Volume 12

The Fragile Chilean Democracy: Its prospects for survival in the short term (1996)

Carl E. Meacham

Meacham, C., The Fragile Chilean Democracy: Its prospects for survival in the short term. Latin American Issues [On-line], 12.
Available: http://sites.allegheny.edu/latinamericanstudies/latin-american-issues/volume-12/

About the Author

Carl E. Meacham is Professor of Political Science at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta. His teaching and research are in the areas of Church-State relations in Chile, the impact of state-sanctioned violence in impending participatory democracy in Latin America, and comparative public administration.

He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa during the 1960s, and worked in the U.S. Department of health, Education and Welfare in the late 1970x. He lived and worked in Chile during the 1980s when he conducted his research on Church-State relations.

Currently he is completing a textbook on South American politics; the integrating themes are democracy, the primary theme, and two secondary themes, dependency and multiculturalism.

He is a former President of the New York State Latin Americanists. Recently he also served as Acting Assistant Provost, International Programs, Central Administration, State University of New York.



On March 11, 1990, Patricio Aylwin was inaugurated as Chile’s first popularly elected president since 1970 when Salvador Allende was chosen as his country’s leader. A socialist, Allende was overthrown in a bloody military coup, led by Army General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Millions of Chileans welcomed the coup for a variety of reasons, but expected a speedy return to representative government following the restoration of order. Seventeen years later democracy returned to Chile, but remaining are the scars and wounds of the Pinochet Government, the most brutal in Chile’s almost two-hundred year history as an independent nation.

The newly elected government confronted extraordinarily difficult tasks of healing the wounds, unifying the people, ensuring domestic order, and maintaining economic prosperity while at the same time fending off subtle, as well as overt challenges to its power from military leaders distrustful of politicians and democracy. While most have accepted their new, reduced status in the society, General Pinochet, surprising to few, in spite of a second presidential election in December 1993, has found it difficult to play a supporting and supportive role in a country where he is remembered by millions as a benevolent dictator who saved them from the evils of Communism.a He has made no secret of his disdain for politicians, using every opportunity to upstage and defy them in his old position as Chief-of-Staff of the Chilean Army. Because of his popularity and tacit refusal to accept completely the new leaders, he remains a visible obstacle to the establishment of a firm democratic Chilean government. The legacy of his nearly 20 years of rule has reached mythical proportions and dismantling the political and economic systems he put in place will not be easy. At almost eighty years of age, the country’s best interests would be served by his quiet retirement.

Prospects of his removing himself from the scene are problematic in the short-term. He has vowed to remain an active, visible presence in Chile until he is assured the country is in capable hands, and equally important, to make certain “his men” are not prosecuted for allegedly committing some of the most heinous political crimes in Chilean history between 1973 and 1989. He, like a number of other Chileans, would prefer not to “relive the past” because the trauma associated with it would threaten the smooth and peaceful transition to democracy, and make it difficult to obtain national reconciliation and unification. To others, the pain endured during his dictatorship was too pervasive and extreme simply to forget. Persons from every social class, including former President Aylwin, felt the sting of Pinochet’s oppressive tactics. Yet, many of those now in power are unwilling to completely open Pandora’s box out of fear of their inability to close it until the bloodletting results in a repeat of 1973. Few in Chile welcome this scenario. It is this possibility, combined with other vestiges of the legacy, which allows Pinochet and his followers to hold the current government hostage and restrict its resolve to install a democracy, subject to the approval of the military and their most ardent and conservative supporters.

In place in Chile, then, is a fragile four-year old democracy, which could self-destruct in a very short time if “reliving the past” results in trials for accused violators of human rights, and the Frei government aggressively attempts to initiate policies contrary to the interests of powerful minorities like the military and businessmen or allow protest from poor Chileans about their status to threaten the “peace.” The survival of any civilian Chilean government elected in the very near future, and indeed the survival of democracy, depends on its ability to balance these minority interest with those of the majority. It is a task wrought with mine fields. The prospects for success are ominous in the short-term unless the Frei government, following in Aylwin’s footsteps, can perform the daunting tasks of satisfying minority and majority interests without stepping on the minefields.

This article focuses on some of the obstacles on the road to the establishment of a solid democracy in Chile and the extent to which they will inhibit democratic rule. A brief review of the dictatorship, and why the transition occurred are presented initially to place in the appropriate perspective the difficulties faced by the “new Chilean guard.”



When the military assumed power in 1973, then Senator, former President Aylwin and President of the Christian Democratic Party, applauded the move. The current President, a civil engineer, was not involved in politics, although his father, who also initially applauded the coup, eventually emerged as one f the leading opponents of the dictatorship. Like many Chileans, he had become discontented with the Allende government because of its failure to ensure order and economic stability. Aylwin acted as one of several mediators between the government and the centrist political parties and others bent on rescuing Allende from himself. Agreements were impossible to reach, in part, because Salvador Allende was recalcitrant and his adversaries demanded more than he was willing to concede. To many, he had become a captive of his own ideology, i.e., that it was more important to install a socialistic system in Chile than to reach an accommodation with his opponents. The involvement of the U.S. Government in Chile’s internal affairs, moreover, exacerbated Allende’s problems. These factors contributed to his downfall and the subsequent installation of the U.S. backed military government, which Aylwin and other Christian Democratic leaders expected and hoped would restore order and turn over power to civilians after a brief period. The generals had other plans, none of which included immediately returning power to civilians. Rather, they moved quickly and brutally to solidify their control.

Untold thousands of Chileans disappeared; innumerable citizens were murdered by death squads; and thousands were forced into exile. Even in exile, as the late Chilean Foreign Minister in the Allende government, Orlando Letelier learned, no place was safe for a government bent on eliminating its opponents. He was assassinated by Chilean security agents in Washington, D. C. The military’s tentacles were long and vicious. Other Chileans hostile to the military government met similar fates in Argentina and Italy. Those murders have not been forgotten and many Chileans continue to seek revenge, not simply out of grief, but because a generation of potential leaders was eliminated.

In other areas of Chilean life, the impact of seventeen years of military rule is difficult to assess, but is as devastating as the murders and disappearances in that the psychological toll taken on Chileans will probably never be repaired. No aspect of Chilean life escaped harm. Fearful of the role that arts played in the life and soul of the country, for example, the military sought to expel Chilean artists whose songs, paintings, poetry and prose conveyed the pain, sufferings, and dreams of the motherland. Writers and intellectuals like Ariel Dorfman, Isabel Allende and Jose Donoso, a future Nobel laureate in literature, fled the country, but continued to write about the horrors of their beloved Chile. They, and others, will never erase from their memories attempts by the Pinochet government to rewrite Chile’s cultural history, manifested all too clearly in the near destruction of Pablo Neruda’s homes by soldiers following the orders of their superiors. Fearless Chileans intervened to save much of his legacy, protecting his books and possessions as though they are their own.1

How Frei, following Aylwin’s example, deals with the demands for revenge and long memories after the euphoria connected with the return to democracy subsides, will determine the success or failure of his government, and, indeed the survival of participatory democracy in Chile in the near future. In addition to contending with dangerous emotional and less-tangible concerns, the democrats must contend with a number of intricate laws and decrees enacted by the military government over the last few years. All are designed, as Mark Falcoff suggests in Chile: Prospects for Democracy, to protect the military’s privileges, prevent the officers from being tried for human rights abuses, and reflect their distrust of “a restored democratic system.”2

Interestingly, the conservative Falcoff did not mention a fear of communism. In general, the Communists are no longer important enough in Chilean politics to warrant great apprehension or pose a political threat. While they may be active in some working-class or intellectual circles, in the congressional elections in December 1989, they did not win a single seat.3 In subsequent congressional elections and local elections held in July 1992, they also fared poorly. The collapse of the Eastern European political systems, and the “democratization” process in the Soviet Union contributed to their absence of support in Chile. Considering then, all of the fears of the military about a return to the chaotic days of the past, why did Pinochet relinquish power? Before examining the legal means initiated by the military to protect itself, and allow the establishment of a “fragile democracy,” some comments are in order regarding why Pinochet decided to relinquish the Presidency.



The pressure for change began in Chile shortly after the military had assumed power. The barbaric manner which power was consolidated served to diminish initial support extended by the Catholic Church and some of the centrist political parties. Buoyed by backing from the U.S. government, one of the first to grant diplomatic recognition to the junta, the military, taking advantage of a weak, disorganized opposition, methodically took control of the country. Over time, economic measures were imposed that benefited a large segment of the population, although the poor became poorer. Order was restored, satisfying many opponents of the junta. Dissidents were neutralized, and for a period, as long as economic prosperity existed, at the expense of the loss of human rights, little sustained, widespread opposition occurred.

However, by 1983, the economic situation had begun to worsen; organized demonstrations increased in spite of mass arrests, exiles and the in-country isolation of protest leaders.4 Those protests precipitated increased external pressures for change. In partial response to them, internally and externally and even within the military, a new constitution was approved in a plebiscite in 1980.5 Primarily written by Pinochet and his representatives, the document offered a limited form of representative government in the future. It promised a transition to participatory government, a process controlled by the military.6 The most important turning point was not the approval of the Constitution, however, but the worsening economic situation which sparked the protests in 1983. Not only did a large number of Chileans demand guarantees for employment and lower inflation, they intensified their call on the government to respect human rights, and more significantly to accelerate the transition to democracy. Although Pinochet seemed reluctant to listen and heed their demands, he could not ignore that even in the face of death, an untold number of Chileans refused to be silent. His support had waned, proving that even in an authoritarian state, leaders require popular support to maintain control, especially when coercion and/or threats are no longer adequate guarantees to force adherence to established rules.

