Monday, October 26, 2020

Chileans vote to scrap Pinochet constitution (Oct. 26, 2020)

 Chileans overwhelming backed rewriting their country's constitution in a referendum held yesterday. Voters also chose for the new charter to be entirely drafted by elected representatives, meaning that no active lawmakers will participate in the process. The final count is 78.27 in favor of a new constitution, and 78.99 in favor of an elected constitutional convention.

Jubilant citizens gathered in Chile's streets last night as the results became clear, but President Sebastián Piñera cautioned it was only the start of a long process. (Guardian)

Voters will choose 155 members of the constitutional convention in April. It will be the world's first constitution to be written by a gender-equal group, as half the members of the convention must be women.They will draft the charter over nine months, with the option of a three-month extension. Once the draft is ready, voters must decide whether they accept the new charter in an obligatory exit referendum in 2022. 

Among issues likely to be at the fore are recognition of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous population, powers of collective bargaining, water and land rights and privatized systems providing healthcare, education and pensions, reports Reuters. Salvador Millaleo, a lawyer at the National Human Rights Institute, said indigenous groups, which represent about 13% of the population, see a chance to expand their legal rights over land ownership and cultural issues. (Wall Street Journal)

Yesterday's was the result of massive anti-government protests that started a year ago, made worst by violent state repression. Citizen discontent over structural social inequality eventually settled on the dictatorship-era 1980 constitution as a symbol for the many ills they were protesting over: including inadequate health care, pensions, education, and transportation. 

Until the protests last year, the idea of a new Constitution “wasn’t on anyone’s agenda,” Lucía Dammert, a political scientist and board member of the research center Espacio Público, told the New York Times. “The fact we are now discussing a new Constitution is a victory of the social movement.”

But critics are concerned the redrafting will open up a two-year period of further instability that could undermine the country's relative economic success. The writing of the constitution will coincide with next year’s presidential election, notes the Wall Street Journal.


Leopoldo López fled Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López fled to Spain this weekend. He had spent the past six years in jail, house arrest and diplomatic asylum. Most recently, he had sought refuge at the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Caracas after he helped lead a failed uprising against Nicolás Maduro's government in April 2019. (Associated Press)

He appears to have slipped across the border to Colombia and went to Spain from there.  His protegee, opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- who is considered Venezuela's legitimate leader by a chunk of the international community -- claimed the escape as a coup against Maduro's government. "Maduro, you don't control anything," Guaidó wrote on Twitter, adding that the opposition had succeeded in "mocking your repressive system" by getting López out of the embassy.

It is unclear how López left the ambassador’s residence, given the heavy state security presence permanently stationed outside. After López fled, the Venezuelan police detained a security guard working at the Spanish embassy, reports the New York Times.

The move comes ahead of legislative elections scheduled for Dec. 6. They do not meet minimum requirements of freedom and fairness, according to international observers, but are constitutionally mandated. They will alter the composition of the National Assembly, the only opposition-dominated branch of government in Venezuela and a source of political legitimacy for Guaidó's claim.

Analysts say López's exile could be aimed at bolstering Guaidó's international standing, reports the Washington Post

But López’s flight is likely to be held up by the government as a trophy, according to the Associated Press. López had long stubbornly refused to leave, even when his wife and children fled to Spain last year. “It’s probably the clearest sign that the continued opposition effort to unseat Maduro has floundered that a committed stay-in-Venezuela leader like López has chosen to finally leave,” said Raul Gallegos, a Colombia-based analyst at Control Risks consultancy.

(See also AFP.)

News Briefs

  • Bolivian electoral authorities confirmed Luis Arce's landslide win in the Oct. 18 presidential elections. Arce won 55 percent of the vote, his closest opponent, former president Carlos Mesa had just under 29 percent. The results matched the exit polls and voters’ expectations. But the big winner was democracy according to many analysts. Just a year after contested elections ended in the ouster of former president Evo Morales and an interim government that violently repressed his supporters, the election went smoothly, and its results were quickly and widely accepted, reports the New York Times.
  • "A more stunning reversal and a more resounding victory for MAS – not to mention the prospects for democratic advance in South America – would be hard to imagine; no one forecast such margins," notes the London Review of Books. Arce will govern with a majority in both houses of the Plurinational Assembly. MAS held its 21 Senate seats (out of 36), and increased its share in the lower house to 73 seats (out of 130). "The election results demonstrate, not for the first time, that the western highlands and highland valleys, with their high concentration of rural and urban indigenous voters, ultimately determine the parameters of sovereignty and political representation in Bolivia."
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse ”declared Friday that there will be no elections until a new constitution is adopted. Moïse’s declaration during an address to the nation is the opposite of what the U.S. and the Organization of American States have been pushing ever since Parliament became dysfunctional in January, leaving Haiti to be ruled by decree, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombian security forces have killed a rebel commander known best by his nom de guerre Uriel, during an operation in the coastal Pacific province of Choco, announced president Iván Duque this morning. Uriel, whose real name was Andres Felipe Vanegas Londono, was a leader in the National Liberation Army (ELN) and was known for his media appearances, online videos and a Twitter account, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, becoming the second country in Latin America to report that number in less than a week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Cycling is increasingly popular in Bogotá, and has gotten an extra pandemic boost: bike use is up 40% since last year. But cyclists are also targets for thieves and aggressive drivers, prompting a boom in self-defense classes, reports the Guardian.
  • Protests last week in Colombia, which culminated on Wednesday in a national strike, amount to "an extended, cooperative howl," over the thwarted peace process in Colombia's rural areas, and violence that threatens the lives of those who live there, reports the New York Times. Indigenous groups, who have been particularly affected by criminal groups' violence, have played a strong role in the recent protests. "Minga is an Indigenous word, one used long before the Spanish arrived in South America, to refer to an act of communal work, an agreement between neighbors to build something together: a bridge, a road, a government. But minga has also come to mean a collective act of protest, a call to recover what a community believes it has lost: territory, peace, lives." (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • A vibrant underground of rap, metal, folk and more is thriving among Brazil’s embattled Indigenous tribes. A long-existing scene, still little-known among non-Indigenous audiences, is gaining visibility with lyrics and videos that address Brazil’s alleged ecocide and ethnocide. By bridging ancestral and urban music with technology, Indigenous musicians are advocating for themselves and fighting for their existence, reports the Guardian.
  • A new study found that bird species are in decline even in the remote parts of the Amazon, far from human interference. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian regulator Anvisa authorized a São Paulo biomedical center to import 6 million doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, one day after President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil would not buy the Chinese vaccine. São Paulo governor João Doria said Anvisa told him it will not bow to political pressure over the approval of potential coronavirus vaccines. (Reuters)
  • Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the western Caribbean very early Sunday morning, and was expected to become a hurricane on today as it heads toward the eastern end of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Zeta is the record-tying 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, matching 2005 for the most names used in a season. Hurricane season still has five weeks left, and the record for most named storms could fall. Scientists link the increase in hurricanes to climate change. (Washington Post, Guardian)
  • Climate change -- rising temperatures and melting glaciers -- have altered Peru's Snow Star Festival of Qoyllur Rit'i -- New York Times photo essay. 
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.

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