How did the protests develop in Chile?

Political camps in Chile agree on the way to a new constitution

After weeks of protests, the political parties in Chile have agreed on a path to a new constitution. The existing constitution dates from the times of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Around 30 years after its return to democracy, Chile wants to finally free itself from the dark legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. Across the various political camps, the parties in the South American country agreed on the way to a new constitution. "We will have a 100 percent democratic constitution for the first time," said Senate President Jaime Quintana after a negotiation marathon early Friday morning (local time). Only the communists did not support the agreement.

Most recently there were mass demonstrations and sometimes violent riots in Chile. In addition to better access to education and health care as well as more social justice, the demonstrators also called for a new constitution. "We want a peaceful and constructive way out of the crisis," said Senate President Quintana after the breakthrough in the negotiations.

Constitution still from the Pinochet dictatorship

The Chileans are to vote in a referendum in April next year on whether they want a new constitution, as the representatives of the conservative government coalition and the opposition announced in the capital Santiago de Chile. In addition, the voters should decide whether a constituent assembly should draw up the new constitution from specially elected delegates or whether half of the body consists of parliamentarians.

When the new text has been worked out, the citizens should vote on it in another referendum. Chile's 1980 constitution dates from the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Despite multiple reforms, there is still criticism of their authoritarian origins, the strong bundling of powers in the central government and the limited influence of the citizens. In a recent poll, 78 percent of Chileans voted for a new constitution.

The government of Conservative President Sebastián Piñera welcomed the agreement. "Today Chile won," said government spokeswoman Karla Rubilar. Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said: "This agreement is a fundamental and historic step towards a new social pact."

Protests last for weeks

The South American country has been rocked by protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and the police for weeks. Around 20 people were killed in the riots, more than 2,000 people were injured, numerous shops were looted and several buildings were set on fire.

In view of the social unrest, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera canceled the Asia-Pacific summit and the world climate conference in Santiago. Chile was long considered a haven of stability in the troubled region of South America. However, there are high income differences in the richest country in the region. In addition, education and health care in particular are very expensive.

The violent protests were ultimately sparked by a relatively modest increase in metro prices. Many of the demonstrators soon demanded more: a departure from the neoliberal economic model and a fundamental reform of the constitution. "The new constitution will guarantee basic social rights," said Christian Democrat MP Matías Walker on the radio station Cooperativa.