Pinochet, however, refused to concede defeat. Realizing, nonetheless, that he was vulnerable, he agreed to make a few concessions in order to pacify his opponents, shore up his image and solidify his control. A few exiles were allowed to return. Dialogue was reinstituted with Catholic Church leaders, his most outspoken critics. This was undertaken in part because of the appointment of a new Bishop in Santiago. The moderate Juan Francisco Fresno Larrain replaced the retiring Cardinal, Raul Silva Henriquez, long the most persistent critic of the government.7 Sergio Jarpa, a conservative proponent of democracy, was appointed Minister of Interior to represent the government in talks with the opposition.8 Indeed, Pinochet’s opponents had disregarded the government’s ban on organizing political parties and formed the Democratic Alliance, made up of five centrist parties, in August 1983.9

I recall, during this same period, attending a human rights protest meeting. The meeting was held in a building less than three blocks from Edificio Diego Portales, where many of the government’s executive offices were housed, including the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI, Chile’s domestic CIA.) The Democratic Alliance evolved into the “Concertacion por el No” prior to the October 1988 plebiscite. Within the government, there also were signs that the transition would be accelerated. For example, Air Force Chief-of-Staff Fernando Matthei was quoted as saying, “Now is the time to return to political debate” and political parties would “soon find a form of expression.”10 This comment was made following a meeting between Fresno and Jarpa. What they discussed, however, was not made public.

Aware of his declining support and the refusal of a substantial number of Chileans to be silenced by the use of and threat of force, Pinochet, nevertheless, sanctioned state violence to discourage opposition. Even former President Aylwin and Gabriel Valdes, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, now President of the Senate were beaten and arrested by the police.11 Pinochet was determined to stop the avalanche, yet it seemed only a matter of time before his government would fall. But, like all [vicious, power-hungry] dictators, he was convinced that he could survive indefinitely. Considering the absence of organized political opposition, he must have been correct.

Perhaps had political leadership been less fragmented and disorganized in Chile in 1983, the transition to democracy would have taken place in 1984. Unfortunately, during times of democratic rule and relative calm, one of the problems which consistently plagued political leaders was their inability to forge lasting coalitions as effective means of addressing lingering economic and social problems. In the late 1950s, for example, almost twenty political parties functioned I Chile, representing a vast array of political ideologies. Each purported to have the right formula for solving problems. It was this kind of fragmentation in civilian leadership which facilitated the military takeover and almost twenty years of domination. Well-disciplined, organized, and purposeful, the armed forces took advantage of these qualities to secure and maintain power. Dissident officers were retired or re-assigned. Of the few who disagreed with government policies, almost none went public between 1973 and 1989 to denounce Pinochet or their former colleagues.b

In any event, following what could have developed into destabilizing protest in 1983, the “year of opportunity” for Pinochet’s opponents evolved into a “year of reconsolidation” for Pinochet.12 Although the time seemed ripe for his removal in 1984, he initiated measures which served to strengthen his power. The CNI and military were granted authority to detain suspected terrorists and conduct covert surveillance of anyone suspected of terrorist intentions.13 Courageous lawyers who defended suspected terrorists were considered, themselves, suspected terrorists. Arrests of political party leaders, like Manuel Almeyda Medina, president of the Popular Democratic Movement, were made to discourage overt organized, aggressive opposition.14 Priests and other Catholic Church leaders were beaten when they participated in demonstrations. One priest, Andre Jarlan, a French national, was killed when a soldier indiscriminately fired his rifle into the cleric’s residence.15 Other dissident priests were arrested. In addition, freedom of assembly was further restricted, only allowing meetings of large groups for political purposes with government permission.

In spite of increased officially sanctioned state terrorism, the protests did not subside; they intensified. by late 1984, Pinochet’s government had reached a crisis stage. His cabinet, let by Sergio Jarpa, resigned en masse, ostensibly to permit Pinochet a freer hand in coping with the opposition.16 The crisis also precipitated a breakdown in communications, established by Jarpa, between Church and State. Optimistic that Pinochet would be less confrontational with dissidents over time, the moderate Bishop Fresno, in response especially to acts of repression against the Catholic Church, signaled that the “honeymoon” was over between Church and State.

In concert with the Church’s Permanent Committee (selected by the Conference of Bishops, it is responsible for implementing Church policies), Fresno leveled a stinging attack on Pinochet, criticizing him for interfering in pastoral authority, obstructing communications, and violating basic human rights.17 Pinochet, however, was not impressed. Although he increased repression, the church’s attack, in spite of possible reprisals, was another manifestation of the government’s waning public support. The government provided some financial support to Church social welfare programs and the bulk of the budgets for Catholic universities, but church leaders, like other Chilean leaders, chose resistance, not submission. A silent Church would have given the impression of tacitly approving Pinochet’s tactics. Whether it was conservatively and liberally oriented, the church had never been known for its silence. On of the most respected institutions in Chile, its positions on political matters were not ignored. Yet, it lacked the ability or desire to unify all of the dissidents. Without this unity, the military no longer considered an omnipotent force by a growing number of Chileans could continue, nevertheless, to exploit the divisiveness and remain in power.

If the protests of 1983 were not sufficient to bring down the dictatorship, they were instructive. With just sporadic instances of unity, opposition leaders were buoyed about the extent to which they could generate vocal opposition to the government. To some degree, they had been able to overcome their greatest obstacle, fear. Required was a means to translate the absence of fear into unity. In 1985, a breakthrough appeared on the horizon.

The leading newspaper in Chile, El Mercurio, reported on August 15 that several meetings had occurred between Cardinal Fresno (elevated in 1985) and a number of political party and business leaders.18 They were held following a request from Fresno in July 1985, when he asked them to devise a transition plan to discuss with the government. On August 26, the plan was made public. In a rare show of unity, eleven party leaders had produced the National Accord for the Transition to a Full Democracy. A Christian Democrat and a member of President Aylwin’s cabinet, Sergio Molina, had acted as the group’s coordinator.19 The provisions of the Accord were not “revolutionary” in any way, but the process and individuals included represented significant turning points in Chilean politics. The Accord called for a speedy return to democracy, direct election of president and members of Congress, and excluded the initiation of criminal trials to prosecute military officers allegedly involved in human rights violations, including murders and disappearances.20 Fresno agreed to present the Accord to Pinochet. In a subsequent meeting with the General on Christmas Eve, 1985, he refused to discuss the document.21

Pinochet’s refusal to discuss the Accord was not surprising. He did not want to give the appearance of having lost a battle or losing the war. He also did not wish to discuss politics with Fresno, extending recognition to the Church’s “right” to involve itself so directly in politics. Whatever the reason, the production of the Accord had sent an unambiguous message to Pinochet that his ability to continue to exploit the fragmented opposition had been seriously threatened. Interestingly, the Accord included the signatures of the leaders of right-wing parties, organizations which had benefited from the largess of the government, its members serving in the bureaucracies and the foreign service. Their participation in the process extended credence to claims made by more vocal opponents that Pinochet’s government did not represent the views of thousands of Chileans. Conservatives, too, had grown tired of the repression and oppression. They resented the absence of freedom of expression. From their neighborhoods came many of Chile’s most talented artists and writers who, because of government actions, had been forced to submerge their creativity. Some had been forced into exile, while many who had remained felt creatively impotent. To have expressed freely their thoughts on canvas, in prose, in poetry, or in film may have meant exile, prison or death. As fear subsided, a number of actors, for example, began to appear in plays with anti-government themes. Some, like Delfina Guzman and Nissim Sharim, lost lucrative commercial contracts because of their activities. Their acts of courage did not go unnoticed by their followers, and, indeed, encouraged others in other areas of Chilean life to join them, swelling the ranks of opponents and increasing the demands for change.

Internal pressure for change that came from all segments of the Chilean society is the primary reason for Pinochet relinquishing at least the presidency, and participating in his own removal from office. Conversely, many U.S. opponents of the regime will probably argues, had the United States imposed economic sanctions, the process would have been accelerated. That position is speculative. The reality is that the Reagan Administration embraced the dictator because of his strong anticommunist posture, seeking also to salvage U.S. friendship which had been damaged by President Jimmy Carter. In actuality, Pinochet was prepared to continue his rule, even as a pariah. He established trade relationships with South Korea, South Africa, Israel and any country willing to deal with Chile. Determined to be independent of U.S. influence, he refused to be cowed by American legislators or special interest groups. Indeed, U.S. companies expanded their operations in Chile, increased their investments, and helped to facilitate the sale of Chilean exports, especially agricultural products in the United States. U.S. banks, and international monetary organizations also continued to conduct business there. Few, if any, of these organizations or their representatives allowed Chilean domestic political problems to interfere with their ability to make money.22

As far as U.S. diplomats were concerned, especially after the aggressive Harry Barnes’ appointment as ambassador in 1985, the Chilean government generally ignored them, except in instances requiring official communication.23 U.S. diplomats assigned to Chile in the 1980s protested that their influence with the Pinochet government was negligible.24 While they met in social functions, they were not extended audiences with the highest officials to discuss concerns they had about the country’s political situation. Even high ranking visiting U.S. officials, like Assistant Secretary of State Robert S. Gelbard, a frequent visitor to Chile during the Reagan Administration, were not granted interviews with Pinochet.25 Informed Chileans said that Pinochet and his top aides resented lectures from U.S. officials on democratic principles. To be sure, official contacts increased, as the transition to democracy neared, primarily as a U.S. strategy to provide State Department officials the capability to influence the direction of the newly elected government. The National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the U.S. Congress, for example, used most of its $1 million appropriation to finance advertising, polling and other activities in 1988.26 As a result, officials in the U.S. embassy in 1988, did not flinch when answering questions about U.S. interference in Chile’s internal affairs, responding “yes,” the U.S. was involved in the transition.27 They appeared to relish the idea they could help bring democracy back to Chile. Their actions have been superfluous, and although the U.S. will take substantial credit for helping Chile return to participatory government, overlooked will be the valiant efforts of courageous Chileans, who continue to press for a complete return to representative government. They have much to overcome, including deep psychological wounds that will remain for years, and a web of laws and decrees enacted by the military to accomplish what Falcoff has so accurately stated.

