Instead of building a consensus among Chileans, the constitutional reform process has been a grand distraction from their primary concerns: (1) rising organized crime and (2) anemic economic growth.
Chile is not suffering an insecurity spike akin to those in Mexico, Venezuela, and Ecuador. However, narcos have been noticeably increasing their penetration in the country. This trend points to an unprecedented crisis, if it is not nipped in the bud pronto.
Chile’s economy, on the other hand, remains stagnant. The lack of economic growth is leading to an almost unthinkable Chilean exodus, after being a magnet for more than a generation. Chileans, like other Latin Americans, are now looking for better opportunities across the world.
While the Gabriel Boric administration and the opposition have focused on the constitutional process for the past lustrum, they have failed to tackle these two pressing issues. The lack of concrete measures against insecurity and stagnation has led to citizen disillusionment: 60 percent fail to identify with any of the country’s political parties.
A Breeding Ground for Criminals
Local and foreign criminal organizations have jumped on the institutional uncertainty driven by the constitutional process to gain territorial control and scale their operations. Chile’s numerous ports and proximity to some of the world’s largest cocaine producers—Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru—make it an attractive destination for prominent foreign criminal organizations.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has revealed that the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels—both from Mexico—are increasing their presence in Chile. On December 5, 2023, a local court in Iquique sentenced two members of the Sinaloa cartel to at least 10 years in prison for narcotrafficking.
In addition, the presence of the Aragua Train, Venezuela’s largest criminal network, in Chile has ballooned over the past four years. They appear to mostly focus, at least right now, on human trafficking across illegal passages at Chile’s borders with Bolivia and Peru.
Chileans have not failed to notice Boric’s impotent when addressing the insecurity crisis. According to the National Statistics Institute, the insecurity perception increased by 4 percent from 2021 to 2022. Insecurity has become the citizens’ chief stated policy concern, and with good reason: the homicide rate increased from 4.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 to 6.7 in 2022. To put the numbers into perspective, Argentina’s homicide rate in 2022 was 4.3.
When Ideology Trumps Growth
The persistent and enviable economic growth that led Chile to become a regional powerhouse no longer exists. In its December 2023 report, the Central Bank noted that the country’s GDP had failed to grow that year, even before a per capita adjustment. Correspondingly, unemployment had increased from 7.3 in 2019 to 8.7 percent in 2023. A bounce back after severe COVID-19 measures has failed to materialize.
Between 2010 and 2013, Chile experienced annual GDP per capita growth of 4 percent. Michelle Bachelet’s second term (2014–2018) introduced interventionist reforms and raised taxes. This led to 0.5 percent annual GDP per capita growth between 2014 and 2017. The 2019 riots and the effect of COVID-19 lockdowns impeded even that level of economic activity, so between 2019 and 2023 Chile’s GDP per capita grew by only 1 percent.
Chile is also experiencing an institutional crisis. In 2014, the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, which considers institutional quality, ranked Chile seventh out of 177 countries. In 2023, Heritage ranked Chile 22nd. Similarly, the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking had Chile 34th out of 190 countries in 2014. By 2020, the index’s most recent year, the country had descended to 59th.
Chile’s declining relative prosperity is pushing citizens away, an unprecedented phenomenon in the 21st century. According to an El Líbero report, between January 2021 and May 2022, more than 80,000 Chileans departed their country. The Central Bank estimates that citizens have taken $30 billion out of Chile between 2020 and September 2023.
The Constitutional Road to Nowhere
The so-called 2019 social outburst in Chile shocked the world, since the country had previously been immune to political instability. Seeking to end Chile’s so-called neoliberal political and economic model, the riots urged the Sebastián Piñera administration (2018–2022) to begin a constitutional overhaul.
Espero que con esta segunda derrota del “octubrismo” que abogó, desde un inicio, por cambiar nuestra Constitución y la segunda ratificación de la actual, los partidos q se dicen de derecha NO VUELVAN NUNCA A CAER EN EL CHANTAJE y la defiendan como es debido.
MAS VALENTÍA SEÑORES!
— Tere Marinovic Vial (@tere_marinovic) December 18, 2023
By 2020, 78 percent of Chileans favored a new constitution. Due to aggressive protests and the left’s intense rhetoric, a majority of citizens believed that a refoundation of the republic was necessary to tackle the social, political, and economic challenges. The left’s rhetoric, however, spread falsehoods. Although the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship established the current Constitution in 1980, the Ricardo Lagos administration removed all authoritarian traces in 2005.
In 2022, 62 percent of Chileans rejected the first constitutional draft due to its leftist bias. It hindered the rule of law by creating multiple justice systems inside the state. The draft also broadened the scope of land expropriations by the state.
Again in December 2023, 55 percent of Chileans rejected the new proposed constitution—mostly written by right-leaning parties. Boric affirmed that this was the last attempt to rewrite the Constitution during his term. Even he acknowledged that “Chile has other concerns” at the moment.
Este video es de julio. No era tan difícil de prever. El tema estaba cerrado con el 62% del rechazo del año pasado con victoria sobre la izquierda. La derrota actual es responsabilidad de Chile vamos y luego de la centro izquierda y el partido republicano. En todo caso el fondo… pic.twitter.com/qH2AQyYIfL
— AXEL KAISER (@AXELKAISER) December 17, 2023
The leftist parties that supported the 2019 riots preferred to stay with the so-called Pinochet Constitution instead of approving an opposition-written one. This suggests that all along they wanted a change toward their ideology, not a consensus among the society.
With the amended 1980 Constitution remaining in place, the left will eventually riot again in an attempt to provoke a political change in the country. Chileans will need to be mature enough to stop any violent, authoritarian revolution that could pave the way to dictatorship.
Chile has won by finally ending the useless constitutional debate. The legal framework that has made it one of the most prosperous and developed countries in the region has prevailed. However, the Constitution alone is no guarantee of success. Politicians must focus on establishing a safe environment for citizens and investment. Otherwise, Chile could fall into an abyss, as has occurred with so many other countries in the region.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Impunity Observer.
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