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Proposed Constitution Divides Chileans

Books of proposed new constitution are displayed at a hawker's street stall at downtown Santiago, Chile July 14, 2022. (REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)
Books of proposed new constitution are displayed at a hawker's street stall at downtown Santiago, Chile July 14, 2022. (REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)
Proposed Constitution Divides Chileans
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In cities around Chile, bookstores and street sellers are busy with people who are buying a purple book. The purple book promises – or, depending on the reader's opinion, threatens – to change Chilean government and society.

The book contains the country's proposed new constitution. Its 388 articles aim to take the place of the current constitution. The current constitution was approved in 1980 under the military rule of Augusto Pinochet.

The proposed constitution deals with social rights, gender, politics and the environment.

Chileans will vote to approve or reject the new constitution on September 4. While voters supported the plan to write a new constitution two years ago, public opinion studies suggest the final version may be rejected. Support has dropped because of fears that some of the proposals are too radical.

In Santiago, the capital city, long lines have been forming with people looking to buy the recently-finalized document. It is a bright purple book with a Chilean flag on it. Street sellers, or vendors, said they were selling many copies a day.

"The money's here now," said Alfredo Lopez, a street vendor.

Lopez has not read the document and does not plan to. But sales have been strong - Lopez says he's been selling 70 to 80 copies a day.

Observers say the new constitution is the result of public anger over inequality. It has become a subject of debate between two sides. On one side are those who want to protect Chile's current economic model aimed at growth. On the other side are those seeking a social ideal that includes everyone.

Chile’s current economic model helped drive many years of development. But economic debates have become stronger with rising inflation and a slowing economy. At the same time, an important export for Chile, copper, has dropped. In addition, the exchange value of Chile’s money is at an all-time low.

"Conversations heat up quickly, people are really tense," said Isidora Varela, age 25.

"Not everyone's going to read the constitutional text because the information is super dense," she said. Varela said she had seen a lot of misinformation and "fake news" about the proposed constitution spreading on social media.

Mireya Davila, a public policy professor at the University of Chile, said both sides still have time to win over voters. An important issue will be how effectively the approve campaign communicates what the document says.

"I think an informed vote is key, but I don't know if that's going to happen," Davila said.

Carlos Bastias, another seller, said heated arguments and fights regularly break out between customers.

"I think that in a few days I'm going to have to open up a (boxing) ring here and be a referee," Bastias said.

He added that he has read about half of the new constitution but avoids giving his opinion to buyers.

"This (debate) is only going to escalate," Bastias said, noting that many point to Venezuela's 1999 constitution as a warning sign of the dangers of change.

"People are worried because it could lift up a country, but you know, it's destroyed others."

I’m John Russell.

Alexander Villegas and Esteban Medel reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

radical – adj. very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary

ideal –n. an idea that is believed to be perfect or really good

conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way

customer – n. someone who buys goods or services from a business

referee – n. a person who makes sure that players act according to the rules of a game or sport

escalate –v. to become worse or to make (something) worse or more severe