The web of laws relates to (1) constitutional protections for the military, (2) educational management, higher education, (3) business, banking concerns, and financial concerns, and (4) statues designed to protect the armed forces from taking responsibility for abuses committed between 1973 and March 11, 1990. It is incumbent on the democratically elected governments to eliminate most of the laws, decrees and directives, if the democracy is to survive in the long run. If they are allowed to remain intact, significant decisions will be difficult to make regarding the process and substance of politics out of fear that the military will intervene directly to obstruct or impede participatory government. No democratic government can function effectively and for a long period if it is held hostage to an elite bent on protecting its interests that conflict with those of the majority.



When the 1980 Constitution was approved in a plebiscite in 1980, the military government applauded its acceptance as (1) support for its policies, and (2) a significant first step towards the transition to democracy. The opposition reluctantly accepted the document as a focus of discussion and debate because it was powerless to do anything else. Opponents argued correctly that the process itself was flawed since they were excluded from participation. The Pinochet handpicked Council of State drafted the document, and although not precluded from consulting with the opposition, contrary views were not seriously sought and considered. Pinochet rejected the final draft of the Constitution because it did not provide for his continuing in office until 1997.28 His advisors persuaded him to accept the draft, based on their view his demand to add the clause would result in the document’s disapproval. As the “carrot,” they proposed a “midterm” plebiscite as a compromise formula, according to Arturo Valenzuela, a respected scholar of Chilean politics.29 Pinochet also rejected the Council’s proposal the military rule end and open elections be held in 1985. This disagreement led to the resignation of the Council’s President, the late Jorge Alessandri, a former Chilean President and the son of a President.30 In addition, the Constitution exempted Pinochet specifically from the restriction barring presidents from succeeding themselves. In essence, the Constitution was drafted to legitimize Pinochet’s hold on the presidency until he alone decided to relinquish the office.

Before the voting was completed on approving the document, which became effective on March 11, 1981, Pinochet’s opponents began to pressure for substantial changes, claiming the Constitution merely perpetuated authoritarian rule and a permanent role for the military in politics. Led by centrist political leaders, they pushed for modifications that would accelerate the transition to democracy and restore total civilian control of the political system. Pinochet refused to be persuaded, and indeed, invoked provisions of the document to apply harsher measures against the opposition. Almost ten years later, after scores of anti-government protests, the institution of numerous states of siege, and an embarrassing defeat of his presidential candidacy, on March 11, 1989, Pinochet announced he was opened to discussions on amending the Constitution. Minister of Interior Carlos Caceres, the highest ranking cabinet minister, was designated to lead and coordinate the talks.31

At the end of May 1989, Caceres announced that he had reached an agreement with various political parties and interest groups, excluding the faltering Communist Party.32 A plebiscite was called for July 30, 1989 on the Constitutional Reform agreement. The negotiations and the plebiscite came in the wake of the October 5, 1988 “mid-term” plebiscite in which the Chilean electorate voted 53% to 44% against Pinochet remaining President until 1997.33 In agreeing to this “mid-term” plebiscite, Pinochet believed that he would win. A confident Pinochet, in an interview in the government propaganda journal, Chile Now in August 1988, alluded to his agenda between 1989 and 1997.34 With obvious disappointment El Mercurio reported on November 26, 1989 that Pinochet had agreed to abandon power on March 11, 1990.35

In another resounding defeat for the military government, 86% of 7 million Chileans voted to approve the changes while only eight percent disapproved.36 They included (1) requiring a vote of two thirds of Congress to amend the Constitution, not the approval of two successive Congresses; (2) replacing the infamous Article 8, which essentially outlawed political parties and doctrines contrary to military views, with a provision allowing for the attainment of political pluralism; (3) increasing the number of elected Senators from 26 to 38; (4) broadening the membership on the National Security Council to balance civilian/military representation; (5) prohibiting the President from dissolving the lower house of Congress; and (6) prohibiting the President from expelling citizens during a state of siege.37

At initial reading, the changes appeared to strengthen civilian leaders and guarantee the re-establishment of a democracy that would be real and not illusory. But, the constitutional debate is far from over. Neither Pinochet nor the military leaders was neutralized; their role in the government remains significant and a threat to civilian leadership. Congressional authority to amend the Constitution is a return to a similar position provided in the 1925 Constitution. Changing the substance of Article 8 was not retroactive; journalists arrested under its provisions and complementary law (18.662) were not granted amnesty. Although the number of Senators popularly elected was increased, the provision which allowed then President Pinochet to appoint two of the nine designated Senators was not revised, nor was the provision to eliminate the designation of the armed forces Chiefs of Staff as Senators. All nine designated Senators, some appointed by the Supreme Court, are depended upon to obstruct actions and procedures advanced in the Senate to facilitate a substantive transition to democracy and discourage any attempts to deal with political abuses of the past. The National Security Council retains broad powers in financial and security matters, and is empowered to direct the President to carry out actions in these areas, even if individual rights are compromised. The Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces are members, and act as checks on the President’s ability to control the military. Some of the modifications will enhance civilian rule, but, the dyarchy remains in place, providing the military with a strong voice in the government. In other areas of Chile life, the military presence and its seventeen year legacy of dictatorial rule will be felt strongly as well.



Institutions of higher education in Chile have traditionally been bastions of political activity. The University of Chile, founded in the 1840s by Liberals, opposed to the mix of politics and religion, was established to provide a liberal arts education to all qualified applicants. Although financially supported by the government, it was permitted to operate independent of political authorities, and like similar institutions in Latin America, allowed a great deal of autonomy. Faculty and students essentially ran the institution. Later, in the 1880s, Catholic University was founded in Santiago by the Catholic Church. Primarily established as an alternative to the University of Chile, and as an important institution to ensure the reflection of Catholic doctrines in the curriculum of undergraduate students, it, too, thrived as an institution independent of political authorities. Financial support came mainly from the Church, tuition, and donations. As it became an economic burden for the Church, the Chilean government agreed to provide increasing financial assistance. Prior to the assumption of military power in 1973, almost all of its operating budget came from the state treasury. Like the University of Chile, its operations became subject to partisan political influence. But, governments previous to 1973 allowed the institution autonomy, in spite of student and faculty organizations connected to them opposing government policies. Indeed, all university campuses had active political parties which were disbanded by the military, but since have been allowed to resume their activities.

Beginning in 1973, the universities, like other institutions, became objects of repression. Considered socialist or Marxist, control was taken away from civilians and given to the military. Military officers were appointed as rectors. Dissident professors were fired; activist students were expelled. The same reign of terror which pervaded the entire country encapsulated the universities. As another effective means of neutralizing politics on the campuses, the military government enacted policies requiring the payment of tuition, unheard of in Chile. Some scholarships were made available. But, in large part, the universities became institutions only the upper-middle and upper-classes could afford. Poorer Chileans who had used them as vehicles with which to advance socially and economically found their doors closed. The chasm between rich and poor became even greater.

The initiation of tuition, if justified to overcome lingering financial problems, was not an incorrect public policy solution; however, given the motivation for the policy, its consequences had a chilling effect on economic development and national reunification. Combined with other measures aimed at purging the institutions of dissidents, the military succeeded in diminishing the quality of education provided, making what were considered throughout Latin America first-rate universities, at best, super high schools.

Opposition followed all of the above measures on and off the campuses, precipitating additional repressive actions against the demonstrators. Article 8 was interpreted by the government after 1980 as a basis for expelling dissidents. In an attempt to appease academically qualified, but poor students, a system of credit was established to provide student loans, patterned after the system in the United States. Interest rates are high, but students seemed willing to apply for the loans. Government officials placed pressure on academic authorities to encourage the use of student loans as their financial support from the government began to decline after 1974.38 The universities, as a result, were forced to cut costs by reducing salaries, dismissing professors, and eliminating non-essential services. In addition, they were directed to restructure their programs by introducing and emphasizing courses designed to prepare students for entry into the business and commercial worlds, and the limit course offerings in the social sciences. A number of academics argued that some restructuring was necessary, but they objected to the heavy-handed way the government imposed its directives and treated professors who questioned the rationale for the new policies. At the same time, particularly during the mid-1980s, the military initiated a policy of “liberalization,” two aspects of which were replacing some military rectors with civilians, and returning limited control to institution officials.39 But, dismissal of dissident professors and students continued, causing additional demonstrations and demands that the civilian rector of the University of Chile, Luis Fererici be dismissed.

In late 1987, Fererici was replaced by a noted scholar, Juan de Dios Vial Larrain, who resigned for health reasons in 1991. Well-respected in academic circles and by government officials, Vial was not expected to exercise the independence desired by academics as long as the government persisted in denying the university the autonomy it had traditionally enjoyed prior to 1973. In any event, Vial assumed the rectorship, determined to bring some order to the university. As head of Chile’s leading institution of higher education, he could set an example for others to follow.

