- Interview by
- Octavio García Soto
Cristóbal Andrade, also known as Dino, is one of 155 popularly elected members of Chile’s Constitutional Convention. Created in response to massive cost-of-living protests that rocked the country in October 2019, the assembly elected in May 2021 is now drafting a new constitution to replace the charter imposed by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship over four decades ago.
Andrade was elected to the assembly with the People’s List, a loosely organized grouping made up of figures from social movements, often skeptical of established parties. But he’s most recognizable because of his characteristic blue dinosaur costume. Like fellow convention member Tía Pikachu — a school-bus driver dressed as the Pokémon character — Dino first adopted his costume when he took to the streets during the October 2019 demonstrations. The mood of the protests was hardly just celebratory — violent police repression killed 36 people and left 460 with eye trauma caused by rubber bullets. But the strength of the revolt ultimately succeeded in bending the hand of the establishment politicians and starting the current constitutional process.
Today, Dino is one of the assembly members representing the Valparaíso Region. Apart from the humor of his costume, his election owed to his willingness to speak up for real popular grievances. In particular, his area has been hit hard by deforestation and the malign effects of real estate monopolists. Two communes, Quintero and Puchuncaví, have suffered from so much air and water contamination that they’ve been dubbed a “Chilean Chernobyl.” One of Dino’s mottos — sometimes emblazoned on the T. rex’s T-shirt — is “Free the Water,” a popular demand among many of his constituents. Drought-stricken Chile’s water supply is completely privatized.
These are the kind of social problems that Dino wants the new constitution to address — though the process behind writing the document is proving fractious. The Left and independents have a notional majority in the assembly, but are deeply divided, while progress has also been hampered by boycotts and calls for a minimum two-thirds threshold to pass controversial changes.
Jacobin’s Octavio García Soto interviewed Dino about the social demands he’s advancing in the assembly and the challenges of Chile’s fragmented political situation — and how come he’s dressed as a dinosaur.
Why are you a dinosaur?
The dinosaur comes from the 2019 social revolt. Quilpué, where I’m from, was one of the police districts where there were the most human rights violations and a lot of repression in the streets — many times with actual bullets. I wanted to inspire enthusiasm in people again, because the attendance at demonstrations was dropping.
There was this dinosaur in Viña del Mar, whom I invited to events in Quilpué, who told me: “Cristobal, why don’t you buy a dinosaur? We are here to bring peace. And look, in Santiago there’s also Tía Pikachu.” “Ok, po’,” I told her. Then we started looking for colors. There’s dinosaurs of many colors — brown, white, purple, green, yellow . . . I chose blue, because of the national anthem, “Pure, Chile, is your blue sky.”
Toward the beginning of the convention, you and Giovanna Grandón, aka Tía Pikachu, arrived in your costumes during lunch time and received quite a lot of criticism, because you were “undermining the convention’s solemnity” . . .
Tía Pikachu and I had agreed the day before to put on our costumes and take a picture to distract us a little, because we were very stressed about the commissions. We were in our costumes, chilling in the courtyard, when I joked about entering the hemicycle in costume. “So what?” she said, “Let’s just go,” and grabbed my hand and went inside! We entered the hemicycle and it was all joy, applause, they began to take pictures. But I saw several sectors of the right wing that had also started to take pictures too.
They were laughing, enjoying the moment, there was no anger, but I said to myself: “We are going to have problems here.” Then we left and, obviously out of respect, returned to our commissions without costumes. Afterwards they started saying this was a circus for us, and started the “Constituent Circus” hashtag. But the message we wanted to give was that the social revolt of October 18  was inside this assembly, that the people were also there, not only the powerful, who own water and big companies.
You are an auto mechanic —
So clearly not from the kind of background you traditionally see for writing a country’s new constitution. You and other assembly members from working-class backgrounds are working side by side with the political class. What has this culture clash been like?
At first it was difficult — we felt discriminated against. But after a few days they started to see us with different eyes, because we even started to work harder than them and I think they noticed how hardworking we were.
Generally, we’re working Monday to Friday, but some of the members from my bloc meet later and we sometimes finish at midnight. Some weekends we have to do field work, because there are public councils and it’s important for us to go listen to the people and bring their views to the convention. When we have free time, we have to read, because they give us really thick books. It’s super exhausting and sometimes it shows on your face.
But the politicians no longer look at us as the uneducated ones but see us as equals. I believe that they lack knowledge of the world below and that now in the convention they are realizing that the people from below can also do great things and make great changes in this country.
I believe that if you are here you have to be a brave person who knows what they’re facing and resist the blows that may come. As a convention member, I want a participatory democracy. We need referenda where people can make transformations in this country, where people can also participate when there are constitutional reforms, neighborhood referenda, community referenda as well.
During your campaign you repeatedly stated that you are an evangelical Christian. But today evangelical Christianity is mostly connected to the ultra-right Partido Republicano. Why did you choose to talk openly about your faith?
People who know me know that I never hide anything. Recently there was a complaint by the Evangelical Church because we had not placed the Christian flag at the entrance of the former Congress, where the convention’s sessions are held. There was a huge commotion. A few days ago, people arrived at the building with the Christian flag and recognized me. One of them was from the Partido Republicano and was super violent — I had never seen such violent evangelicals. She told me things like “you do not represent us” and that “the eye of the People’s List is diabolical” [the People’s List logo features an eye]. She started insulting me because I was in favor of abortion and homosexuals. Later I found out that the lady is a candidate for congresswoman for the Partido Republicano. They even made a video, which is on YouTube. I am another kind of evangelical. I know we’re in different times, I have a close family member who died from a clandestine abortion and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
Do you get a lot of attacks?
