Unlike people, countries cannot commit suicide. But Chileans’ response to the riots that erupted in late October, and have continued with varying levels of violence, has been profoundly self-destructive nonetheless. Time is running out to avert a disaster.
As I wrote for Americas Quarterly last October, the unrest was triggered by “frustration at the gate of the promised land” – the feeling, shared by many Chileans, that they have been denied the full benefits, rights and services of a true middle-class country. I believed then, and I still believe today, that many of these grievances are justified. “An abusive elite, an unresponsive government and an unkept promise of meritocracy and equal opportunity” remain among our biggest challenges. Deep change is necessary; without it, Chile will fail to complete its journey of the last 30 years and graduate to high-income level status.
Yet most Chileans appear to have wrongly concluded that our 1980 Constitution, which was drafted during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, is the main source of our country’s ills. If an April 26 referendum passes, as polls currently suggest it will, the Chilean people will embark on a two-year long process to write a new Constitution that will be full of uncertainty, put a great deal of normal life (including economic activity and investment) on hold, and likely yield a document that is not substantially different in content from our current charter. As I will explain below, the outcome of this process may well be the opposite of what its supporters intend: A country that is less stable, less equal, and more closely resembles some of our less stable Latin American peers.
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