There were several issues he had to confront. One concerned the conditions and terms of employment of university professors, referred to as “dedicacion exclusiva.”40 In short, full-time instructors, many of whom held employment off-campus to supplement their incomes, experienced pressure to devote all of their professional time to the university. If they refused to agree to this condition, their salaries would be adjusted accordingly. given the low salaries of even the most experienced and qualified professors, agreeing to a policy of ” dedicacion exclusiva ” would require them to forego earnings necessary to supplement their university salaries.

Secondly, Vial had to implement the government-required “Plan de Desarrollo,” a plan designed to restructure the curriculum as mentioned earlier.41 In effect, money for research was to be diminished as well as the number of professors engaged in research. This plan was opposed by the faculty’s Association of Academics, a group which increasingly exercised less and less influence in the university’s decision-making process.

Finally, and perhaps the most important issue confronted by Vial was neutralizing student protests and increasing the number of students matriculating at the university. The root of the protests was centered primarily on finances: students disliked the imposition of the tuition, and while many borrowed money to finance their educations, they found the loans unfair burdens, especially in view of resources used to support the military apparatus and assistance given to commercial interests. They also objected to the government’s interference in university operation, and the quality of university instruction, made worse by the paltry salaries paid to instructors. And like the faculty, they berated the government for not involving them in making policies, a process in which traditionally, at least, prior to 1973, they had been participants.

Under a civilian president, the universities looked forward to a different status in which like pre-Pinochet years, they will be autonomous. However, the need to continue some of Pinochet’s financial measures ensuring economic development, the institution of tuition and the student loan programs may be permanent fixtures of the higher educational system. On the other hand, self-governance at the universities has been reinstated. The curriculum may not be radically modified, but the policy of “dedicacion exclusiva” will continue as a controversial issue until salaries for university professors are raised reflective of their qualifications and teaching responsibilities. Whatever happens, Pinochet’s mark on higher education has been made. It is unlikely the Frei’s government, merely to satisfy students and faculty, will strain the national treasury by returning to the halcyon days of the past when a good university education was free. Chile does not have the resources to engage in such a policy.

If Pinochet’s mark on higher education is likely to be felt for a long period, his policies in business, banking and financial matters will have a similarly significant impact. The Aylwin government made a few modifications in the economic system, but those changes tended to strengthen the status quo, and marginally improved the situation of the middle class. None were made or suggested that would have been considered threats to the business and financial communities for the Aylwin government realized “radical” changes would have undermined democratic decision-making. In order to protect their interests, they are not against joining with their military supporters to block changes. In sum, a democratically-elected government may not be able to make changes in the economic sphere designed to benefit the majority because the minority will use policies enacted by a dictator to maintain the status quo. This is probably the most critical substantive issue all democratically-elected governments will continue to face.



When the military assumed power in 1973, Chile’s economy was in shambles, because of the economic policies of the Allende administration and the reaction to them by Chilean capitalists and the international community. Foreign investments, particularly from the United States, had been severely curtailed; the battle over the expropriation of private businesses had served as a disincentive to both domestic and external investors; and the socialist direction of the government had undermined capitalistic expansion. Employment in the public sector had expanded but private sector employment had declined. Consumer products like television sets, clothes, and even staples such as bread and potatoes were in short supply. Lines to purchase bread, for example, were common throughout Chile. Influenced by the “Chicago boys,” economists trained at the University of Chicago and committed to supply-side and free market economics, the military devised plans to rebuild the Chilean economy while simultaneously restoring order. To achieve these goals, policies were initiated to strengthen financial, business and banking concerns, enhancing in the process the power of the upper-class whose support and cooperation was necessary to establish economic stability. Nationalized businesses wee returned to their former owners or sold to foreign investors; agrarian reform was discontinued and beneficiaries of this program unable to produce deeds showing ownership were forced to relinquish that land; consumer products, many of them imports, became readily available. The Chilean peso was devalued in relation to the U.S. dollar.

In time, the economy showed improvement, but Chile’s external debt increased, eventually exceeding $20 billion, on of the highest per capita in Latin America. A substantial part of the increase was attributable to the purchase of military hardware used to control internal political dissension.42 As economic conditions improved, Chileans appeared to be sanguine about repression. However, in 1983, the economy experienced reversals, and latent hostilities to the dictatorship began to surface in the form of protests and demonstrations, particularly in the urban areas.

The measures taken to correct deficiencies in the economy would have an impact on the affected groups for several years. In 1985, Hernan Buchi, a Columbia University trained economist was appointed Finance Minister. Intellectually linked to the “Chicago boys,” Buchi undertook a number of austerity measures, including reducing real wages by five percent, devaluing the peso, reducing tariffs and “inflation and(including)adjustments on pensions and family subsidies.”43 The well-off suffered little as none of the measures negatively affected their standard of living. Indeed, by reducing tariffs, exporters increased their shipments of consumer products to Chile and Chilean importers reaped the benefits. By 1986, the economy showed improvement. Inflation fell to 17 percent, the lowest since 1981; official unemployment dropped to 10.2 percent, compared to 19.6 percent in 1982.44 Actual unemployment in the urban areas was probably 30 percent. But, like other Latin American nations, Chile’s external debt undermined long term economic development even as inflation and unemployment declined. To maintain economic stability and progress, Buchi and others sought additional loans from foreign banks and international monetary organizations to finance development, and continued to mortgage Chile’s economy by rescheduling payments on existing debts. Payments in the hundreds of millions of dollars on the debts annually will mean that resources to finance development projects will not be available to future governments. In their zeal to enhance their political power and convey the impression that real economic progress was possible using incremental conservative means, the military government left a financial burden on Chileans that continues to stymie growth, although the economy, at times, has been robust. The military effectively compromised political-economic decision-making for at least the next generation.

In an attempt to lessen the external debt and its impact, the military initiated in 1985, indeed pioneered, policies to swap debt for investment capital. While the debt had been reduced by $1 billion in 1987 employing this strategy, most of the capital “went to buy public companies rather then for new investment.”45 More importantly, this strategy allowed for increased involvement of external interests in Chile’s economic system, further compromising domestic political-economic decision-making. Current leaders are forced to make decisions consistent with the interests of outsiders, not those of Chileans. By the end of April 1987, U.S. investors had taken part in 43 percent of the deals while Europeans, mostly bankers, had participated in 38 percent of the debt to equity conversion.46

In large measure, this policy is linked to privatization in that publicly owned companies, a percentage or all, are sold to private investors. Privatization as well as the debt for investment capital program has benefited private investors. Relatively save investments have been made in public utilities like Endesa, Enaex, and Telex.47 Government planners had hoped that the investment scheme would have resulted in the expansion of the private sector, creating additional jobs. The goal of the military leaders, however, was to make Chile attractive to foreign investors, undermining opposition from U.S. and Western European liberals to their government on human rights issues. They succeeded, but at a high cost to future governments which will undoubtedly re-examine the debt to equity conversions programs before all of Chile’s most productive companies become the property of foreign investors.

Indeed, within the military government, as far as this policy is concerned, opposition to privatization of all attractive companies came from an unexpected powerful member of the junta, Admiral Jose Merino, Chief of Staff of the Navy. He, despite arguments made by Buchi and the “Chicago boys,” opposed plans to privatize the Empresa Maritima del Estado (Empremar), the large shipping company.48 His opposition was based on his apprehension the Empremar’s removal from government control would result in reduced efficiency. As a fervent advocate of free market economics, it was noteworthy that Merino opposed the plan to reduce government control of Empremar. Merino’s opposition may have stemmed from a possible loss of turf, because of the navy’s interest in determining maritime policy. Regardless of his motive, this level of opposition was significant and put government advocates of such policies on notice that privatization would not be automatically sanctioned if powerful interests objected.

While the debt to equity conversions were rationalized by the military as effective ways of helping to reduce the external debt and stimulate production with new money, it is in agriculture where the economy has shown the greatest strength. North Americans, for example, are very aware of the availability of Chilean fruits and vegetables in their grocery stores. Indeed, agricultural exports to the United States exceeded minerals for the first time in 1987 by close to $30 million. Led by grapes, the value of agricultural products exported to the United States was placed at $494.9 million while minerals were valued at $469.4 million.49 On the strength of these exports, Chile’s balance of trade with the U.S. was a plus $350 million in 1987.50 Chilean wines are also among the favorites in the U.S.; profits from their sales are distributed to a very few wine growers who have become extraordinarily aggressive in marketing their products. Because of the attractiveness of Chilean agricultural products to North Americans, their best customers, coupled with aggressive marketing, the country is no longer a one export-product nation. Copper, with which Chile is most associated, accounted for only 24 percent of the export dollars in 1987 compared to 75 percent during the 1970’s.51

The diversification of the Chilean economy was a positive outcome of Pinochet’s economic policy, although it is not uncommon for Chileans to complain that the best fruits are exported, and are sometimes more available to foreigners than to them. Chileans also are aware that if it were not for the attractiveness of its agricultural products abroad, employment in agrarian and related industries would not be as stable, even seasonally, and the potential for growth in these areas would be problematic at best. Additionally, the export of forestry products, timber especially, has increased, totaling almost $600 million in 1987; the forestry-hungry Japanese have proven to be the best customers for Chile’s lumbermen, accounting for 9.5 percent of the forestry products in 1987, followed by the U.S. with 5.5 percent of the total.52 Japan was part of the military’s trans-Pacific trade strategy, resulting in after nine years of negotiations, the first shipping of Chilean grapes to Japan in 1988.53 Satisfying Japan’s and scores of other countries’ demands for Chile’s forestry products, much of the southern part of the country where the trees are extracted, resembles the remains of a devastating forest fire. Replanting has proceeded slowly, if at all. Considering the time required to replenish a forest, the value of this part of Chile’s agricultural industry will be negligible by the end of the twentieth century. Efforts to slow the depletion of the forests were resisted by the military government in the name of progress while at the same time officials ignored ecological and environmental problems created as a result.

