Friday, October 23, 2020

Chileans to vote on constitution (Oct. 23, 2020)

 Chileans head to the polls on Sunday, where they are expected to approve a referendum question on whether to rewrite the country's dictatorship era constitution. They will also likely decide that the new charter should be drafted by an elected assembly (with gender parity), rather than a combination of elected delegates and lawmakers. 

Optimists hope for a new constitution that better defends social rights, while pessimists are concerned that a rewrite will jeopardize the underpinnings of Chile's economic strength. Others are worried that too much stock has been put into the constitutional solution, and that the process will be insufficient to quell the country's unrest. (Guardian)

The referendum stems from massive social protests that caused upheaval in Chile last year, broadly focused on the country's significant social disparities. Voters are interested in higher pay, gender equity, improved health care access and quality medical care, pension reform, more rights for Indigenous peoples, access to affordable public transportation and free public education. But on a deeper level, the protests and the referendum are about a thoroughly discredited status quo, wrote Michael Albertus in a recent New York Times op-ed

There is a significant risk that a new constitution will promise more than it can deliver, argued Patricio Navia in a recent Americas Quarterly piece. "The left-wing opposition has transformed the constitution into a scapegoat for all the shortcomings of Chilean democracy. For many voters, a new constitution is a short-cut for better pensions, health care, education and social services. ... the final document is likely to have an overwhelming number of unfunded mandates."

But others argue that such a constitution would strengthen the reforms needed to support protesters' demands. And the elected assembly option will incorporate women's and indigenous perspectives in ways that are unprecedented in Chile. Regardless of the results, it will be a constitution that results from a participative process, writes María Jaraquemada in a hopeful Americas Quarterly piece. "Chile shows that sustained protests can bring sweeping change," write Peter Siavelis and Jennifer M. Piscopo in the Conversation.

The final document will also be tempered by a two-thirds approval requirement for each clause, the constitutional convention will likely have a conservative, pro-business minority with blocking power, notes the Economist.

Protests last weekend in Santiago and other Chilean cities also point to the potential that the referendum and constitutional drafting process -- necessarily drawn out -- will not quell the massive unrest that caused upheaval in the country last year. (Associated Press)

News Briefs

Trinidad and Tobago
  • Trinidad and Tobago's government dismissed fears that a floating oil-storage vessel with nearly 55 million gallons of Venezuelan crude oil floating off its coast is a looming environmental disaster for the area. Authorities said the ship is not listing to the side and there is no threat of a spill, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazil joined the U.S., Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia and Uganda in a nonbinding international antiabortion declaration, the Geneva Consensus Declaration. The text also affirms the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society,” a statement with clear meaning for countries that restrict LGBT rights, notes the Washington Post. The Geneva Consensus formalizes a coalition united in opposition to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which forms the basis for the characterization of abortion and same-sex marriage as human rights under international law.
  • Pope Francis made waves this week in a documentary in which he said he supported same-sex civil unions in Argentina. But he did so in 2010, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as part of an effort to reject same-sex marriage, which was approved by lawmakers that same year, writes Bruno Bimbi in the New York Times Español. In Argentina, as in other countries, when marriage equality gained social and political traction "conservatives -- and, quietly, the Church -- offered civil union to impede it. It was a blackmail that bet on the urgency of many families to obtain basic rights..."
  • Three years after the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas, myriad armed groups have emerged in Colombia. This piece by Juan Pappier and Kyle Johnson discusses the challenges in characterizing these new groups through the lens of international humanitarian law -- a critical though largely ignored issue in the ongoing debates in the country about the government's military strategy. (European Journal of International Law, Silla Vacía)
  • Hundreds of social leaders have been killed in Colombia in recent years -- beyond the human tragedy, the deaths have significant costs for activists, who lose years of accumulated experience with each murder. Silla Vacía delves into the numbers a bit, and found that members of local community councils and indigenous people are disproportionately affected in the social leader homicides. Also: support for crop substitution is a ticking time bomb for advocates.
  • Former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos is not the only high level member of Mexico's military suspected of colluding with drug cartels. At least five former generals have been implicated by testimony and are under investigation writes Omar Sánchez de Tagle in the Post Opinión. (See Monday's post.)
  • Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación's turf war with local rival Santa Rosa de Lima has turned Mexico Guanajuato state into a bloody battleground, reports the Associated Press.
  • There is also increasing evidence that CJNG is expanding its presence in Mexico City, largely by allying itself with the Fuerza Anti-Unión to take on the capital’s largest criminal gang, La Unión Tepito, reports InSight Crime.
  • State-supplied shelters in Caracas keep residents in squalid conditions -- vulnerable to Covid-19, but also any other number of diseases, reports AFP.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the most entrepreneurial regions in the world, but it also has one of the highest failure rates for female entrepreneurs. This is, in part, due to lack of funding opportunities, without which women-owned businesses are unable to grow beyond the category of a microenterprise or move out of the informal economy. "There is an opportunity for the private sector to advance equality by incorporating a gender lens in innovative financing," argues María Noel-Vaeza in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mentorship can a key role for women's professional development, but often the best relationships are those that grow organically, writes Susan Segal in Americas Quarterly
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 


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