Isidro Solís: “The proposed Constitution is extraordinarily bad and harmful for democracy in Chile”

Isidro Solís, former Minister of Justice of Chile in his Lawyers office in the district of Providencia, in Santiago, on June 30, 2022.
Isidro Solís, former Minister of Justice of Chile in his Lawyers office in the district of Providencia, in Santiago, on June 30, 2022.Christian Soto Quiroz

He is one of the historical militants of the oldest party on the Chilean political scene, the Radical Party, founded in 1863, a social democratic formation closely linked to the birth and development of the middle classes. He had four presidents in the 20th century –one of them, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, much cited today by President Gabriel Boric–, with whom the process of industrialization and development began in Chile. Isidro Solís (Santiago de Chile, 68 years old) began his military career at a very young age and by the 1973 coup he was already a member of his party’s youth political commission, which was part of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity. He did not go into exile like most of the leaders, he militated in hiding and worked for the reconstruction of the Radical Party, persecuted by the dictatorship.

For the 1988 plebiscite, when the opposition organized at the polls to defeat Augusto Pinochet, Solís was part of the executive that organized the campaign. From then on, he was one of the important faces of all the democratic governments of the center-left Concertación and in the first government of the socialist Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), Minister of Justice. He was also a lawyer for Bachelet’s family in various cases, such as the death by torture of her father in 1974. In this interview, which takes place in his office in the municipality of Providencia, in Santiago de Chile, he explains his position before the greatest milestone in Chilean politics in recent years: the September 4 plebiscite on the proposed new Constitution.

Ask. How will you vote in the plebiscite on September 4?

Response. I have made the decision to vote for the rejection when the constitutional proposal is submitted to a referendum. I have come to this conclusion with the prevailing feeling of a very important opportunity that has been missed.

P. Why?

R. The election of the Constituent Assembly –in May 2021– was held at a very special moment, of radicalism in Chilean politics as a result of a system that is not capable of responding to many aspirations of the people. This crystallized in the social revolt of October 2019, which at one point even threatened the stability of democracy and forced the political system to get involved in a proposal for a new Constitution. But, unfortunately, the constitutional convention was co-opted by the extreme left and by identity groups in Chilean society, based on a rather artificial majority.

The convention was co-opted by the ultra-left and by identity groups

Isidro Solis

P. But it was a democratically elected majority.

R. It is democratic, because it took place in an open, free and informed election, but with the problem that the political situation generated an overrepresentation of the ultra-left. And it is not representative of the country. And like any artificial majority, it will not be able to obtain sufficient approval to establish itself in a scheme of changes.

P. How do you consider the proposal?

R. The Constitution proposal is extraordinarily bad and harmful for democracy in Chile.

P. Why do you consider it harmful?

R. One has to try to be balanced in the appreciation that is made of this project. It is not a work of the devil, as it is presented from one side, nor is it the work of a group of angels who only want to improve Chilean society, as it is presented from the other side. The proposal has good elements that constitute an advance to the Chilean institutionality.

P. As which?

R. Like the formulation of a catalog of social rights much broader than the current one. And it is progress. But on the other hand, it generates new institutions that do not correspond to what Chilean stability represents today. And among the issues that move me the most is everything related to Justice, because the proposal generates two systems with this definition of a plurinational Chile. There would be one legal system for one part of the population, the indigenous peoples, and another for the rest of the population.

P. What could generate what you describe?

R. If the proposed Constitution is approved, in the future systems of judicial confrontation and lack of certainty will be generated that will lead Chilean society to a delicate and radical situation, much more confrontational than the one we have today. It is an institutional breakdown that can become very serious.

P. But experiences exist in other parts of the world, advocates say.

R. What those who try this approach do not say is that this is true, but very limited. It normally refers to applications of cultural or patrimonial norms, but in Chile they want to take it to the extreme with parallel and different penal norms: one criminal justice system for indigenous people and others for non-indigenous people. That is complete anarchy in the minimum civilizing act: that we have equality before the law. We are going back many hundreds of years.

The politicization of Justice is configured as one of the worst risks that this Constitution has

Isidro Solis

P. What do you think of the Judiciary disappearing and being called Justice Systems?

R. It worries me, because it reinforces the idea that these justice systems do not constitute a form of power but, quite simply, unrelated competencies that provide a service that can be of many qualities. If there is a system for Chilean citizens and another for indigenous people, this idea contradicts the idea of ​​a single Judicial Branch. In Chile we already know of a supposed Mapuche autonomous territory.

P. What do you mean?

R. To the Temucuicui Mapuche community that today, illegally, does not recognize either the application or the effectiveness of Chilean laws. With this Constitution, Temucuicui would have a constitutional consecration and could dictate its own regulations. It is absolutely destructive from the point of view of the integrity of the Chilean Nation.

P. It is proposed that the judiciary depend on an external body, the Justice Council, to appoint, evaluate and remove judges. What do you think?

R. The way in which it is proposed in the text of the new Constitution indicates that the designation in the judicial career could lead to the politicization of the Chilean judiciary in the medium and long term. There are some paradigmatic examples in the region, such as what is happening in Venezuela. And there is no dictatorship more tremendous than the one imposed by Justice. The politicization of Justice is configured as one of the worst risks that this Constitution has. Let’s not forget that we had a politicized Justice not long ago.

P. In the Pinochet dictatorship.

R. We had a politicized Justice and we had to fight against an extraordinarily genuflex Judiciary with the Pinochet dictatorship. And since we have that history, we are not available to repeat it in order to have a genuflex Judiciary against a leftist semi-dictatorship. It is quite sad, but what will be proposed this Monday is the Constitution of rancor and revenge. It is a pact of minorities and not a Constitution of majorities.

What will be proposed this Monday is the Constitution of rancor and revenge

Isidro Solis

P. But important leaders in their sector, such as Michelle Bachelet, have announced that they will approve the proposal…

R. Chile is an extraordinarily troubled country from the point of view of its recent history and the cleavage of dictatorship and anti-dictatorship continues to be central to political reactions. It is sad, but a majority of Chileans react to the call of their tribe. They are not concerned with reading the Constitution or analyzing it. People on the left vote against the right and vice versa. Therefore, if those people feel that this is a Constitution that settles scores against the right, they will approve it, even if it is bad. And backwards. The former president is a respectable person who has every right to approve, but when she publicly expressed her decision to vote for the Constitution, she made a very curious statement. She said that she hadn’t read it yet. Therefore, it is an automatic reaction.

P. The current Constitution in Chile was drafted in 1980, during the Pinochet dictatorship, but in democracy it underwent numerous changes. For you, is it still the Pinochet Constitution?

R. No. That is a frivolous and light caricature. In the Pinochet Constitution there were many elements that limited the exercise of democracy that currently do not exist. The current Constitution is the one bearing the signature of Ricardo Lagos, because the Pinochet Constitution died many years ago.

P. Will you campaign for the rejection of the proposal?

R. I will campaign to go out and explain the insufficiencies and the bad institutions that are in the proposed Constitution. On September 4 I will vote rejection with the same force and epic that we said No Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite.

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