Lately yes, mostly from evangelicals, even from people who were once friends of mine. But there are very few of them. Out of one hundred evangelicals I know, only five attack me.
Doesn’t that make you anxious?
At the beginning, yes. “Wow, why do they think like this?” Now I don’t: it’s just a passing moment. I am doing a job here, I have to work for the well-being of the country. A few comments aren’t going to make me think any differently.
What are the problems affecting the Valparaíso Region?
Our region has suffered a lot because of the depredation of its nature, the “sacrifice zones” — a term used for usually low-income communities, with a great deal of environmentally damaging companies — mining companies, real estate developers . . . this is a really fundamental problem. There is the issue of air quality in the Quintero and Puchuncaví sacrifice zone. They also want to build a thermoelectric plant in Villa Alemana, Los Rulos, which we are fighting against. In Quilpué and Villa Alemana there is the issue of real estate depredation. Five years ago, you came to Quilpué and saw beautiful forests, but now they don’t exist and there are only houses and buildings.
You took part in soup kitchens during the pandemic. Was this the first time you’ve done volunteer work?
Yes. We saw how hard the pandemic hit our country. Many people had no money to pay the rent and had to go and squat pieces of land. Camps began to form in Quilpué, Villa Alemana, San Felipe. We focused our work mostly in Quilpué and began to set up common pots for the whole camp, which were distributed sometimes three days a week, sometimes on weekends, sometimes every day. Lots of people helped with donations and we did events for children, like when we used the dinosaurio azulado as a Christmas dinosaur. People were sleeping in tents, so we tried making little three-by-three-meter rooms so they could sleep under a roof, because it was a disaster when it rained. For us there was no pandemic: we kept going out, we didn’t quarantine, we kept practically risking our lives out of love for the people.
In the right-wing minority there are members who previously voted against the convention taking place at all, but now claim they want to contribute to the process. Given the Right’s history in the country, it’s not far-fetched to think they’d like to boycott the convention — and stop it reaching quorum. As a member of the Ethics Commission, what penalties can be imposed on convention members?
Among the most complicated sanctions are salary deductions (between 5 and 15 percent of their monthly allowance [for those who receive a written warning for their misconduct]). But the one that hurt them a lot was the censorship issue. When you are reprimanded three times you get fifteen days of censorship without speaking. They said it was like a Taliban regulation. But we do this because there are people who want to boycott the process, and it shows.
I will give you an example. In the Ethics Committee we were looking at a regulation, which they approved in order make suggestions. We put in some of the things they wanted, but when it came to the vote, they ended up abstaining or voting against. Now, the Rules Committee has established that abstention doesn’t count for anything. Abstention used to be like a vote against, but now only the votes in favor and against are relevant. This rule will now have to be approved in the plenary, so we are going to have some fighting, but it is likely that this will be approved.
The majority of the convention is somewhere on the Left. Are you confident you can unite for the necessary causes — or is the distrust towards traditional politicians just too big?
I think we can reach agreements on several topics, but there is mistrust toward several convention members who are more “first class” — people we practically don’t trust at all. Unfortunately, there are some things they want to do that we do not. A clear example is the issue of the two-thirds quorum [proposed as a minimum threshold of support for controversial measures]. They say that we can reach agreements with two-thirds, but many of us think it’s just too risky, because there are going to be important things where we are not going to reach the two-thirds threshold because there are many differences. We independents own nothing more than a house or, at most, a car. Many of them have companies, water rights, or have friends with special interests. That is why we distrust them.
The People’s List, the Communist Party, the social movements, and the native peoples voted against the two-thirds threshold. But the Frente Amplio, the traditional center-left parties and the right wing voted in favor. That is why we are calling on the people to mobilize in the streets, so when we discuss important issues where we do not reach the two-thirds, the people can decide.
Do you think it’s possible at this point to achieve that kind of turnout in the streets? Don’t you think that energy has been channeled into the Constitutional Convention?
I don’t know, but I do know that people are paying attention to what is happening in the Constitutional Convention. According to [investigative media outlet] CIPER Chile, there are eight thousand bots in social networks trying to delegitimize the convention. Unfortunately, there’s already people believing this fake news. It has been difficult, but not impossible either, because there are people already protesting about the two-thirds issue.
What’s happening with the People’s List?
The People’s List is a social movement. When the twenty-seven convention members were elected for the List, we never signed a piece of paper that delegated rules that you had to respect. Many of these convention members are more conservative, others are not. But the objective of the People’s List was to bring ordinary people to the constitutional convention, and that objective was achieved, even beating traditional parties.
Then, some political operators came in and said that the People’s List could try pushing for parliamentary and presidential elections. I was partly in agreement with running in the parliamentary elections, but whenever I was interviewed I said that I disagreed with having a presidential candidate. And, well, they tried to impose Cristián Cuevas as candidate without primaries; in the runoff he would have likely gone moderate and supported [the center-left] Frente Amplio, something that was going to destroy our message.
Then a citizens’ consultation was held and Diego Ancalao was elected. But then he went on and did his shifty stuff [Ancalao registered his candidacy with signatures from deceased people], which unfortunately also hurt the People’s List, even though it wasn’t our fault. Unfortunately, my colleagues withdrew from the People’s List and I’m the only one left. I didn’t leave because there are citizens who still believe in the People’s List and I don’t want those people, who hope for a change, to lose all their representatives.
Finally, my editor is a Jurassic Park fan. I think he’d appreciate a shoutout from an illustrious dinosaur like you.
Us dinosaurs have woken up to change the world. We’re coming out of Jurassic Park to invade America, Europe, Africa — you’re going to see us everywhere. Be ready.