Chile’s electionOver the weekend of May 15-16, 2021, a very unique election took place in Chile. Chileans voted for mayors, governors and city councilors. The distinctive part of Chile’s election was the vote for 155 representatives who will make up the Constitutional Convention responsible for drafting the new constitution of Chile.

The Need for a New Constitution

Back in 1973, Augusto Pinochet came into power as an authoritarian military dictator. Pinochet drafted a constitution that was reflective of his rule. Since then, Chile has been making the transition to democracy through several presidential administrations, the current being that of President Sebastián Piñera. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution has been a point of contention because many Chileans perceive it as favoring corporations over citizens.

Additionally, the constitution does not even mention indigenous people who account for more than 1.5 million Chileans. Chileans generally want to move away from the old constitution, which symbolizes the move from a transitional period into a full embrace of democracy. A new constitution would allow this to happen. Chile’s election decides who participates in the drafting of this monumental document.

Protests in Chile

Public disapproval came to a head in October 2019 when massive protests swept the South American country. Major cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción experienced riots, looting and several casualties as a result. An increase in subway rates initially triggered the demonstrations. The riots continued over concerns of extreme economic inequality and poor public health and education systems. One of the demands of the protests was to rewrite the constitution. A new constitution was seen as a solution to address the root of all the issues.

In October 2020, Chile’s government held a referendum in response to the protests. The referendum asked Chileans if they would want a new constitution, and if so, Chileans were to specify the type of body they would task with drafting this new constitution. Chileans responded with a majority of more than 78% of the country voting in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a group elected by popular vote.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is the first in the world to have a gender parity requirement. Because of the election, 50% of legislative seats will belong to women. Another milestone is the inclusion of Chile’s indigenous people. Indigenous representatives will account for 17 of the 155 convention seats. Seven of these seats go to the Mapuche, the largest Indigenous community. In recent years, industrial deforestation has wiped out much of the Mapuche lands, greatly harming the community.

In addition, six out of the 155 representatives will come from the LGBTQ+ community. Although the nation is facing great troubles, the achievements of Chile’s election should not be overlooked. The built-in diversity and representation should be cause for global celebration. The majority of seats have gone to independent and opposition candidates. This goes against the right-leaning coalition that is currently in power under President Piñera. Since the “government-backed candidates” now take up only about a quarter of the seats, they are left unable to pass legislation or block dramatic changes.

The Goals of a New Constitution

One of the primary goals of the leftward shift is fighting poverty in Chile, but not in the traditional sense. In terms of GDP per capita, Chile is considered the wealthiest country in South America, but the wealth is distributed very unequally. Chilean’s want the country’s wealth to be distributed equally, which should be reflected in better housing, education and healthcare for all.

Whether through indigenous rights, equitable educational services or the taxation of the wealthy, the Constitutional Convention will figure out how to make Chile a more equitable place. A well-structured and democratic constitution has the potential to bring lasting change to the country and reduce extreme poverty, which is why Chile’s election is such a significant moment in the country’s history.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 vaccination in ChileThe campaign to administer the COVID-19 vaccination in Chile currently has one of the largest vaccination outreaches in the world. As of April 19, 2021, more than 40% of the Chilean population has received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nevertheless, the South American country has seen a concerning spike in cases amid the vaccine rollout. As of April 14, 2021, the number of total cases had increased to more than 9,000.

COVID-19 in Chile

In an April 2021 press release, Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Association stated “For most countries, vaccines are not going to stop this wave of the pandemic. There are simply not enough of them available to protect everyone in the countries at greatest risk.” In particular, Chileans in rural areas have disproportionately less access to the vaccine. To ensure inclusion, the Chilean government is prioritizing nationwide vaccination centers.

Access to Vaccines

The Chilean government has struggled to deescalate the risk of contagion and stabilize the country’s herd immunity. Overcoming COVID-19 requires all members of Chilean society to be accounted for. The government has made an effort to prioritize accessibility for all, especially rural populations. Chile has set up mobile vaccination centers in markets, universities, soccer stadiums and also established drive-through vaccination sites. The government has succeeded in creating more than 1,400 vaccination centers around the country to ensure that everybody has equitable access regardless of location.

A Surge in Cases

The government moved with false confidence as it created a permit system in January 2021, enabling Chileans to travel internationally during the summer vacation period. Similarly, businesses such as gyms, malls and restaurants began to operate at full capacity. These relaxed measures hindered the positive effects of the countries vaccination efforts. Without any contact tracing in place, the virus rapidly spread. “The situation we’re in is one we saw coming,” says Dr. Claudia Cortés, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chile. “More than four million people traveled around the country. That led the virus, which had been largely contained to some major areas, to spread across the country.”

Virus Mutations and Vaccine Efficacy

The health science community believes that surges in cases are tied to the emergence of more intense strains of the virus, such as the P1 variant. Furthermore, doubts have arisen about the true efficacy of the Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine that was used for the COVID-19 vaccination in Chile. Chile published its own research on the efficacy of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine. The data indicates that a single shot is only 16% effective in preventing infection and 36% effective at preventing hospitalization.

As a result, the Chilean government is prioritizing efforts for citizens to receive a second dose. Furthermore, Chile has secured four million doses of the more effective AstraZeneca vaccine, which starts arriving in May 2021. President Sebastian Piñera has also purchased 1.8 million vials of the single-dose vaccine, CanSino. Because the CanSino vaccine requires only one injection, health officials believe the vaccine rollout will be an easier process.

In light of a COVID-19 surge, Chile is taking urgent action to slow the rate of infection and achieve herd immunity. With government commitment and global support for vaccine equity, Chile can successfully manage the spread of COVID-19 within its border.

Conor Green
Photo: Flickr