Chile has a new best seller. Since it was finalized on 4 July, a draft of what could become the nation’s constitution has commanded massive numbers of online downloads and crowds waiting to buy paperback copies.
“It may become one of the most-read texts in Chile in recent times,” says Ximena Báez, president of the country’s National Association of Postgraduate Researchers, who is based in Valparaíso.
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As researchers in Chile pore over the text, which could reshape their country if approved during a 4 September vote, they are finding a lot to like. It contains a number of articles designed to boost science, expand environmental protection and improve the nation’s education system.
These stand in stark contrast to the contents of the current constitution, enacted more than four decades ago under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. That document contains only brief, weak mentions of science, says Santiago-based sociologist José Ortiz Carmona, who authored a 2021 report comparing how science is represented across 193 constitutions — and many see it as the source of profound inequality in Chile.
In October 2019, many Chileans protested decades-long social and economic inequalities stemming, as they saw it, from Pinochet’s policies, and demanded political reform, as well as a new constitution. A year later, the nation voted overwhelmingly to replace the document.
A democratically elected assembly, including scientists, teachers, students and Indigenous representatives, formed to draft it. The product, some have pointed out, is the first constitution in Chile’s history not written by political, economic or military elites.
Despite having been drafted by a diverse group, the vision for Chile’s future has not won favour with everyone. Some academics reject it. And several polls show that the majority of people surveyed plan to vote against it.
Similar to the current constitution, the proposal mandates that the state “stimulate” science and technology — crucial for a country that, for the past decade, has consistently invested less than 0.4% of its gross domestic product in the fields.