Chile reserves seats for indigenous people as it prepares to rewrite the constitution

SANTIAGO: Chilean lawmakers belatedly approved a bill on Tuesday to reserve 17 of the 155 seats for indigenous community representatives in its upcoming constitutional convention, a measure lauded as “historic” by the government of center-right president Sebastian Pinera.

Chileans in October voted overwhelmingly in favor of rewriting the country’s dictatorship-era constitution, seeking to establish greater equality in health, pensions and education. The vote was a central demand of the mass protests over inequality at the end of 2019.

A majority of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drawn up by a specially elected body of citizens – split equally between men and women – but the initial vote did not reserve seats for Chilean indigenous groups.

Legislation passed on Tuesday establishes a set number of seats for each of the South American nation’s major indigenous communities. The Mapuche, the largest and best known indigenous group, will receive 7 of the 17 seats.

“We want to thank Congress and … the Senate with its unanimous vote, for this tremendous historic milestone in the recognition of indigenous peoples, and for taking another step towards repaying our historic debt (to them),” he said. Social Development Minister Karla Rubilar told reporters.

The convention will be elected in April and will have up to a year to approve a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority. The Chileans will then vote again if they accept the text or want to return to the previous constitution.

Among the issues that could be at the center of the debate are collective bargaining powers, water, land and indigenous rights, as well as education, pension and health care systems.

According to the country’s National Statistics Institute, about 2.2 million, or 13%, of the 17 million people surveyed in the 2017 Chilean census identified themselves as indigenous.

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