The emphasis on economic development, seemingly without serious thoughts given for future geo-political implications, i.e., dependency on foreign sources, and protection of domestic resources, also led to the initiation of other policies that will restrict of compromise future political decision-making. In January 1988, Chilean Review reported that “income taxes on the profits of foreign enterprises operating in Chile” had been reduced from 40 percent to 35 percent, a ploy designed to attract additional foreign investments.54 Information was not provided regarding conditions, if any, attached to this incentive. The political-economic thicket other Chilean governments had tried to avoid and to extricate themselves to secure more flexibility and independence in decision-making became even more tangled under Pinochet. The wealthy have become wealthier, and a few others have joined them as a result of the policies, reflected in the construction of extravagant mansions in Lo Curro, one of Santiago’s wealthiest neighborhoods. In order to establish a new approach to foreign investments and dealing with their long range adverse impact on domestic economic decision-making, the current government must repeal Decree Law (DL) 600, and so-called Chapter XIX, a compendium of the law on International Exchange. DL 600, the Foreign Investment Statute, allows an immediate remittance of profits, and a contractual agreement between state and investor, changeable only by an agreement of both parties; Chapter XIX provides the conditions for the debt to equity conversion, allowing investments in public companies.55 Any efforts to repeal these statutes will be difficult given the vested interests of Chilean capitalists in the benefits derived from their participation in business arrangements with foreign investors.

Although Pinochet’s economic policies did not result in sustained gains for the poor and working-classes, the majority of Chilean workers, the Frei government may choose to follow Aylwin’s government in not attempting to reverse them. Opposition from Chilean capitalists is a key factor, but the nation’s improved financial status in the international community and the increase in employment, especially in the rural areas, will complicate any decision related to a return to the policies of Eduardo Frei (1964-70) and Salvador Allende (1970-73). Chile makes regular payments on its foreign debt, a distinction that sets it apart from most other Latin American nations, and facilitates its ability to secure additional loans from international banks. Rural unemployment also declined under Pinochet, induced by international demand for Chilean fruits and forestry products. Thousands of would-be unemployed rural workers, mostly female, are working, although they are paid low wages and subjected to undesirable living conditions. Aggressive efforts to force large landowners to revise pay scales upward and provide better working conditions will result in less employment opportunities for rural workers, and a major headache for elected officials, including the President. Allowed to reap huge profits under Pinochet, economic indicators show they are able to higher wages, salaries, and provide better social services.56 Moreover, restrictions on labor union activities, particularly the prohibition against strikes, initiated by the Pinochet government were obvious tactics designed to gain political support, but effectively closed out workers from influencing the economic system or demanding a more equitable distribution of wealth. Aylwin sought to remedy this by restoring some of the traditional powers to a few big unions, enhancing his credibility with them in the process. However, he was careful not to agree to measures that would threaten economic progress and stability or upset industrialists and financiers. On the other hand, Aylwin’s government also was concerned about protecting the rights of workers to organize and function freely, including the use of the strike. In sum, Aylwin had to determine the most palatable balance, a solution, which did not satisfy all parties, but he maintained political stability and peace, in any event.

In another move, several Chileans argued that the approval of a law by the Military Junta to establish a central bank would limit and restrict the new government’s ability to control the economy. Approved on August 11, 1989, according to Junta member, Admiral Jose Merino, “the object of the new law was ‘to maintain a socially-controlled market economy’ and prevent ‘the resurgence of a socialist economy where the state does everything and does it badly’…57 An autonomous institution, the bank has enormous power in determining all economic policies. One opposition economist, Ricardo French-Davis, stressed that the law and subsequent establishment of the bank limited future governments, “because of (the law’s) wide implications for foreign trade and monetary and exchange policy, which ‘represent obstacles on the road to the future.'”58

Politically, the law was viewed as an effective mechanism to institutionalize Pinochet’s economic policies devised by the “Chicago boys.” Although the bank is independent, given Chilean politics and the interests of businessmen to maintain the status quo, its directors have been reluctant to make economic decisions that would adversely impact on the capitalist elites. Proponents argued that the bank would “help preserve Chile’s hard-won economic stability, growth and modernization.”59 While few Chileans desired a reversal of economic progress secured by the Pinochet government, they thought the law made the bank too powerful, “going beyond the (powers of the) United States Federal Reserve and the West German Bundes bank,”60 the models for the Chilean Bank. Critics like Jose Pablo Arellano, executive director of Cieplan, an economic research organization which was close to the Aylwin government, viewed the statute as another attempt by the Junta “to hand over as little power as possible.”61

Mr. Arellano and Mr. Aylwin understood Pinochet’s concern and that of his supporters to maintain economic stability, but they were not persuaded that an autonomous central bank with such extensive powers would accomplish that goal. In their view, a 1980 constitutional provision “preventing deficit spending” and prohibiting the central bank from printing “new money to cover a fiscal shortfall” would adequately regulate the financial system.62 The Pinochet government disagreed. Subsequently, the dispute was settled by a constitutional tribunal which upheld the Junta’s decision. Two judges dissented, however, arguing “that the law provided no mechanism to ensure compatibility between the decisions of the bank’s board and the government’s economic policies.”63 In early December 1989, the statute became effective, following discussions between Pinochet government officials and representatives of elected Presidential candidate Aylwin. The Board appointed by Pinochet to administer the bank represented diverse economic philosophies. Appointed were out-going Finance Minister, Andres Bianchi, President, Juan Eduardo Herrera, Party for Democracy; General Enrique Seguel, former President of the old Central Bank and former Minister of Finance; Robert Zahler, Christian Democrat, and Alfonso Serrano, Vice President of the old Central Bank.64 The five-member Board has a 10 year mandate, with a member appointed every two years. Serving staggered terms, Bianchi will serve two years; Herrera, four years; Seguel, six years; Zahler, eight years; and Serrano, ten years. During his presidency, Mr. Aylwin appointed two new members to the Board, allowing him to control its membership and influence its policies. The possibility of changing the mandate or disbanding the Board also remained, but Aylwin chose to adhere to the status quo. Prior to the presidential elections on December 14, 1989, pro junta presidential candidate, Hernan Buchi, alluded to this possibility. Buchi said that “he (if elected?) would have no objection to reviewing the initial Pinochet appointments to form a board that is acceptable to a new government.”65 Since Aylwin had this option and others, the apprehension about the Board’s use of power may have been mitigated. Initial support extended by leading businessmen and financiers to the new government helped as well. That Aylwin assured them of his plan to “maintain the current market-oriented economic policies” was welcomed news.66

Unquestionably, policies imposed by the Pinochet regime in its waning days to protect business, financial and banking interests in the name of economic progress and stability will continue to induce a great deal of debate in the government. Although Mr. Aylwin won over fifty percent of the vote in his victory, he did not receive a mandate from the electorate to make substantial changes in the economic arena. An unknown percentage of his support was anti-Pinochet, not pro-Aylwin. Historically, a distinct and vocal minority of the electorate has always advocated a structural change in the economy, similar to Allende’s socialist agenda. Middle-class Chileans resent the absence of real economic gain which they blame on policies devised by the “Chicago boys.” Unions, forbidden to strike, during the military regime secured wage increases for their members when others were not successful, believe that if they had been allowed to use the strike, they would have gained greater wage increases. All of these groups witnessed growth in wealth among capitalists because economic policies were designed to benefit them. They voted for Aylwin not only because they viewed him as a political alternative to Pinochet and Buchi, but an economic alternative as well.

If currently Pinochet-imposed economic policies have the potential to threaten the stability of the country’s fragile democracy, initiatives aimed at making the military accountable for abuses committed between 1973 and 1989, muted somewhat during Aylwin’s tenure, continue to anger some Chileans. To this large minority, national reconciliation can never take place unless the military culprits are brought to justice. Because f the emotionalism surrounding this controversy, it remains the most volatile issue confronting the democratic government. Unanimity on a solution seems impossible because all sides appear to be wedded to an uncompromising position, and failure to reach an acceptable national solution will affect all governments in the near future.



