Chileans across Canada vote on new constitution that would replace Pinochet-era document

Chileans across Canada were among millions who voted in a plebiscite on Sunday to approve or reject a new Chilean constitution.

If adopted, it would replace the one imposed under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and would radically change the country.

“I’m scared. I have this feeling of hope and fear because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Sebastian Ried, who has lived in Canada for 10 years and visited Toronto from his home in Hamilton to vote on Sunday morning.

Ried told CBC Hamilton, in an interview translated from Spanish, that the polls were busy but organized as many people voted.

“In Toronto there’s a pretty big Chilean community, so there people met and talked, they saw each other, there was a pretty quiet atmosphere,” he said.

There are approximately 15 million Chileans and Chilean residents eligible to vote, including 97,000 Chileans abroad. Six cities in Canada held polls on Sunday: Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal.

Polling stations closed in Canada and Chile at 6 p.m. local time.

Shortly after 7 p.m. ET, 166 polling stations out of 285 abroad had been counted, with 69 percent coming in as approving of the new project. None of the 19 polls had been counted in Canada at that time.

With 23% of the total polls counted globally and in Chile, the rejection vote was leading with around 63% of the vote.

This vote was mandatory and opinion polls showed more support for rejecting the document, with the gap narrowing as the vote approached.

It comes less than a year after leftist Gabriel Boric, a former student activist, won Chile’s presidential election and nearly three years after protests erupted in the country calling for, among other reforms, a new constitution that would free itself from Pinochet. time.

Ried said he voted to approve the new draft constitution.

“I think [the draft] recognizes a series of rights and problems that our country has not accepted. And it seems to me that this is a very good first step towards building a fairer and better country for all Chileans,” he said.

If the project is not approved, he fears that minorities will have no chance to claim their rights.

“I fear we are losing some progress,” he said, adding that he believed the time had come for change in the country as the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup approached.

“As a minimum moral duty to our country, we deserve to begin 50 years of this anniversary with a new constitution.”

Significant Changes Proposed

According to Pascal Lupien, a political science professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., whose research focuses on Latin America and social movements, the new constitution would be a complete overhaul of the old one.

“I mean, it’s just completely different…Chile would go from having a very conservative, elitist, rigid constitution to one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.”

Some of the changes planned in the bill include the abolition of the Senate and its replacement by a Chamber of Regions which, as its name suggests, would represent the different regions of the country.

The draft also lists education, housing and health care as rights, which would be administered by the state.

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“Nature is also granted rights,” Lupien told CBC on Sunday.

Chile has a strong mining industry, which Lupien says could change with project approval.

“[It could] displace the power of mining companies. Obviously they don’t like it, because they should consider the rights of nature when they do what they do.”

According to the Canadian government, Chile is the country of Canada top investment destination in South and Central America — 12th in the world — with Canadian companies “in the mining, utilities, chemicals, transportation and warehousing, and financial services sectors.”

Mixed reactions to the project

At the beginning of Sunday, Chileans in Chile and Canada were divided on the decision to modify the constitution.

A Chilean, who is not in Canada, said in a Tweeter translates from Spanish that the reason he rejects the new project is because “Chile is moving away from Toronto and closer to Caracas, Venezuela. Chile is being destroyed from within like a cancer,” he said. -he writes on Friday.

A woman writer from Canada said she was voting against because, in her view, “the new Constitution is only divisive”, she said on Twitter on Sunday.

Hamilton resident Daniela Caballero, however, said she voted to approve the project because it meant taking a step towards equality in Chile.

Daniela Caballero and Cristian Mansilla immigrated to Canada from Chile with their daughter in 2019. (Submitted by Daniela Caballero)

“I was privileged to have a good upbringing…and I don’t think [that inequality] is fair,” she told CBC Hamilton.

“One of the things that hurts [me] of my country, that’s how unfair it is.”

Caballero came to Canada with her husband Cristian Mansilla and their daughter in 2019, just before the uproar of protests began in October of that year that ultimately led to the constitutional vote.

She said she wants a better future for generations to come and for others to have the privilege she has.

“[My generation is] the sons and daughters of democracy. We did not live in a dictatorship [like our parents did],” she says.

Chile returned to democracy in 1990 but Pinochet’s constitution remained.

This vote “has a special meaning,” Caballero said. “For some of those adults who were young when [Pinochet] was there, they say, ‘okay, this is the last step to weeding out this guy.'”

The project includes the rights of indigenous communities

Another polarizing part of the new constitution was the sovereignty that the indigenous peoples of Chile would gain if the draft were approved.

According to Lupien, Chile is the only country in Latin America that does not recognize indigenous peoples in its constitution.

“While the new…recognizes indigenous peoples, they have certain rights,” he said.

“Even goes as far as, although the language is not too clear, but as far as allowing them to have certain land rights.”

This section in particular has been the target of misinformation in Chilean media and social media, Lupien said.

“[This] led many to believe that it would essentially lead to the disintegration of the state [and] that aboriginals will be able to impose aboriginal law on non-aboriginals. »

In fact, it’s not, Lupien clarified.

While the draft allows the practice of indigenous law in indigenous communities, it does not allow them to impose their law on those outside the community, he said.

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