reading the regionalization process, institutional and socio-ecological problems after the leave plebiscite” Regions

Photo: Tanya Valenzuela, CORE of Valparaiso region.

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the Second National Youth Conference on Climate Change (LCOY2 Chile). In this case, he had to prepare a presentation answering the question Why is regionalization a feasible way to address the sectoral problems of environmental justice and institutionality in the country? I would like to share with you some of the reflections that arose from the problematization and highlighting of some concepts and in the light of the results of the exit plebiscite for a new constitution that provided an unprecedented proposal for the protection of nature, the environment and the natural commons.


Around 1970, the Chilean territory was organized into 25 provinces. From the political and administrative reforms promoted in 1974, the country’s regionalization began to turn into a dictatorship, under the premise of a unitary state whose administration would be “functionally and territorially decentralized or decentralized as the case may be, in accordance with the law” (Art. 3 of the Constitution, 1980).

The zoning proposal created by The brick – a document written by a group of economists and which served as the basis for the military junta to formulate its economic proposal, contains a strong argument in favor of decentralization, understood as the institutional framework of an economic system based on the market and a free set of prices that, in relative terms configure parameters for optimal resource allocation. There was no mention of the territorial dimension of decentralization.

Currently, Chile consists of 16 regions. They co-exist the Regional Government and the Regional Presidential Delegation, respectively charged with administering and managing the region. As we know, this form of government is new and its implementation refers to the promulgation of Law No. 21 074 to strengthen the regionalization of the country in 2018 and Law No. 21 073 of the same year, which regulates the election of governors. regional. This situation is considered relevant as it points to progressive decentralization.

If we look at public institutions, we can see that there are inter-institutional problems that make it impossible to comply with the guiding principles dictated by international regulations (the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda). To understand these problems, it is important to first understand how the structure of the public apparatus works and what are its functions, powers and budget initiatives for the development of its strategies, plans and programs.

Within the structure of the public apparatus, one of the powers of the state, the executive, is led by a national government, with its ministerial representatives and regional ministerial secretariats, which play an important role in the development of national and sectoral public policies. On the other hand, there are other public institutions of a regional nature (also known as sub-national governments) located throughout the territory, which also play an executive and administrative role – such as the aforementioned regional governments – and municipalities, which are autonomous local authorities.

The main issues that concern the exercise of these institutions must be related to transversal policies (environment, territorial planning, international policy, energy, among others), social policies (housing, education, health, social security) and specific policies (legal information, transparency, culture, heritage, among others). However, there are various problems in the structure that make decentralized and coordinated work between the various bodies that make it up impossible, and some of them are:

  • Lack of intersectorality in articulation for the development of public policy, sectors and regional and local authorities
  • Budget holes for the implementation of public policies at a general level, and specifically on environmental and climate change issues
  • Disadvantages around public-public, public-community and public-private governance models at different scales (international, national, regional and local)
  • Crisis of institutional and political legitimacy
  • Lack of transparency and fairness
  • Lack of a comprehensive and transversal view of the problems of the territories and their resolution mechanisms.
  • The existence of a subsidiary state model from a paradigm of economic growth and development (forged in a dictatorship) that generates the conditions of insecurity and the weakening of the same institutionality that currently prevents it from being a guarantor of basic rights, such as the right to live in a pollution-free environment.

Although the above problems are a challenge for those working in the state apparatus, not everything has been stumbling blocks. Within a gradual process, one of the most significant achievements in terms of decentralization and strengthening of regional governments has been Act 21 074 Strengthening Regionalization, which establishes a new decentralized institutionality in the regions – which does not depend on the central level, but on the processes of representative democracy – as is the case with the aforementioned election of governors under Law No. 21,073. The said entity, which finally replaces the figure of the regional mayor appointed by the central level, in addition to the development of public policies of a regional nature and the generation of development and planning instruments, has among its main competences the budget initiative.

THE CORE of Valparaiso, Tanya Valenzuela.

Similarly, a second major milestone, which is also related to environmental issues from a legislative perspective – and which has an impact at the level of regional and local authorities – is Climate Change Framework Law No. 21,455adopted in June this year. This new legal navigation scheme establishes rules, measures and actions that the state must promote until 2050. At this point, regional and local authorities have leading role in the process of directing the creation and ongoing operation of Regional Committee on Climate Change (CORECC)the preparation and approval of Regional Climate Change Planas well as the municipalities have the task of formulating the Municipal Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plans.

Based on the above, we can determine that the current model of regionalization is still insufficient to meet the major challenges that arise in terms of environmental justice. Although, as we have seen, progress has been made in this area, these modifications have come late and sloppily to try to solve the socio-ecological problems that have been lingering for decades, based on the supremacy of the extractive model of economic growth. . An emblematic example is that of the sacrificial zones such as Quintero-Puchuncaví, Huasco, Coronel and Mejillones.

Currently, in addition to the few powers, tools and budgets available to regional and local authorities to develop or implement policies and projects for the mitigation, adaptation, rehabilitation, conservation and decontamination of degraded areas (or the protection of areas of high ecosystem value) , also lack internal mechanisms to control practices such as usurpation and water pollution, mass poisonings, oil spills, industrial accidents, among others, caused by the public production sector (and especially the private sector). This is exacerbated if we consider the meager public investment to address these same problems from the institutional framework.

The proposal for a new constitution, which was recently rejected in the exit plebiscite of last September 4 with a large majority, on environmental issues presents alternatives that meet the nodes of conflict that we have identified in this analysis (and which we hope will not lose validity).before a new composite process scenario). Issues such as decentralization, democratic participation, the recognition of the rights of nature, the inadequacy of common natural assets and the new protection of nature were part of the passages of the constitutional proposal that sought to recognize and respond to historical demands on environmental issues.

Chapter III, “Nature and Environment”, enshrined the rights and principles of nature, including key elements such as habitat restoration and establishing state action as obligations to address the effects of climate change. In Chapter IV, “Democratic Participation”, this exercise was recognized as a right, and the state had to guarantee the conditions and mechanisms for its implementation. The art. 154.1 noted: “It is the duty of the state to guarantee ecological democracy”. Finally, Chapter VI, “Regional State and Territorial Organization”recognized the autonomy of territorial units, establishing a new model to promote justice, cooperation, solidarity and reciprocity.

As a result of the founding process, all possibilities for change were once again rejected. If the proposal for a new constitution affirms the rights of nature through an ecological state, we must now ask ourselves: how can we continue this struggle without having a basic tool that allows us to guarantee this right? How can we get the state to protect biodiversity, animals, rivers and mountains? How can we support the residents of Punta de Tralca who were arrested for opposing the real estate project that, with police protection, intends to settle in a wetland? ?.

It is time for citizens to take a leading role in the face of this lack of mechanisms to protect the rights of nature. Mobilizing and calling the authorities, among which I include myself as a representative before the Regional Council of the Municipalities of Viña del Mar, Concón, Quintero and Puchunkavi (and as part of a region that has the highest number of socio-ecological conflicts in a country), will be key in the process of rethinking new models of sustainable development.

The protection of life in the territories should be at the center of every public policy, and the right to live in a pollution-free environment should be a basic condition for the development of our communities!

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