When the Path is Made by Walking: Human Rights and the Chilean Constituent Process

When the Path is Made by Walking: Human Rights and the Chilean Constituent Process

There is a portion of a larger poem by Spanish author Antonio Machado, well known into Latin American and Caribbean peoples.  It is popularly called “Caminante, no hay camino” or “Traveler, there is no road”.  It says this:

“Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.”

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.

Chile’s constituent assembly process has come from the footprints of a long journey of pain and sorrow.   The path started in 1973, as Chile became a neoliberal “laboratory” model after the September 11 Coup d’Etat.  Walking through a Cold War framework created a path for the dictatorship and its allies to demonstrate that the market economy could generate “socio-economic development” and not just “underdevelopment.” For these purposes, Augusto Pinochet´s violent regime promoted the approval of the 1980´s Constitution considered illegitimate by many social sectors.  The leading critics of the actual Charter signal the impossibility to counteract the normative consequences of those ideological elements imposed by the original liberal-authoritarian design.  Citizens could not move forward in their claims of justice because of specific constitutional constraints.  Besides, the political discussion was always limited to that framework, affecting Chilean democracy and the self-determination of its people.

A new way of walking towards justice in Chile could be placed out of an intense social mobilization process in the face of abuse and inequality.  It is important to remember that on October 18, 2020, Santiago and the rest of Chile were shaken by massive social protests.  Vast sectors of the middle and popular classes have expressed their rejection of the current neoliberal model.  The demonstrations resulted in large marches, massive “caceroleos” (banging of pots and pans), and destruction, looting, and fires in subway stations, supermarkets, and public places.  The media reported extensively on the social mobilization throughout 2019.

One of the direct results of the people marching through the streets of Chile was the need to update the constitutional principles, by drafting and approving a new Charter for the country.  The process to elect a Constituent Assembly was approved by electoral vote on October 2020 and, once elected, it started debating motions for a new constitution.  The assembly began a path of what is likely to be a lengthy process, discussing plans to nationalize mining, the creation of a one-chamber Congress, water rights, and protections for Indigenous territories, among other issues.  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/15/chile-constituent-assembly-begins-debating-new-constitution.  In that sense, Chile joined the same path as other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, that started movements to upgrade their Constitutions in the last twenty years, at least.  Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Cuba worked on consultations to their citizens and ended up with constitutional texts that reorganized their governmental structure, recognized nature as a subject of rights and redefined the economy for the common good, among other matters.

Popular Education in Health (EPES, acronym in Spanish), one of Global Ministries’ partners in Chile, has been active since the beginning of the Movement, developing materials with information for citizens to participate and take ownership of the constituent process. Sonia Covarrubias, EPES’ Executive Secretary, reported on the campaign they are working with the citizens of Chile:

“In sectors where EPES works, persons were informed about the constituent process, the critical dates, scopes, and limitations.  Since September 2020, informational materials were provided on the constitutional process in which the country is living, specifically on the national plebiscite of October 25, 2020, informing on the vote that each person had to mark, what was the mixed convention and constitutional convention, and on the critical dates of the process after the plebiscite. The materials were geared toward women citizens who are members of the organizations that work with EPES.  Due to the context of the pandemic and quarantines, all the materials produced were designed for sharing through social networks, especially WhatsApp.

Once the people approved the creation of the Constituent Process and elected its representatives to the Constitutional Assembly, we have been holding conversations through 2021 regarding specific initiatives and themes to be presented as proposal to be included in the text of the new Constitution.  We broadcasted and promoted the participation of the people through our EPES’ Facebook Live and YouTube sites, and had the participation of experts, activists, and social leaders.

Regarding the challenges faced by the orientation process, Sonia expressed the difficulty of ‘carrying out activities in the context of the pandemic and with quarantined communities.’ We worked through electronic communications technology with the collaborating organizations of EPES, training on how to use a cell phone and how to connect to Zoom and Jitsi Meet platforms.  We had to readapt the programmed activities, and face-to-face ones were suspended. This form of work made it possible to sustain contact with women constantly throughout the period.

Throughout 2021 and the first months of 2022, EPES has promoted several initiatives out of consultations and support from their communities, to be presented into the Constitutional Assembly.  Some of these initiatives deal with themes like the constitutional recognition for the right to migrate and the rights of migrants and refugees in Chile and of Chileans abroad, the right to food, and the right to live a life free of violence for women, children, diversities, and gender dissidences.

Regarding plans, EPES wantsto continue supporting the vast dissemination of the constituent process in Chile among women of popular organizations.  They seek to promote the informed participation of communities, the most excluded sectors, especially women, during the discussion of the new Constitution.  They hope that constituents can express their demands out of the expectations from communities.  The experience is one of defining the path as they walk.  EPES walks with their communities so tomorrow can be a place of rest in peace, justice, reconciliation and the fullness of life. 

Learn more about the work of the EPES here. To make a gift in support of the EPES, you may do so here.