Atlas think tanks: manufacturing “rechazo” in Chile

Only three weeks until the referendum on the new constitution in Chile. While some of the world´s top economists hail the final text as a “new global standard” for fighting climate crisis, economic instability and inequality, Atlas think tanks ignite an ideological drumfire against the new legal framework which is to replace the Pinochet constitution. By Karin Fischer.

The very same day the Constitutional Convention was inaugurated in Chile, the Right started a fierce campaign in favour of a “rechazo”, the rejection of the draft constitution. The campaign was not only developed to attack issues and members of the Constituent Assembly, but also to establish the “rechazo” narrative at the very beginning of the process.

The right-wing opposition to the constitutional process importantly relied on a coordinated digital campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The Observatory on Hate, Racism and Xenophobia in Santiago, Fundación Interpreta, found that between 4th of July 2021 and 12th of April 2022 1.304.022 mentions used the hashtag #RechazodeSalida (#RejectintheExit) against only 176.242 mentions in favour of an “apruebo”(approval). An average “rechazo” user tweeted nearly four times as much as his counterpart.

Behind the digital guerrilla are well financed groups like “La Mejor Constitución”, “Ciudadanos en Acción” and “Reforma la Reforma”. Bernardo Fontaine, (meanwhile ex-) member of the constitutional convention and descendent of a powerful ultra-right family, is a protagonist both in front and behind the doors.

A main tool utilized in the rechazo campaign are false claims – fake news – about the content of the new constitution. As unbelievable as it may sound: The Kast brothers – one of them a senator, the other one the recently defeated presidential candidate of the ultra-right – announced that the new constitution will allow “abortion up to nine months of pregnancy” and abolish private property rights. Bernardo Fontaine does not stop claiming that private pension accounts will be confiscated. Others try to create confusion by saying that immigrants are being registered to vote “I approve”. Ana von Baer – before becoming a senator, she worked at the Instituto Libertad y Desarrollo – claimed that the country`s name will be changed. These are only some of the messages of a targeted campaign meant to delegitimize the project. Atlas think tanks and think tankers are heavily involved in this massive effort, as bloggers, multipliers and providers of elaborate storylines and argumentation tools.

Axel Kaiser, executive Director of the Fundación para el Progreso (FPP) and Senior Fellow at the Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, praises the achievements of the old Pinochet constitution (the private sector shall not be excluded from the provision of education, healthcare, pensions!) in an article on the Atlas website and awaits an Argentine fate for Chile under the new one: corruption, inflation, insolvency, and poverty. The foundation runs a special section on the future constitution. Evidently programmed with a lot of money, graphically fancy, and equipped with “explanatory videos”, visitors can “inform” themselves about the dangers of public services: public health and education are nothing else than new taxes for the state; private health care and education will be only for a few and there will be more segregation (!). According to FPP, the president will be deprived of the “most useful” tool “to protect Chileans”, because a state of emergency has to be authorized by the parliament. In the disinformation campaign of FPP, the detailed specifications and tasks of the planned National Water Agency will make it impossible “to plan any sowing or planting process in the medium and long term”. Contrary to the wording of Article 35, a farmer “will have to ask a bureaucrat for a permit to irrigate his crops” and will “not be able to defend it as a property right, in court, in the event that a bureaucrat arbitrarily takes it away from him”.

Another Atlas flagship in Chile, Libertad y Desarrollo, decorates its front page with a red traffic light postulating “warnings”: the new constitution will weaken private property rights, threaten industrial innovation and the proclaimed food sovereignty will harm productivity and lead to higher prices, among others. Instituto Res Publica also uses the traffic light symbol as a visually catchy “warning”. The Atlas think tank marks each constitutional article with a traffic light colour; the result is a graphic that shows that 80 percent of the articles are “definitely” or “potentially dangerous”. Last but not least, the ultra-right Instituto Ideas Republicanas of José Antonio Kast, also a member of the Atlas family and fiercely active on Twitter and Facebook, spreads messages in flashy videos that almost appear to be caricatures: “Everything will belong to the state in the future!”.

Will fake news and reactionary think tank power win over serious debate? September 4 will show.

picture: Presidente Gabriel Boric Font recibe propuesta del nueva Constitución Gobierno de Chile, CC BY 3.0 CL, via Wikimedia Commons, no changes made.