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‘A Country is More Than a Territory': Chileans Demand Vote From Abroad

Chilenos en Montreal, Canadá exigen el derecho a votar en el extranjero. Foto compartida en la página de Facebook de Haz tu Voto Volar

Chileans in Montreal, Canada demand the right to vote from abroad. Photo shared on Haz tu Voto Volar's Facebook page 

For the sixth time since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, Chileans living abroad will not be able to vote in a presidential election. Despite successive governments having promised to legalize this right for citizens who, for whatever reason, find themselves outside the country during the voting period, and the majority of Chileans supporting this change, on November 17 only those Chileans present in the country will be able to vote.

According to 2005 numbers from the INE [es] (National Institute of Statistics), Chileans abroad represent 3% of the country's total population and of them, 72.5% demonstrate a desire to vote.

Since 2013 corresponds to an election year, several unresolved issues have been taken up again. This time, the binomial system reform, the creation of a new constitution, and the vote for Chileans living abroad got their turn, among others. 

Under the hashtags #VotoExterior (#VoteAbroad) and #HazTuVotoVolar (#MakeYourVoteFly), Chilean Twitter users have expressed their feelings on the topic: 

Leaving almost a million citizens out of the democratic process is a disgrace. Please RT

To which Pilar Bustos from Rancagua replied:

Citizens?? They are no longer Chilean citizens… do they pay taxes from abroad?? If so, perfect…

Twitter user René was more pragmatic and posted this ad: 

Wanted: Chileans who do not want to vote to represent the vote of someone who does and cannot

Chilenos y chilenas exigen voto sin condiciones desde Washington, DC, EEUU. Foto compartida en la página de Facebook de Haz tu Voto Volar.

Chileans demand unconditional vote from Washington, D.C., USA. Photo shared on Haz tu Voto Volar's Facebook page. 

On El Quinto Poder [es], political scientist Marcela Ríos wrote her opinion on granting voting rights to Chileans abroad:

[...] nuestros compatriotas en el exterior llevan décadas impedidos de ejercer un derecho democrático mínimo, que por definición no requiere de condición alguna para su ejercicio, por el solo hecho de estar ausentes del territorio nacional durante el día de la votación. Nuestra democracia en general, y nuestros representantes en particular, deben asumir la palabra empeñada con ellos y con todos, y terminar de aprobar el proyecto de ley que se encuentra en discusión en el Congreso. 

[...] for decades, our compatriots abroad have been prevented from exercising a minimal democratic right, which by definition does not require any conditions to be exercised, on the basis of the mere fact that they are absent from the country on election day. Our democracy in general, and our representatives in particular, must take their word up with them and with everyone, and pass the bill that is being discussed in Congress.

Matías Cociña, a Sociology doctoral candidate, went beyond the demand for the right to vote in his column, “Voting from abroad, and much more” [es]: 

[...] Debemos también exigir que la ley contemple la representación de esta enorme cantidad de chilenos en el parlamento de todos, por medio de diputados (¿y senadores?) electos por los chilenos residentes fuera del país y debidamente inscritos en los consulados [...] Temas como problemas en el funcionamiento de consulados, demoras en trámites para obtener documentación importante, firmas de tratados en materia de migración, eficiencia en la provisión de beneficios a los miles de becados en el extranjero, y un largo etcétera, muy rara vez son foco de preocupación de nuestros parlamentarios. 

[...] We must also demand that the law takes into account representation of this enormous number of Chileans in the parliament of all, through MPs (and senators?) elected by resident Chileans outside the country and duly registered in the consulates [...] Issues like problems in consulate operations, delays in proceedings to obtain important documents, immigration treaty signings, efficiency in the provision of benefits for thousands of grantees abroad, and a big etcetera, are rarely the focus of concern for our parliamentarians. 

