Chile between a New Constitution and a Campaign of Fear

By Gustavo A Maranges on July 28, 2022

Since July 4 Chile has been going through one of the most important processes in its history: the campaign for the approval of the new Constitution. The draft constitution that will be voted on September 4 is the result of an entire year of work by the Constituent Assembly composed of 154 people representing all sectors of Chilean society.

The country’s situation after the 2019 massive protests marked the composition of this Assembly, where over 70% of its members define themselves as left or center-left people. The draft Constitution is also the result of this reality. That is why both the members of the Constituent Assembly and its work have been the target of a fierce campaign of discredit by the Chilean right-wing sector.

The draft Constitution lays the foundation for solving the indigenous problem and recovers the state’s role within society, which are two fundamental issues of internal politics in the Andean country. Settling them can make the difference between progress or stagnation of the current neoliberal model.

The current electoral campaign is more than an attempt to approve a new constitutional text. It is about promoting real and deeper changes to help the Chilean society overcome the shackles imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship via the 1980 constitution.

That is why both right-wing forces and Chile’s progressive and socialist sectors have been engaged in a pitched battle in view of the September 4 referendum. The right-wing campaign under the slogan “I reject” is supported by a powerful media complex that goes beyond the mainstream media and traditional pollsters until reaching social media, where they act in a coordinated manner and present themselves as the majority.

This phenomenon is not new. During the 2020 campaign, the strategy was similar, but the discourse was much more belligerent and aggressive than today. On that occasion, both the polls and social media analysis pointed out Chileans did not support the idea of a new Constitution. However, the plebiscite’s results confirmed appearances and no so impartial polls can be deceiving, since over 80% of the population agreed on drafting a new Constitution.

Today, the draft Constitution is going through the second part of this media war. The right-wing could not prevent a new Constitution to be drafted, but it is betting all its chips on avoiding the approval.

They hindered the election of the Constituent Assembly as much as they could. Once elected, its work was boycotted and its members harassed. The last presidential campaign was also part of the strategy to frustrate the change since a victory by right wing Jose Antonio Kast would have meant a significant setback for the approval of the new Constitution.

The heavily financed opposition first used hatred towards the Assembly’s members to discredit their work. Now, they are using fear and uncertainty to prevent the consolidation of the change. This is why we are witnessing a barrage of news about the growth of the “I reject” option. They support and amplify this trend in the polls by the traditional pollsters. It is like something like quoting myself to back a criterion. The media power is really focused now on showing the most adverse scenario possible.

How do we explain the traditional media’s interpretation of Chilean President Gabriel Boric’s words about the calling for a new Constituent Assembly if the current draft is rejected? Boric only stated his priority was to fulfill the people’s desire for a new Constitution regardless of the next September 4th vote. However, mainstream media interpreted the statement as a lack of confidence from the president towards the draft Constitution, and some of them even dared to show it as a sign of opposition. While Boric cannot by law openly support either side he could certainly figure out ways to push it in the direction that the vast amount of Chileans desire

The right-wing has dressed up as a lamb and has taken its most radical spokespersons out of the game, like Kast, the fascist candidate who lost to Boric in the last elections. The new faces are meant as a disguise that it is not the ultra-right sectors, Pinochet’s followers, who disagree with the new constitution. They pretend to depict the process as the people’s will, a genuine citizens’ movement. However, the reality is that they are the same old wolves in sheep’s clothing.

They have used disinformation and fake news to foster fear. They have talked about a new flag, parallel justice systems for indigenous peoples, and the fragmentation of the country due to the declaration of Chile as a plurinational state. These statements are nothing more than manipulated approaches aimed to foster the fears of a society that has been built on the rejection and marginalization of indigenous communities, which represent at most 13% of a population of about 20 million people.

The destruction of the state is also another myth promoted by the right-wing since the new constitutional text aims at restoring and reshaping the state to give it enough power to stop the deterioration of the living conditions of the citizens.

This is a strategy whose purpose is to thwart the change that has been taking place in Chile for several years. It is committed to distorting the reality, confusing, and generating doubts and fears that are only credible for those who do not know any other version of this story. It is a campaign based on the fear of change and the crass manipulation of public opinion.

The South American country’s reality is different from the one shown to us by the traditional media. Since July 4, when the final version of the draft Constitution was released, the scenario has changed to the benefit of progressive forces. The government’s outreach work has stopped the avalanche of speculation on which the right wing had built its strategy of fear. Likewise, citizens have turned to social media to express their opinions, and studies show there is a balance between rejection and approval in social conversation, which is even more favorable than in 2020.

We should not forget that losing Pinochet’s Constitution means an undesirable alteration of the status quo for the local elite. The Chilean right-wing feels strong with this instrument in its hands, something that has allowed them to control and suffocate all social and progressive processes that have taken place in the country since the 90s. The Constitution has been the key element in maintaining the neoliberal state, more interested in corporate profits than in social benefits.

This is why we are not here talking about an exercise of constructive criticism or a debate to improve the current draft, but of an onslaught to avoid setting an entire society in a new direction.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English