SANTIAGO, Dec 15 (Reuters) – Late yesterday, Chilean legislators approved a bill to reserve 17 of 155 seats for representatives of indigenous communities in its forthcoming constitutional convention, a measure that the government of center-right President Sebastian Pinera praises as “historic”.
Chileans in October voted overwhelmingly in favor of rewriting the country’s lifetime dictatorship Constitution, seeking to embed greater equality in health care, pensions and education. The vote was a central call for mass protests over inequality in late 2019.
The majority of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected body of citizens – divided equally between men and women – but the initial vote did not reserve seats for Chilean indigenous groups .
The legislation approved Tuesday establishes a certain number of seats for each of the nation’s leading indigenous communities of South America. The Mapuche, the largest and best known indigenous group, is expected to receive 7 of the 17 seats.
“We want to thank Congress and … Parliament in its unanimous vote, for this tremendous historic milestone in recognizing indigenous peoples, and for taking another step towards repaying our historic debt (to them),” Social Development minister Karla Rubilar told reporters.
The convention will be elected in April and will have up to a year to agree to a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority. Chileans then vote again whether they accept the text or want to return to the previous constitution.
Issues likely to be at the forefront of the debate include collective bargaining powers, water, land and inherent rights, and the education, pension and healthcare systems.
About 2.2 million, or 13%, of the 17 million people surveyed in the 2017 Chilean census identified themselves as indigenous, according to the country’s Institute of National Statistics.