The extent and use of power by the military during its first days in power to consolidate its position are well-known. The abuses continued for several years after the 1973 coup. No reliable figures are yet available on the number of people killed, imprisoned or disappeared; in 1990, mass graves were discovered, and others, undoubtedly, will be found. State terrorism was an effective tool employed by the military, and when tortures did not achieve the required ends, murder or exile was used. Indeed, human rights violations – disappearances and arrests for political activities – were common as late as 1988. The military government further emphasized its will to intimidate by subjecting the Vicariate of Solidarity, a Catholic Church organization well-known for its defense of victims of human rights violations, and its Vicar, Bishop Sergio Valech, to an intensive investigation of their activities. The Vicariate and Valech have been accused of harboring anti-government demonstrators, possibly some involved in assassination attempts on government officials. Information considered crucial to the government’s investigations of terrorist activities and assassination attempts was supposedly in the Vicariate’s files. A military judge ordered a search of the Vicariate’s archives, which Valech successfully challenged in the Court.67 A subsequent Supreme Court order directing Valech to make the files available was defied by him on the basis of conscience. The harassment and pressure continued until March 1990, including a thread to arrest Valech. The new government, with many of its officials with close ties to the Church, the Church, obviously, was not subjected to additional intimidation either by the Minister of Interior or the courts, which had been used to legitimize denial of human rights by the government.c

Unquestionably, under Pinochet the Chilean Courts were used as rubber stamps by the government. Few could expect fair trials, particularly with regard to human rights violations. Fernando Volio, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur, investigating human rights abuses in Chile, characterized them as “one of the main problems Chile (confronted) regarding human rights.68 As an initial move, while the structure of the Courts may not require substantive changes, except for the elimination of special military courts established to try civilians, new judges appointed reflect the concerns of the democratically elected government, and have worked to restore popular confidence in the judiciary’s ability to deal fairly with all citizens. Individual and press rights were no longer issues of controversy or dictatorial government control. Since the Communist Party and other leftist groups had legal standing in the system, they were treated similar to other political parties.

The Courts, nevertheless, during the last eighteen months of the Pinochet regime became less and less friendly to the military government. They dealt with few cases alleging government abuses, and most individuals accused by the authorities of violating statutes were usually released without sanctions, or given suspended sentences.69 This obvious reversal in dealing with alleged violations of law came in the wake of highly publicized trials of military officers involved in the kidnapping and torturing of the daughter of a well-known Chilean political party leader, and the murder of several Communists. Civilian judges were assigned to these cases, but their investigations and subsequent actions by the Courts did not result in extremely severe penalties for the accused.

In late 1987, the Pinochet government, undoubtedly looking ahead to a period when it would not be in power, dismantled the National Intelligence Bureau (CNI) detention centers. The CNI, the feared internal security agency, was known for its inhuman treatment of detainees. Eliminating the centers, their files, and evidence of torture made it difficult for subsequent governments to build cases against specific individuals or link their abuses to higher authorities. The closing of the centers was lauded by the military as a reflection of its concern for respecting human rights.70 As late as mid-1988, however, the Vicaria de la Solidaridad (Vicariate) reported several instances of human rights violations by government agents. Many of those arrested were released by the Courts, but their arrests were interpreted as additional efforts by the government to intimidate innocent citizens opposed to the dictatorship.

As the October 1988 plebiscite neared, the military government sought to improve the political climate by lifting the state of emergency and state of internal danger (siege). Imposed and lifted from time to time by decrees, they had been imposed infrequently during past years, but allowed for the arrest of suspected terrorists, for example, by government agents, and provided legal protection for those who abused their authority. The opposition viewed the lifting of the decrees as “cosmetic” since the government continued to deny press freedom, and detained opposition journalists under Article 8 of the Constitution. Even as journalists faced prosecution for criticizing or “insulting” the armed forces, Pinochet seemed rather inane in proclaiming in early September 1988 that “freedom of the press is the basis of liberties.”71 Few of his opponents believed him, interpreting this statement, and the lifting of the states of emergency and siege as obvious ploys to enhance his presidential bid. In the October 1988 presidential plebiscite he was soundly rejected by the electorate, receiving 43 percent of the votes cast. Rules established by him required that open presidential elections be held by December 1989, and the winner assume office in March 1990. Deciding not to enter the race, he opted not to immediately resign to allow a more accelerated transition. His tasks were not yet completed.

He was aware that a number of Chileans would seek revenge through legal means against individuals, including him, in the military government who were allegedly involved in human rights violations. To neutralize them and make it difficult for the new government to pursue, if it desired, accused violators, Pinochet began to help shape an additional series of laws aimed at extending amnesty and pardons for them. Threats of reprisals were added for effect to discourage investigations of violations and subsequent trials. Article 8 of the Constitution also gave him carte blanche to intimidate journalists and others who dared to report and voice opinions contrary to the official government line. Rarely used as the political climate began to change in early 1988, it remained an albatross around the necks of many would-be opponents afraid to criticize the military. Indeed, hundreds of people reportedly were fired because they voted against Pinochet in the October plebiscite.72

That citizens risked their job to vote against Pinochet was another sign that fear had subsided as a factor that could be used by the military to work its will. At the same time, their loss of employment was a manifestation of “the dictatorial state established by the … antidemocratic Constitution.”73 In essence, the document governing the political behavior of the nation provided an ultimate protection for alleged human rights violators. Combined with the cautious approach taken to deal with human rights violations in the National Accord in 1985, government opponents seemed neutralized in their efforts to pursue violators on a wide scale. The Accord supported a case-by-case approach, based on specific evidence, and the use of established civilian courts to try accusers. The military nor a government organization, like CNI, would be held culpable for human rights violations.

Anticipating that alleged human rights violators would be pursued when democracy returned, the junta issued a decree in 1978, extending amnesty to those involved in political murders and related crimes committed between September 11, 1973 and 1978.74 Most of the more serious crimes occurred during this period, and only a revocation of that decree by the Aylwin government would allow pertinent investigations to be initiated. In late 1988, opponents of the junta were far from unanimous in supporting a revocation. Ricardo Lagos, a leading socialist and the Minister of Education in Aylwin’s cabinet, for example, voiced a view shared by many. He opined that it was impossible to erase the past.”75 But, he also agreed with Catholic Church leaders that the truth of the past had to be learned, and afterwards discussion about pardons could proceed.

The leader of the Christian Democrats and soon to be designated presidential candidate, Aylwin, avoided making any specific comments about pardons in 1988. He spoke generally about reforming the judicial system, hinting, nevertheless that a newly structured system would deal with alleged violators of human rights. Aylwin appeared to view institutional changes as ways of coping with the abuses, and was emphatic in an interview about dismantling the dreaded CNI, suggesting that it was an aberration in a democratic society.76 His refusal to address the amnesty or pardon issue was part of his strategy not to provoke unnecessarily a confrontation with the military until after the conclusion of the 1989 Congressional and Presidential elections. While the opposition debated the merits of “digging up the past,” the military continued to pursue measures aimed at covering up the past, making it even more difficult for any new government to learn the truth about the “unofficial story.” The military had convinced the Chilean Supreme Court, for example, to direct the Vicaria to turn over its archives, documenting abuses to government investigators. Vicaria head Valech refused, and risked arrest. The Church considered the government’s persistent actions harassment. Conversely, the military viewed the Church’s refusal to cooperate obstructionist and illegal, and more importantly was upset because the Vicaria possessed evidence that could be used to implicate ranking Pinochet appointed officials in human rights violations. If the military had gained access to the archives, they would “have (had) a negotiating weapon in its possession for a possible future discussion of amnesty. Then it could (have) propose(d) a general absolution, covering all the violence committed on both sides.”77

Official government harassment of the Vicaria and similar bodies has ceased under the Aylwin administration, but discussions of amnesty continue. Indeed, the Vicaria voluntarily made available to the Aylwin administration files that were useful in helping to identify alleged violators of human rights. A few months before the 1989 presidential elections, Pinochet, however, warned the opposition the efforts to reverse the 1978 amnesty decree could endanger the transition.78 Air Force General Fernando Matthei emphasized Pinochet’s warning by adding that efforts “to prosecute military en and other violence committed” between 1973 and 1978 were not acceptable.79 Christian Democrats appeared reluctant to challenge the military on the 1978 law while leftists and communists made known their plans to ask the new Chilean legislature to reverse the statute, but not to pursue alleged violators during the Allende years.

The refusal of the Christian Democrats, the most popular and powerful single political party in Chile, to intensify the debate on the amnesty question was designed to eliminate impediments to transition. Leaders like Andres Zaldivar, president of the Party and now a Senator, stressed that before amnesty discussions should proceed, additional information should be learned about who was responsible for the crimes, and that “sentencing on a broad scale” should occur.80 Others favored a case-by-case approach, ostensibly planning to go after General Pinochet and high level military officers. Pinochet responded to them in unambiguous terms: “The day they touch any of my men, will be the end of the state of law (estado de derecho).”81 Aylwin called the General’s remarks, if taken seriously, seditious, but refused to be drawn into a heated debate with him.82What most concerned Aylwin was proceeding smoothly through the transition. As the debate on the amnesty issue approached a higher level of intensity, in secret, the junta was preparing a series of statutes that enhanced the institutionalization of the role of the military in future governments. A few of the more significant acts have been discussed. In late October, the discussion centered on a:

law (that) would define the rights and obligations of the military vis-à-vis the civilian government. Unofficial reports say the law would set a “floor” for the defense budget now lower than its current level, and that the military would reserve the right to name directors to the major state companies: Codelco (copper), Enap (oil) and Enami (metal, refining and marketing).83

Mr. Aylwin’s victory in December 1989 temporarily postponed the amnesty debate and directed the focus of attention on the impact of the transition, and the removal of the military from political power. While other military leaders accepted the electorate’s decision and contemplated retirement or requests for re-appointment, General Pinochet gave no indication that he would leave the scene or cooperate with Aylwin. The actual presidential inauguration was not scheduled until March 1990, but Aylwin would neither ignore the General nor confront him on any issue that would threaten his assumption of the presidency. Speculation prevailed in Santiago, nevertheless, that Aylwin would ask Pinochet to resign before March but at a high price: compromising on the fate of officers who might “face trial for crimes committed in the dictator’s service.”84 No deal was made. Rather, in his first formal speech as President-elect, he expectedly called for peace and cautioned Chileans that “no es hora de mirar al pasado” (It is not the hour to look at the past).85 Reconciliation was stressed, and allusions to the amnesty issue and concerted attempts by the military to secure a permanent place in the political system were ignored.

