© Reuters. A protester holds an object during a demonstration as members of the constitutional assembly hold the first session to draft a new constitution, in Santiago, Chile, on July 4, 2021. REUTERS / Pablo Sanhueza
By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Delegates on Sunday chose a woman from Chile’s indigenous Mapuche majority to lead them in drafting the country’s new constitution, a dramatic change for a group that is not recognized in the country’s current rule book. .
Elisa Loncon, 58, an independent politician, is a university professor from Santiago and an activist for Mapuche educational and linguistic rights. It was elected by 96 of the 155 men and women, including 17 indigenous people, who make up the constitutional body that will draft a new text to replace the previous Chilean Constitution drawn up during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Loncon accepted the position with a clenched fist above his head, telling his colleagues in noisy celebrations: “I greet the people of Chile from the north to Patagonia, from the sea to the mountains, to the islands, to all who look at us. today, “she said.
“I am grateful for the support of the different coalitions that placed their trust and dreams in the hands of the Mapuche nation, who voted for a Mapuche person, a woman, to change the history of this country.”
His election represents a culminating point in a day of great drama that included the suspension of the swearing-in of delegates after protests outside and inside the venue, and clashes with the police forced the event to be delayed.
The problems arose after marches organized by independent, left-wing and indigenous groups deploying delegates to the constitutional body, as well as other interest groups, encountered heavily armed police officers manning barricades outside the old Santiago Congress building where the ceremony was taking place.
Delegates inside the event then protested with organizers over heavy-handed police tactics, pounding drums and shouting over a classical youth orchestra playing the national anthem.
Amid delegates’ demands that the “repressive” special forces police withdraw, the electoral court official presiding over the ceremony agreed to suspend the event until noon.
The altercation underscored the intense challenges to drafting a new constitution in a context of deep divisions still simmering after Chile was torn apart by massive protests that began in October 2019 over inequality and elitism and were fueled by a fierce police response.
The constitutional body was elected by popular vote in May and is dominated by independent and leftist candidates, some with roots in the protest movement, with a smaller proportion of more conservative candidates backed by the current center-right government.
Delegates have pledged to address issues including water and property rights, central bank independence and labor practices, sparking nervousness among investors over potentially significant changes to the world’s leading producer’s free market system.
Before the ceremony began, Aymara and Mapuche delegates performed spiritual ceremonies with songs and dances in the downtown streets surrounding the agency’s new headquarters and on a nearby hillside.
Not recognized in the current constitution, they hope that a new text will grant their nations new cultural, political and social rights.
The commission has up to one year to agree on a common regulation, establish committees and draft a new text.
Leandro Lima, an analyst at the Southern Cone Control Risks, said the independents brought “legitimacy” to the process given Chileans’ deep mistrust of established politics, but the paucity of experience in policymaking and deep ideological divisions could cause critical delays in writing the text itself. .