The Chilean lawyer and rector of the Diego Portales University, Carlos Peña, has an influential pen. His analysis of the local situation and his Sunday columns in the newspaper The Mercury, where they are not afraid to go against the current, they generate opinion and debate in a country where the political scene changes with the hours. A week after the installation of the constitutional convention last Sunday and a few days before the presidential primary of the right and the left on July 18, Peña analyzes in this interview the Chilean political movement and the first hours of the constituent body. Just published Periodic ideas. Introduction to today’s society, a set of essays that promote reflection, in times of immediacy.
Question. What signals has the convention delivered in its early days of operation?
Answer. The most obvious has been that it has staged the traumatic nucleus of Chilean society. All societies have a trauma that they build on and then cover up. In the case of Chile, it is above all about the exclusion for ethnic reasons that was carried out to erect the national state that was, during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, the most stable in the region.
P. What does the arrival of a Mapuche woman, Elisa Loncón, to the presidency of the organ mean for Chile?
R. The irruption of identity politics in the public sphere: the idea that, alongside abstract citizenship, there are identities that, for reasons of gender, ethnicity or otherwise, have had to be forged in the shadow of exclusion. These identities today claim a place in liberal democracy and in societies that, like Chile’s, have experienced a rapid and inconclusive modernization process. However, I do not believe that we are in the presence of indigenism as a global ideology, something that is present in other countries of the region such as Bolivia, or of the claim for autonomy similar to the case of Catalonia, as is the case in Spain.
P. Aside from the symbolic, how do you view Loncón from a political point of view?
R. If she wants to assume a leadership that conveys, she must avoid the mere vindication or the particularism of her discourse, to instead build one that appeals to the interests of all. Until now his speech is rather particularistic – he uses the point of view of the original peoples – and democracy requires more universalism, appealing to the interests of all. That is the challenge of democracy.
P. Are there obstacles to the rational dialogue essential for democracy, as you point out in your latest book?
R. Constitutional changes are always in the midst of a paradox: they require rational dialogue, but the conflict that unleashes the changes often undermines the conditions for that dialogue to occur. The challenge of politics is to move in the middle of that paradox. Within the convention, leaderships capable of resolving it should emerge. If, on the other hand, free-hand assembly predominates (and some of that has been seen in the first days) the deliberation will become more difficult.
P. Is Chile polarized?
R. I do not believe it. Polls and opinion polls seem to indicate that the elite is polarized; but not citizenship.
P. And, then, what is citizenship in?
R. Rather, citizens are in the midst of a crisis unleashed by the modernization process and its pending challenges. People live a distance between the expectations that this successful process unleashed, on the one hand, and the experience to which they access, on the other. Bridging the gap between the expectations of a more autonomous citizenry (the most educated and well-being in the history of Chile), on the one hand, and the experience that institutions make possible, on the other, is the challenge that must be met. front facing.
P. Are there many expectations about the constituent process?
R. Yes, and as often happens, excessive expectations that the conventionists themselves have nurtured. That is the danger: that citizens believe that a constitutional charter solves problems, when in fact it must create a framework for politics to do so.
P. If there are high expectations, how is low participation in electoral processes understood?
R. It is common for something like this to happen in processes with voluntary voting. And it is a sign that the image of Chilean society as an effervescent society of longings and ills, a society politicized to the extreme, eager to twist the course and start over is not correct.
P. The opposition – the center-left, the left and the independents against the system – are the majority in the convention. Wouldn’t the results of the debate seem predictable given the forces at stake?
R. A Constitution implies ruling on matters as complex as the form of the State (how much autonomy the regions will have), the political regime (whether presidentialism or parliamentarism), the autonomy and existence of certain bodies (such as the Central Bank or the Constitutional Court), the individual rights that immunize against the power of the State, social rights. Most likely, after the debate and once intellectual leaderships appear within the convention, there will be cross agreements on each of these issues and the center appears. If everything were predictable, we could save ourselves the effort of arguing, don’t you think?
P. The right wing is cornered, with just 37 seats out of 155. Will it end up being irrelevant?
R. My opinion is that if the right remains committed to what attracts its most traditional audience (conservative sectors, the class vote) it will be irrelevant. It will not be, however, if it is able to move to the center in the middle of the debate. The right should not fear a constitutional agreement like the one reached by Spain in 1978. In this the next presidential election (which will be held in the middle of the constitutional process) will be the best sign of which right there will be in Chile. In any case, I would not rush to see the right cornered: from the presidential point of view, it still has many possibilities and a candidate, Joaquín Lavín, is very competitive.
P. Does the right have any option to retain the government in the November presidential elections?
R. I think so. There is another paradox here. There is a right-wing government on the ground and an exultant opposition; but at the same time, the right-wing candidate is very competitive (I dare to predict that it will be Lavín) and the left and center-left opposition is divided. This increases the chances that the right-wing candidate goes to the first round and that there the center vote in a compulsory voting scheme will give him the win.
P. Is there an option for the assembly to declare itself “sovereign”, as left-wing sectors like the PC claim?
R. No, there is no legal possibility of something like this happening. Legally it would amount to the convention undermining the foundations of its own existence. Are there, on the other hand, factual or empirical possibilities that something like this happens? Either. Apart from the desire to replicate processes like the Bolivian one, I don’t see the possibility of something like this happening in Chile. The Communist Party did not adhere to the agreement that gave rise to the current process and it is not loyal that it now disregards what all the rest of the political forces agreed.
P. Part of the conventionalists insist on freedom for the prisoners of the social uprisings, because, as they indicate, it was thanks to the uprisings that the constituent process was possible. Is it legit?
R. I think no. The reason they formulate does not seem correct to me: neither the crimes that have caused these processes are the cause of the Convention being installed, nor is it correct to consider that arson and other crimes are legitimized as a weapon of political action.
P. Are there political prisoners in Chile?
R. No, there are no prisoners of conscience or political prisoners in Chile. What there are are people who have committed serious crimes for political purposes. But the latter is a crime in Chile and in any democracy. Democracy accepts any purpose; but he rejects the use of violent means to achieve them.
P. Is Chile moving towards an advanced democracy, as observed from abroad?
R. Chile is in the middle of a crossroads. Until recently, it was the most prosperous country in the region, and it seemed one of the ones with the highest degree of institutionality and state legitimacy. It was an exception in the region. And today he has two paths before him: that of a constitutional solution to the Latin American one with a profusion of unlimited social rights (which coexist with daily poverty), plebiscitary democracy (which encourages leadership outside the parties) or, on the other hand, a more sober constitutional solution, with attenuation of presidentialism (or rightly parliamentarianism); recognition of native peoples and cultural plurality; with formulation of social rights whose achievement is delivered to politics; independent constitutional control; and strong individual rights. I trust that European observers do not understand by advanced democracy what they would not accept in their own countries.
P. Are you optimistic or rather skeptical of the process facing the country?
R. Today it is a civic duty to be optimistic.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.