Macarena Soler: the environment in Chile’s new constitution

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Macarena Soler speaking at Tompkins Conservation in Puerto Varas. Photo: Amigos de los Parques de ChileMacarena Soler speaking at Tompkins Conservation in Puerto Varas. Photo: Amigos de los Parques de Chile 

By Caterinna del Rio Giovannini

After four weeks of widespread protests in Chile over income inequity, political exclusion and the high cost of health and education, on November 15 Chilean politicians representing almost all of the country’s political parties signed an agreement aimed at slowing the social unrest by holding a referendum in April 2020 on a new constitution. To replace the current version fashioned in 1980 by the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, Chileans will answer two questions: Do you want a new constitution? And what kind of body should be set up to write the new constitution?

In a vast mobilization of grassroots democracy, tens of thousands of Chileans have gathered across the country in “cabilidos,” or local assemblies, and citizen consultations led by the municipalities to talk with each other, get informed and register their opinions on the situation in Chile. To help contribute to that debate, on December 18 at the Tompkins Conservation offices in Puerto Varas, Macarena Soler, a lawyer and founder of the NGO Geute Conservación Sur, gave a talk on the environmental implications of a new constitution for Chile.
Critics say there are numerous problems with the current constitution forged by the military dictatorship. Among the most glaring problems that have led to present social unrest, the current magna carta emphasizes greater private responsibility for social issues such as pensions, health and education that other countries in the region assign to the state. The lack of state guarantees by the state has meant the country has instead had a greater reliance on free market approaches to meet social needs.
For the environment, perhaps of greatest concern is the present constitution enshrines a system that privatizes the rights to water, making Chile the only country in the world that makes this essential resource for living and agriculture a good to be traded and sold. “We need to prioritize how we use water. And one of the priority uses must be for potable water. That means you have the amount of water you need to live, to get dressed, to wash. When we prioritize that, we start thinking about water distribution. At minimum, this must be guaranteed," Soler said in her talk.
"I think that the environment should be treated at the level of principles,” adds Soler. “There has to be a commitment to biodiversity, and a recognition that the environment is a matter of public interest, and that we must adhere to sustainability principles with limits on the extraction and use of natural resources. Our commitment to future generations to address climate change must also be at the level of principles."
For Soler, Chile’s constitution has four fundamental flaws: it has no social legitimacy, it requires very high quorums to reform it, it has a constitutional court with rules based on a binominal system and it protects a neoliberal free market economic model.
The lawyer believes that this is evident for example with private property rights, where recently the government demanded “non-regression” in property protections. For years, says Soler, the environmental movement in Chile has been calling for the same principle in environmental standards. “In norms for environmental protection we must always be increasingly more demanding. Yet, in treaties recently signed by Chile concerning the environment they are not doing this.”
At the event, the first of a series of environmental talks to be organized regularly by Tompkins Conservation and Amigos de los Parques at their offices in Puerto Varas, Soler admitted that there is a lot of work still to be done. "I never imagined in my entire professional life that one day I was going to have the chance to help make a new constitution. What we're doing is an exercise that's still in development."
Soler ended her talk by urging everyone to have confidence in the process, quoting the Chilean philosopher and academic Gastón Soublette: "Where is this global movement going that is represented in Chile by these demands, by these protests? I think it's going to a cultural paradigm shift."

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