Mapuche Woman Picked to Lead Architects of Chile’s New Constitution

On Sunday, July 4th, 2021, delegates selected a woman from Chile’s majority indigenous Mapuche people to take the lead in drafting Chile’s new constitution, a drastic shift for an ethnic group that is unacknowledged in Chile rule book. The woman who was selected is Elisa Locon, a political independent who is a Santiago University professor and activist for Mapuche educational and linguistic rights. According to Reuters, Loncon was selected by 96 of the 155 men and women, including 17 indigenous people, who make up the body who will formulate a new constitution to replace the country’s previous magna carta produced during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

According to Reuters, upon accepting the invitation, Loncon exclaimed “I am grateful for the support of the different coalitions that placed their trust and their dreams in the hands of the Mapuche nation, who voted for a Mapuche person, a woman, to change the history of this country”.

In May 2021, Chilean voters elected numerous progressive, independent delegates to redraft Chile’s constitution, urging systemic reforms after being infuriated by the country’s political status quo. This victory came as a big surprise and wake up call to conservative candidates who had failed to secure a third of the seats necessary to veto any proposals. As stated by Al Jazeera’s reporter Daniel Schweimler from Buenos Aires, “The idea of this 155-member assembly is that it tries to encompass and represent all the diverse elements of Chilean society,”. This is noteworthy because although Chile’s constitution was amended during the last decades, the previous version of Chile’s constitution was extremely unpopular and deemed as a source of social inequality.

As reported by Al Jazeera, the start of the inauguration on Sunday was delayed by many hours due to marches organized by independent, left-wing and indigenous groups fielding delegates for the constitutional body, including other interest groups, were obstructed by a heavily armed special police unit outside Santiago’s former congress building where the ceremony was going to take place. According to Reuters, demands by delegates for the special forces police to be withdrawn lead to the electoral court official presiding over the ceremony to agree to suspend the event until midday.

According to MSN, the fracas truly underestimated the challenges that would come with drafting of a new magna carta in light of the extreme divisions in Chilean society that are still prevalent after a wave of large-scale protests that began in October 2019 due to inequality and elitism in Chile and were fuelled by a fierce police response. The constitutional body was elected by a popular vote in May 2021 and is majority independent and leftist candidates, some with roots in the protest movement, and with the smallest share comprising of conservative candidates who are backed by the current center-right government. MSN reports that the delegates have promised to address pressing topics such as water and property rights and central bank independence and labour practices.

“I greatly hope that this process will help us build a country for all,” a bank employee Carolina Vergara told the AFP news agency. According to Al Jazeera, experts say that prior to the session, the great challenge the constitutions will experience is to build trust and cooperate when working together. “We must understand that we are facing something completely new for which we do not have the practice,” stated independent constituent Malucha Pinto. They further went on to say, “It is a huge and beautiful challenge that we also face as a country in the future”.