The elections occurred in a climate of calm. Observers from all over the world took note of the next to final stage in the transition to democracy. Few violent incidents took place. Euphoria which had prevailed in October 1988 re-emerged in December 1989 and into 1990. Lingering questions remained about the fragility of the democracy and to what extent the military would impede its functioning. Matthei and the General Director of Carabineros (State Police) Rodolfo Stange expressed interest in continuing in their positions when they met with Aylwin. In early January 1990, the junta approved a series of laws, one of which dissolved the CNI; another established a floor for the military budget, not to go below the 1989 appropriation.86 The elimination of the dreaded CNI was welcomed, but establishing a budgetary “floor” for the military obviously placed constraints on Aylwin’s ability to exercise flexibility in budget making, and continued the Armed Forces’ favored position in the country’s list of priorities. Excluded from the formal policy-making system, it would continue to play a significant role in the decision-making system. The law, in effect, enhanced the institutionalization of the armed forces in the political system.

Less than one month prior to Aylwin’s inauguration, the junta completed its law-making. One statute specified the level at which the state would participate in the regulation of the economy through participation in state organizations; and another created a military school, Universidad Bernardo O’Higgins.87 Except for adding another unnecessary budget item, the military school, these changes were less constraining on the new government than others. But, the implications of the new institution are significant. Chile’s financial situation makes it fiscally unwise to burden it with an “expensive toy” for the military as a number of “West Points” already exist in Chile. Created was a memorial to the military; efforts to eliminate funding for the school will be met with resistance from Pinochet and his allies, setting up another unnecessary problem for the new government to confront.

Practically on the eve of Aylwin’s inauguration, the most controversial problem facing the democracy was addressed. In an address to Pinochet and other military leaders, Aylwin sought to allay their apprehensions and fears of Nuremburg-type trials. He stressed he was not interested in prosecuting them for human rights violations and political crimes; privately, he made the same point to Pinochet.88 Aylwin emphasized harmony, but seemed concerned that Pinochet would not respect the subordination of military officers to civilians. Indeed, Pinochet considered the Minister of Defense, technically his immediate supervisor, an intermediary, preferring to deal directly with the President.



In his first major presidential address, Aylwin cautioned against taking precipitous action against alleged violators of human rights and those suspected of committing political crimes. Demands for punishment, he stressed, had to be balanced with justice and prudence. Politically, he was mindful of Pinochet’s warning not to pursue “political persecution” of the armed forces.89 Aylwin, nevertheless, could not ignore demands that those suspected of committing political crimes be brought to justice, and political prisoners be released from jail. The latter demand was easier to address; he pardoned 40 of the 435 political prisoners on his first day in office.90 Those who remained incarcerated were promised fair and speedy consideration. While human rights advocates applauded his quick action in dealing with political prisoners, they continued to press for a reversal of the 1978 amnesty decree and the establishment of a mechanism to bring to justice those suspected of committing political crimes. Aylwin refused to respond immediately to their demands.

The new President was not only concerned about General Pinochet’s warning not to prosecute the military and its implications, but aware of the experiences of recently installed democratic governments in Argentina and Uruguay that had sought to satisfy popular demands to punish army officers accused of human rights violations and political assassinations. The civilian governments had retreated when resistance from the armed forces resulted in a rebellion in Argentina, and the refusal of the military to cooperate in its own investigation in Uruguay. Eventually, in Argentina only a few cases were tried and a blanket amnesty was extended in Uruguay. Given the real possibility that Chile confronted similar outcomes, Aylwin was not anxious to “re-live the past” or make his government vulnerable to a Pinochet led rebellion. Although he reassured the military the guilty would not face jail sentences as he considered ways to deal with the moral dilemma, he was careful not to promise that an official investigation of alleged political crimes would not occur.91

In less than two weeks after assuming the presidency, Aylwin, still deliberating over the best approach available to deal with “the moral dilemma,” an assassination attempt was made on a former junta leader, retired Air Force General Gustavo Leigh.92 It was an unambiguous signal that absent government action against alleged political criminals, some groups, like the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, a known terrorist group, were prepared to mete out their own form of justice. No one in the Aylwin government welcomed vigilantism, officials quickly condemned the group, and promised not to arrest and try the perpetrators. It appeared ironic that Leigh, who had been forced out of the government in 1978 when he opposed the military continuing in office, would be the first target of a post-transition assassination attempt. Leigh, however, was accused of forming a death squad that “hunted down and killed thousands of leftist militants between 1973 and 1976.”93

The assassination attempt was a precursor of events to come if and when the Aylwin government took an aggressive stance on the amnesty issue and brought to justice suspects of political crimes. The attack on Leigh and rumors of other terrorist activities complicated Aylwin’s decision-making process in considering the pace at which reliving the past would proceed. Barely five weeks into his job, he chose to move; pressure from within his official circle, human rights activists, and the threat of organized assassination attempts combined with possibilities of retaliation from the right and military forced him to act.

He appointed a Commission Nacional de Verdad y Conciliacion (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Designated Chairman was Raul Rettig Guissen, a former Senator; Ricardo Martin Diaz, Gonzalo Vial Correa, Laura Novoa Vasquez, Monica Jimenez de la Jara, Jaime Castillo Velasco, Jose Luis Cea Egana, and Jose Zalaquett Daher.94 Given six to nine months to collect information establishing the truth about political murders between September 11, 1973 and March 11, 1980, Aylwin emphasized that the Commission did not have judicial authority, nor power to interfere in any pending cases before the courts.95 Its charge also included gathering “evidence about alleged left-wing killings of some 50 officials of the military regime.”96 Pinochet opposed the creation of the Commission while his Armed Services counterparts endorsed it and promised to cooperate in any way possible. Their absence of opposition probably was based on (1) they were not members of the junta between 1973 and 1978, and (2) they owed their re-appointments or appointments to Aylwin. All of the Commission members were respected and distinguished Chileans, including two who had acquired international reputations as human rights advocates during the critical years, 1973-1978. Castillo had been exiled by Pinochet for his activities and Zalaquett, also exiled, had served as head of Amnesty International. Their knowledge of human rights violations facilitated much of the Commission’s investigation. Pinochet had other reasons to oppose the creation of the Commission; there is the possibility that Castillo and Zalaquett may be able to provide information linking him to political crimes.

The creation of the Commission did not quell political violence. A former colonel in the Carabineros, Luis Fontaine Manriquez, was murdered in mid-May 1990. Fontaine has been implicated in the killing of three Communists in 1985, but insufficient evidence linking him to the murders prevented an indictment. The official investigation into the murders caused an internal shake-up of the Carabineros, resulting in the resignation of the long-time director of the state police, and his replacement by Rudolfo Stange. Stange’s appointment confirmed suspicions of leftists and Communists that Pinochet government officials had authorized political assassinations. However, it was unclear which group or individuals, left, right or military, had participated in Fontaine’s murder or other acts of violence during mid-May.

As the Aylwin government began to reduce the acts of political violence, Pinochet deliberately obstructed the official investigation into the political crimes committed after 1973, thereby exacerbating tensions at a time when they could induce more serious incidents. He refused to hand over to the government secret police records, and provide information about the detailed operations of the CNI, which had been disbanded prior to March 11, 1990. Moreover, according to stories in the Chilean press former CNI officers were “conducting surveillance on officials of the new government.”97 Pinochet may have had knowledge of this illegal activity. In a meeting Pinochet attended at Aylwin’s request, those issues were discussed as well as the Army’s public criticism of the creation of the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. Aylwin upbraided Pinochet for his refusal to cooperate with the Commission, and made clear to him that the military was subordinate to civilian political authorities. Although the ex-President agreed to cooperate with the Commission by agreeing to turn over his files, it was obvious that he was not yet prepared to subordinate himself to any political leader.

The Rettig Commission, as the group came to be called, released its two-volume report in 1991. Literally thousands of Chileans provided testimony about state-sanctioned acts of violence, identified victims and violators, showed where mass graves are located, and pleaded for justice. Lacking any judicial authority or the ability to indict alleged violators, the Commission essentially served as a “wailing wall” for those who participated in the hearing process. Indictments were not issues by the Aylwin government and none is expected from the current Frei government. Perhaps the most important outcome of the hearing was the opportunity for the country to grieve officially over the vicious and bloody years of the dictatorship. Aylwin appeared satisfied that he had provided an official forum for the “crying” to take place; given the constraints on his use of power, he could do little more. No one, however, during the course of the hearings volunteered that history would not repeat itself.

Aylwin left the Presidency on March 11, 1994, turning over power to his fellow Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.



Essentially, Aylwin successfully led Chile through the first stage of the transition. While Pinochet remained defiant in some respects, and protests from more potentially active Chileans were subdued, democratic governing was not interrupted. The Chilean Congress met on a regular basis and passed legislation. Local government officials were elected during mid-1991 with a great deal of enthusiasm and little or no violence.d Aylwin made a number of trips abroad without fear of Pinochet overthrowing his government. On one of his visits to Brazil in mid-1993, he met with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, an event which did not please the military or conservative politicians. There were no defections from the ruling coalition of parties, and Chileans generally participated in politics at the level and intensity they chose. However, Chile was not a democratic nirvana by any means.

