and avoiding incidents on the border that could be considered an attack. Should such a incident occur, the parties who sat at the table Thursday will mediate, reports El País.

The two leaders also agreed to meet again in Brazil within the next three months and to keep their sponsors — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves — abreast of developments, reports the Miami Herald.

Ali said he remained committed to peaceful coexistence with Venezuela but is “unwavering and resolute” in his position that the territorial dispute should once and for all be decided by the U.N. court.

The meeting was held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in the presence of members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), representatives of the Brazilian government and United Nations observers.

More Essequibo

“The Essequibo dispute has roots centuries deep, involving Spanish, Dutch and British claims,” writes Kenneth Mohammed in the Guardian. “The prevailing western sentiment asserts that slavery, indentureship and colonialism are mere relics of the past, holding no sway over the future. Such a stance, characterised by intellectual laziness, belies the historical threads woven through the Caribbean islands – a constellation of minuscule paradises whose tumultuous pasts continue to reverberate.”


  • Argentina’s Milei’s government announced a plan to crack down on protests in the midst of soaring inflation and austerity economic measures. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich announced a new protocol that will deploy the four national security forces – the Federal Police, the Gendarmerie, the Naval Prefecture, and the Airport Security Police – to break up protests blocking streets and roads. (El País)

  • Bullrich also said “that a registry of social organizations that “instigate” protests will be created and that she will “send the bill” for “the expenses” of repression to those responsible,” reports El País.


  • Brazil’s Congress approved a law that threatens Indigenous people’s rights to most of the land they inhabit or claim. The move overrides a veto by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and could potentially open vast territories to deforestation, farming and mining, reports the New York Times.

  • El Hilo podcast travels to the Amazon to interview Biraci Nixiwaka, a historical figure in the indigenous movement, and to tell the story of the Yawanawá, a piece journalist Dom Phillips was working on when he and activist Bruno Pereira were assassinated last year.


  • A group of Mennonites poised to carve big farms out of the Amazon in Suriname, despite concerns of Indigenous people about the settlers’ deforestation, reports the Guardian. “In a country scarred by colonialism and the legacy of slavery, what bothers local people most is the lack of detailed information from the government about the new settlements.”


  • The first stretch of AMLO’s flagship Maya train project is set to open today, years ahead of schedule, “but concerns about the environment, militarisation and lack of consultation persist,” reports the Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

December 15, 2023

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