On the other hand, Gustavo Díaz, a contributor for the magazine Ballotage, conducted a deep analysis of the arguments put forth in this debate in his column, “Keys to the debate on the Chilean vote abroad” [es]:

Independiente de la búsqueda por beneficios electorales que siempre existe – ya sea en promoción u oposición del voto chileno en el extranjero –si es cierto que las preferencias de nuestros compatriotas están sistemáticamente sesgadas en favor de un color político, entonces mayores son los motivos para considerar su opinión, pues detrás de eso hay un patrón regular de exclusión – sea el exilio durante la dictadura o un posterior desencanto con el estado de las cosas – del que no nos estamos haciendo cargo y obliga a ciertos ciudadanos a tomar sus maletas y empezar una nueva vida en otro lugar. Si, en cambio, el voto de los expatriados no muestra ningún tinte en particular, el argumento del cálculo político no tiene ningún asidero y tampoco sirve para zanjar el tema.

Independent of the search for electoral benefits that always exist – either in promotion or opposition of the Chilean vote abroad – if it is true that the preferences of our compatriots are systematically biased in favor of a political color, then all the more reason to consider their opinion because behind this there is a steady pattern of exclusion – be it exile during the dictatorship or a subsequent disenchantment with the state of affairs – for which we are not taking responsibility and which requires certain citizens to pick up their bags and start a new life elsewhere. If, however, the expatriate vote shows no particular coloring, the argument of political calculation has no basis nor does it serve to settle the issue.

Díaz continues:

En ambos casos es necesario profundizar la discusión respecto a los límites de la ciudadanía. Está claro que quienes dejan el país de manera temporal por estudios, trabajo, turismo o circunstancias específicas deben mantener su derecho a voto; pero la situación de aquellos con residencia permanente en el extranjero ha visto distintas respuestas alrededor del mundo.

In both cases it is necessary to deepen the discussion with respect to citizen limits. It is clear that those who leave the country temporarily for school, work, tourism, or special circumstances should maintain their right to vote; but the situation for those with permanent residence abroad has seen varying responses around the world. 

Chileans residing abroad who came together in the “Haz tu Voto Volar” (“Make Your Vote Fly”) campaign have created a news channel on YouTube called “Chileans Without a Vote” [es] with interviews, testimonials, and news developments related to the demand for exercising voting rights from abroad. 

This is the campaign's emotional opening video [es]:

Loreto Galindo, coordinator of the “Haz Tu Voto Volar” campaign, published a column entitled “Never being too far away, we have always been so informed” [es] in online daily El Dínamo, where she explains the reason for said campaign and the paradigms it intends to break: 

Ustedes no viven lo que vivimos nosotros. Ustedes abandonaron el país. Ustedes no pagan impuestos. Ustedes NO tienen derecho”. Estos son algunos de los comentarios, pensamientos, ideas que durante estos casi 10 meses de intensas actividades nos han escrito una minoría de chilenos residentes en el país, en contra del Voto chileno exterior. [...]

En breves palabras, clarificar que nuestra lucha no se trata de que nos otorguen el derecho a voto, sino implementar el derecho que tenemos de participar como ciudadanos en el más importante acto democrático de nuestro país, consagrado en el art. 13 de nuestra Constitución vigente.

You do not live through what we live through. You abandoned the country. You do not pay taxes. You do NOT have the right“. These are some of the comments, thoughts, ideas against the foreign Chilean vote that a minority of Chileans residing in the country have written us over the past almost 10 months of intense activity.

In short, I want to clarify that our fight is not dealing with granting us the right to vote, but rather implementing the right that we have to participate as citizens in the most important democratic act of our country, enshrined in Article 13 of our current constitution.   

While the vote of Chileans abroad becomes a reality, organizations Voto Ciudadano (Citizen Vote) and the Fundación Democracia y Desarrollo (Democracy and Development Foundation) will be holding a symbolic and electronic presidential election [es] where Chileans living anywhere in the world will be able to participate, express, and push for exercising their right to vote. Votes will be taken on this platform from November 10 to 17 (ending at 17:00 Chilean time). 

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