AB Member Speaks On-Campus Regarding Chile’s Political Process

March 24, 2020

Claudia Heiss (GSAS’03), director of political science studies at Universidad de Chile and a member of the Santiago Center’s Advisory Board (AB), participated end-February in an on-campus workshop convened by Columbia World Projects (CWP) in collaboration with the UN Peacebuilding Support Office.

The expert workshop focused on protest movements around the world and advanced on a five-point agenda: the historical context of the social demonstrations that many countries are experiencing today, the United Nations’ view point on this phenomenon, the role of new technologies and new social action tactics, perspectives and mechanisms that affect protests, and recommendations for international community action.

The idea was to arrive at a better understanding of these protests that have recently swept the world, in order to articulate demands and frameworks for resolving grievances, and to define whether international organizations can play a more constructive role in supporting pathways for positive change while also mitigating against the instability and violence that such protests can bring about.

Participants included senior United Nations officials - who are analyzing this phenomenon from the perspective of human rights, peace building, gender affairs and communications - as well as scholars and academics from various universities, including specialists in social movements in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. For her part, Heiss spoke about the social protests taking place in Chile as well as in other countries in Latin America.

“Along with social or cultural demands, we see that in many places there is strong dissatisfaction with political participation structures and government regimes," said Heiss, warning against polarization “which makes dialogue and the search for political solutions to these crises difficult.” She stressed the importance of using comparative perspective to analyze the criticism of political institutions, which is a main component in many of today’s social protests around the world.

In addition to participating in the CWP and United Nations experts discussion, Heiss met with the Latin American Student Association (LASA) at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). There, she spoke with a large group of students from various disciplines about the political situation in Chile following the protests that erupted on October 18 and the constituent process currently underway. Heiss also addresses this topic in her book “¿Por qué Necesitamos una Nueva Constitución?” (“Why do We Need a New Constitution?”).

In her book, Heiss reviews how one of Chile’s most significant issues, inequality, ties in to the country’s constitution which was written in 1980 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. She proposes that while defining a new constitution will not solve all of the country’s problems, building a new national charter is a necessary first step towards reconciliation.

Use this link to access the photo album of Heiss’ visit to Columbia.