As the world is struggling to end the COVID-19 pandemic, this struggle overshadows the myriad of other problems in different parts of the world. Chile is not an exception. With preparations for a Constitutional referendum underway, immigration, racism and discrimination against indigenous groups are the hot topics in Chile. According to Liam Miller, the upcoming referendum will provide an “era-defining vote” for Chile, and in many respects, for other countries of Latin America. Questions remain as to whether constitutional changes can reverse the course of history and address the legacy of racism against immigrants and indigenous groups. In his article, Miller describes how Chile is fighting to reduce racism and encourage multiculturalism, but the truth is that even the best Constitution will never erase the painful memories of discrimination and violence endured by indigenous communities and immigrants in the past.
In his article, Miller discusses several issues that are closely related – immigration, indigenous populations, racism and discrimination, and the referendum for a new Constitution. This referendum is just the beginning of a long constitutional process. In the best scenario, the country will not see a new Constitution before 2022 (Miller). Today’s Chile follows the 1980s constitution (Miller). It is no longer fit to manage the realities of multiculturalism and population diversity in the country. Discrimination is pervasive and takes many forms. For example, Miller writes about Mapuche prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protect their rights and demand adequate attitudes from correctional officers. Arson and firearm attacks, as well as violent conflicts between government forces and indigenous groups, are not uncommon (Miller). Immigration adds to this controversy: the number of immigrants continues to increase, and many of them become scapegoats for the country’s most serious social and economic problems (Miller). These conflicts illustrate decades of continued discrimination against multicultural groups in Chile, but the promise of a new Constitution sparks new hopes to end racism and transform the society (Miller).
Miller’s article reflects the complex political and socioeconomic environment in Chile. The country has a long history of racism and discrimination against indigenous populations. Sarah Jones writes that inequality has been a long-term reality for Chile. These inequalities have become particularly obvious and widespread during the coronavirus pandemic. It is not a secret that COVID-19 hits the most vulnerable and disadvantaged layers, not only in Chile but across the world (Miller). According to John Bartlett, Chile’s response to COVID-19 has been culture-blind. For example, curfews were imposed to keep people at home. However, most indigenous communities live in rural territories, and they cannot stay indoors for weeks and months and not go outside (Bartlett). Fernanda Gandara cites Daniela Mallileo, a 34-year-old Mapuche singer: “We are people of the land.” It means that the cultural and heritage aspects of life in Chile must be considered when policies are developed to promote public health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, cultural blindness is still a distinctive feature of life in Chile, and people go out and self-organize, because they are no longer willing to tolerate it.
Racism and discrimination are not the only issues in Chile. Immigration creates another challenge, as the number of people who come to Chile to work and live keeps growing. According to Miller, since 2010, immigration has increased from 1.8 to 7.8 percent. Since 2014, thousands of black Haitians have entered Chile, looking for a job (Miller). As a result, anti-immigrant sentiments in Chile have become much stronger, turning racism and discrimination against immigrants into a routine reality. Those who protest against discrimination and unfairness also say that nationalism and anti-immigrant policies will not do any good to Chile (Jones). Nationalism should give way to multiculturalism and tolerance across the country. The politics of nationalism is a politics of destruction (Miller). This is probably why people are so enthusiastic about constitutional changes (Miller). With a new constitution, Chile hopes to reverse the history of monoculturalism, creating a climate for collaboration, cooperation and trust.
In fact, Chile is getting ready to vote for a new Constitution on October, 25 (Miller). Thousands of people in the country hope that the new Constitution will end decades of dictatorship and improve the quality of life in the country (Jones). Yet, as significant a document a Constitution can be, it cannot change public mentality; nor can it destroy the painful memories of indigenous people and immigrants who experienced discrimination, abuse and violence. Also, constitutional changes may not be enough to restore society’s trust in government and indigenous people. For a long time, mainstream media spread violent images and barbaric messages, depicting Mapuche people as bloody and dangerous (Gandara). Even if a new Constitution is voted in, it will take years to find a balanced solution and minimize the scope of discrimination against indigenous communities and immigrants. It may take several generations of Chileans and Indigenous people to reduce the pain of racism and create a multicultural society in Chile.
To conclude, present-day Chile is trying to reduce racism and discrimination against indigenous communities and immigrants. Miller’s article creates a sense of cautious optimism that a new Constitution will end racism and improve the political and socioeconomic climate in the country. The truth is that Constitutional changes alone may not suffice to reverse discrimination in Chile. However, they can create a better context for achieving equality and justice across diverse communities in Chile. Overall, the country should be realistic about future uncertainty. Years will pass before it becomes a model of multicultural society for South America and the rest of the world.