While the second year of the Coronavirus kept Chile mostly indoors, in 2021 the Santiago Center powered on from the home office, with daily Zoom meetings, online programming and webinars to address our not only existing stakeholders, but to expand our reach to new and non-traditional public. All of this within the context of a year that saw many changes that beseeched taking a deeper look and providing a forum for further discussion.
In the national context, following the October 2020 plebiscite, where 78% of voters approved the writing of a new national charter, in May the highly anticipated election of constituents to the Constitutional Convention took place. Those elected would be in charge of drafting a new democratic constitution in a process ignited by popular demands that brought the country to the streets in 2019. In partnership with the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS), and in one of the most viewed videos on our YouTube channel, the day after the election the Santiago Center hosted a webinar with experts to evaluate the results of the election and see what messages could be garnered from this historic event, which implied a significant rearrangement of the Chilean political system. The majority of those elected were independent candidates, while the main center-left alliance finished in fourth place and the right-wing was unable to reach the third of members needed to hold veto power in the constitutional convention.
In another historical moment, Chile elected its youngest ever president, Gabriel Boric, who won the election at 35 years old and took office at 36. In the Santiago Center’s most watched video on YouTube in 2021, once again carried out with ILAS, one day after Chile's first-round presidential election, experts analyzed how the results – which led to a polarized runoff election between relative newcomers from the left and the right - would impact the future political scenario, and its implications for political representation and social discontent.
But the Santiago Center did not limit itself to stay within Chile’s borders. In a move that looked to engage alumni, students and other stakeholders from Peru, events were held in partnership with alumni clubs from that country. To begin with, mere days before Peru’s runoff presidential election, the Santiago Center joined the Business Alumni Club Peru, the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business, and the Columbia Latin America Business Association in sponsoring a panel discussion regarding the country’s economic outlook and international perspectives with respect to the polarized June election between Luis Castillo of the left leaning Perú Libre party and Keiko Fujimori from the right-wing Fuerza Popular. That was followed by the event “Peru at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Playground: Artifacts for Interaction,” co-hosted by the Columbia Alumni Association of Peru and the Santiago Center, which raised the issue of how fences and gates have become ubiquitous throughout the country, appropriating public spaces, and what can be done to rectify the situation.
Neither did the Santiago Center limit itself to events. Looking to take an active role regarding the dissemination and knowledge of Chile’s aforementioned Constitutional Convention, the Center teamed up with NGOs Momento Constituyente and Pop Juegos in the design, production and distribution of “ConstituTodos” (a combination in Spanish of “Constitution” and “Everybody”) – an innovative board game that aims to provide information, drive citizenship education and promote civic dialogue about Chile’s ongoing constitutional reform process.
The game was officially launched at the Instituto Cumbre de Condores Oriente school in the Santiago borough of Renca. During the event, Renca Mayor Claudio Castro and the radio and television sports commentator, Felipe Bianchi, each led a team of four third-year high school students to compete in a friendly game of ConstituTodos. It was subsequently launched in the borough of Maipú, and the partners printed the board games to be distributed free of charge to different schools throughout the country. It can also be downloaded from this link so that all citizens can actively participate in the historical moment that Chile is living.
The Santiago Center, in partnership with the Rio Center and ILAS, also researched, designed and published a media directory of Columbia experts on Latin America and the region’s related issues in a bid to provide a glimpse of Columbia’s valuable human resources by organizing Columbia’s faculty and researchers in a way that provides easy access to their expertise. The directory, which features more than 300 Columbia faculty and alumni who have deep expertise on subjects ranging from global affairs to the environment and economics to public health, was researched by Columbia student Jennifer Su, who was one of the sixteen students participating in the Santiago Virtual Internship Program during the northern hemisphere summer.
Finally, but certainly not least, the Santiago Center worked with Chilean journalist Muriel Alarcón (JN’20) to define and produce seven 3-minute videos featuring ILAS faculty members. The idea was to highlight the strong relationship between the Santiago Center and ILAS, looking to put a more human touch to some of the faculty members with whom the Center works. “Los Rostros de ILAS” (The Faces of ILAS) videos were broadcast in Spanish on the social media channels of the Santiago Center and ILAS, under the hashtag #RostrosDeILAS.
With Chile still grappling with national issues that will shape the country’s development for decades to come, while continuing to face a global crisis, the Center looks to promote civic culture, employing University resources and expertise to cultivate civic education in youth and the general public. Operating in association with colleagues in New York and with the international network of nine Global Centers, the Santiago Center proceeds to work on better engaging its audience, continually adjusting to a new normal and focusing on cooperation and shared solutions to create content and experiences around critical, timely concerns in bringing Columbia to the world and the world to Columbia.