The Chilean Senate on Sept. 15 unanimously approved a bill to reserve 17 of its 155 seats for indigenous peoples in the country's upcoming constitutional convention. The bill provides a fixed number of seats for representatives of designated indigenous communities in the country. The Mapuche, the largest indigenous group, are to have seven seats. Indigenous people constitute around 11.3% of Chile's total population of 19 million, and their under-representation in politics has contributed to social and economic inequalities. However, despite demands, the Senate did not reserve seats for Afro-descendants, another under-represented group in Chilean society.
Exactly one year after a mass demonstration brought more than a million people to the streets of Santiago to demand fundamental change amid a mass uprising, Chileans voted Oct. 25 to scrap the Pinochet-era constitution and for a constituent assembly to be formed to draft a new one. An overwhelming 80% voted for the drafting of a new constitution in the two-question referendum, with a similar proportion voting in favor of the new charter being drawn up by a body to be 100% elected by a popular vote rather than one made up by 50% of members of Congress. President Sebastian Piñera signed a law last year calling for the referendum in response to the protest movement then sweeping the country.
Brazilian Military Police completed the eviction of a long-standing land occupation called Quilombo Campo Grande in Minas Gerais state on Aug. 14, after a struggle of almost three days. Police brought in armored vehicles and fired tear-gas to clear the community from the land, before moving in to destroy homes and crops. Also demolished was the Eduardo Galeano Popular School, where children, youth and adults studied together. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), whose followers established the squatter community 22 years ago, protested that the mass eviction leaves some 450 families homeless in the midst of a pandemic.
Chile's Mapuche indigenous people are holding emergency community meetings in their territory to discuss how to respond to a wave of racist attacks. The most serious incident occurred Aug. 1 in Curacautín, Araucanía region, where a group of Mapuche protesters were holding an occupation of the municipal building. The protest had been called in solidarity with Celestino Córdova, a Mapuche leader imprisoned in relation to a conflict over land rights, and now on hunger strike to demand his freedom. The protesters were set upon by a mob, who ejected them from the municipal building before beating them in the street and setting several of their vehicles on fire. The attackers used racist slurs and slogans such as "¡Querían terrorismo, acá tienen terrorismo!" (You wanted terrorism, now you have terrorism!). The Carabineros looked on but did not interfere, only acting afterwards to remove remnant protesters from the building. (Resumen, Concepción; BiobioChile.cl, BiobioChile.cl, Cooperativa, Santiago; Amnesty International)
Protesters and riot police clashed on the outskirts of the Chilean capital Santiago May 17, amid growing anger over food shortages during the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Police deployed armored vehicles, water cannons and tear-gas to put down protests in the poor district of El Bosque. Residents blocked traffic and hurled stones at police in running clashes that lasted most of the day. Sporadic incidents were also reported in other parts of the city. Nightly pot-banging protests have been held for weeks in several neighborhoods, promoted under the hashtag #CacerolasContraElHambre—or, pot-banging against hunger.
For the first time since Chile was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic a month ago, protesters on April 21 gathered in Santiago's Plaza Italia—which had been renamed "Plaza Dignidad" during last year's popular uprising. Demonstrators were opposing President Sebastián Piñera's call the previous day for the country to return to work under a "new normality," in spite of the COVID-19 threat. The protesters wore masks, but were nonetheless quickly dispersed by the Carabineros, with 14 arrested. Gatherings of more than 50 continue to be banned nationwide.
The First Environmental Tribunal in the Chile's northern city of Antofagasta on Dec. 26 ruled in favor of indigenous communities that had brought suit against Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), the world's second-largest miner of lithium. The court found SQM's compliance plan for water preservation submitted to Chile's Environment Superintendency (SMA) was "insufficient," citing the "particular fragility" of the lithium-rich but extremely arid salt-flats where the company hopes to expand operations, the Salar de Atacama. Under the ruling, SQM must submit a new compliance plan, pay multi-million fines to the SMA for being out of compliance, or suspend operations. "We must protect sensitive ecosystems even more when they constitute the ancestral habitat of our native peoples whom the State of Chile is obliged to protect," the court's chief justice, Mauricio Oviedo, said in a statement. The case was brought by the local Council of Atacameño Pueblos, representing the impacted indigenous communities of Peine and Camar. (Jurist, Al Jazeera)
Chile's President Sebastian Piñera signed a law on Dec. 23 allowing a referendum on a new constitution for the country. The law was passed by the Chilean congress last week following more than two months of mass protests. The referendum is scheduled for April 26, and asks voters two questions: should Chile have a new constitution; and who should write it, an assembly of elected citizens or an assembly that would include a mix of current lawmakers?