Concessions were made by the Concertacion (the coalition of center and left parties, dominated by the Christian Democrats, the largest single party in the country) and other groups and factions ensured the military would maintain a substantial amount of influence and power, and indeed remain in a position to regain control of the government, along with their conservative allies, if the democrats “slipped.” In sum, a number of autonomous “authoritarian enclaves” were established: the Central Bank, the Judiciary, the Universities, and, of course, the Armed Forces, which Chilean political scientist, Manuel Garreton, argues has evolved into “a state within a state.”98 These institutions are not accountable to the elected leaders; by agreement and Constitution, neither Aylwin nor the Congress could tamper with them. Aylwin primarily followed the script, creating few problems for himself with the military or the powerful right wing commercial and business class.

The electoral laws also served to place a check on Aylwin’s use of presidential power and to neutralize aggressive reform moves form democrats on the left and in the center. In sum, the Pinochet regime structured the laws so that the minority right parties would be assured of enough representation in Congress to block constitutional reforms aimed at diluting the power of the military and their allies, and accelerating the transition to full democracy. The law allows each district two representatives and each party is allowed to run two candidates. The voting process is summarized as follows:

Voters choose one candidate and the winners are determined by the total vote received per list. The list with the largest number of votes gets one seat and the second seat is elected from the 2nd list that has half of the number of votes.99

This procedure ensures representation in Congress for the Union Democrata Independiente (UDI), Renovacion Nacional (RN), and other pro-Pinochet and conservative parties. In addition, congressional district lines were drawn to favor rural areas over urban areas. Supportive of the regime, the “gerrymandering” of congressional districts permits rural voters to elect almost three times as many representatives as the generally anti-Pinochet more heavily populated urban areas.100 This resulted in a Congress in which, during Aylwin’s term, 34% of the Senate seats (38 elected and 9 appointed by various national officials, including the out-going President Pinochet) and 40% of the Chamber of Deputy seats (120 – all elected) were held by his opponents; this effectively gave them veto power over constitutional reform.101 Two-thirds of the members of each house is required to amend the Constitution. In this mix, Aylwin could not depend on the support of the nine Constitutionally appointed Senators. Since none of them had a popular mandate, they acted either in their interests or the institution they supposedly represented. During the negotiations between the military and the political parties prior to the 1989 elections, the parties were unsuccessful in persuading the military to eliminate the Constitutional provision requiring the appointments. Although all of them maintained they voted on legislative proposals based on their consciences or in the national interests, they consistently voted opposed attempts to reform the Anti-Terrorist Law, the Military Code of Justice, and the Press Law. In fact, they joined with conservatives frequently to frustrate efforts by Aylwin to accelerate the transition to full democratic government. Aylwin also was stymied in other areas in achieving this goal.

An advocate of economic growth as well as favoring a greater distribution of wealth to all Chileans, Aylwin could not make substantial changes in the economic and banking structures in order to reduce poverty significantly. As mentioned above, the Central Bank is an autonomous institution. Modeled after the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, it has enormous control over the economic system, and operates constitutionally independent of the President and Congress. Pleased with his economic successes, Pinochet, in making certain the appropriate relevant provision was included in the Constitution, did not want the economy held hostage to political deals. Yet the Banking Board makes decisions with broad political implications and consequences.

Conversely, the Aylwin government succeeded in revising the regressive Plan Laboral (Labor Plan), devised by one of Pinochet’s Minister of Labor and now Senator, Jose Pinera. The Pinera Plan did not allow for adequate wage increases for workers, tending to favor industrialists and manufacturers. The Aylwin administration negotiated settlement with most labor unions allowed substantial wage improvements during 1991 and beyond. One of the primary flaws in this most recent plan is labor unions that were not included in the Aylwin process are not covered by the agreement. This may have been a hollow victory since those who were excluded are likely to demand equity from President Frei. There were a few other economic successes as well.

Recognized by a number of world-class economists and businessmen as a newly industrialized and highly competitive nation, serious discussions were in progress about the United States developing a free trade arrangement with Chile at the end of 1993. One of the options under consideration was including the country in an expanded North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).102 Chile appears to deserve the attention. near the end of 1993, the economy was “booming”: exports were about 35% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to 12% in 1974; inflation was down to 12%, significantly lower than the 505% which plagued Chileans two decades ago; and the unemployment rate was close to 4%, the lowest, perhaps, in a generation.103 Even as Aylwin encouraged and presided over a plethora of economic improvements and erased much of the doubt regarding Chile’s ability to improve its economy, he was well aware of the soldiers looking over his shoulders. Perhaps, then, the greatest threat to the Aylwin presidency was the independence of the Armed Forces, controlled and led by Pinochet.

While Aylwin publicly never suggested that the Armed Forces was threatening a coup, he and other democrats feared if they acted too aggressively in accelerating the transition to democratic government, they would be admonished by Pinochet to diminish their speed. Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces until 1997, Pinochet remains a threat to the transition. The 1978 Pinochet issued amnesty decree for officers who might have been involved in human rights abuses between 1973 and 1978, a period during which state-sanctioned violence was at its worst, further insulated the Armed Forces from actions against them by the Aylwin government. Officials close to Aylwin made clear they had opted not to tamper with the decree because they realized the serious problems even suggestions to alter the order would cause. Other areas also remained the sources of dissatisfaction between the Armed Forces and Aylwin.

As an independent entity, the Armed Forces controls arms spending, and how it spends its resources is not subject to review by elected civilian officials. Chilean law also mandates that “10 percent of Chile’s copper revenues, or about $300 million a year, goes to the military.”104 The military is using this power to build up the armed forced. Democrats, of course, have raised questions and objections to this use of power, especially when resources are required to build decent low-income housing, and to improve the educational system. Is the military planning another coup? Do the generals contemplate a war with a regional adversary? If Pinochet and his fellow officers are so concerned about the welfare of Chile and Chileans why are they spending such huge sums of money on weapons that will probably not ever be used?

Nevertheless, Aylwin left office with Chile in a relatively favorable economic system, both domestically and externally. To be sure, the economic condition of the poor improved marginally compared to that of the very wealthy. Politically, despite the defiance and independence of the military, the country continued on an upward spiral. However, as long as the military remains a dominant force, along with other “authoritarian enclaves,” doubt will linger about the nation’s political future.

Power was transferred peacefully to President Frei in mid-March 1994, after an uneventful and tranquil campaign. The outcome seemed never to have been in doubt; pollsters were not sure if he would win 60% or more of the popular vote. While it is premature to even attempt a cursory assessment of his few months in office, it is possible to suggest the kinds of problems he will confront as he leads Chile into the next phase of the transition to democracy.



The son of the late and former President, Eduardo Frei Montalva, the current President Frei won almost 60% of the vote in 1993, surpassing the percentage garnered by his father. He inherited a stable political climate, considering the limitations on democratic government, and a bustling economy. However, the country has yet to deal with a vast array of human rights problems which if not addressed, may impact negatively on economic development. The Rettig Commission may have completed its hearings, but thousands of Chileans are angry that not a single military officer, accused of human rights violations, was indicted. Frei will be tested on this issue. In the broader area of human rights, Frei could demonstrate his concern for human rights by attempting to persuade the Chilean Congress to ratify the American Convention of Human Rights issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1988. A signatory of the Convention, Chile has not completed the process by ratifying it domestically.105 Opposition by Senate conservatives would probably block its ratification, but it would be an enormous step in affirming the transition to democracy. Frei campaigned on the slogan “Continuity and Change.” Encouraging the Congress to ratify the Convention would certainly represent change. On the other hand, he is not likely to revoke the 1978 amnesty decree; this is not the kind of change Frei alluded to in his campaign. The amnesty and human rights issues will not go away; Frei will be forced to deal with both.

The Frei Presidency, nevertheless, will be assessed on its ability to continue the peaceful transition to democracy by encouraging negotiations and compromises among the various factions. Like Aylwin, he will not directly challenge the authority of the military or Pinochet, perhaps until after 1997 when Pinochet’s term ends as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. In other areas, he will maintain the status quo, and build on programs established by the Pinochet government, and continued by Aylwin. This is especially the case in the economic sphere.

Although Chile’s external debt hovers around $16 billion dollars, the domestic economy is healthier than what it has been in years. Official unemployment is about 5%; inflation has not been allowed to spiral out of control; and foreign investors still continue to consider Chile a good place to invest. Indeed, Frei has encouraged them to invest. Shortly after assuming office he assured domestic and foreign capitalists alike that his administration would maintain an open economic system. He also continued to sanction and permit the privatization of public owned companies, like Lan Chile, the nation’s flagship airline.106

His actions then, so far, in his first year indicate that economic policies are not likely to change and they will continue to favor upper-income Chileans. Considering his campaign slogan, many of his supporters expected him to present a number of initiatives aimed at addressing lingering economic and social problems after assuming office. This has not occurred, leading some of his critics to characterize him as having more form than substance, that he is more preoccupied with projecting a good image than with governing.107The criticism may have some validity. The direction of his administration was unambiguous regarding his concern for the economically well-off. By the end of April 1994, however, he had not proposed any new initiatives to deal directly with poverty or underemployment. Not unexpectedly, the challenge for Frei is to make certain economic growth continues. Even if the vagaries of the capitalistic system cause growth to decline, unemployment to increase, and foreign investors to look elsewhere for opportunities, Frei will be blamed for the protests and demonstrations that will surely occur. As a political novice, it will be interesting and perhaps frustrating to observe his actions. Aylwin managed to discourage sustained acts of protests because of economic stability and growth, but given the peculiarities of the business cycle, Frei might not be as fortunate. The potential political pitfalls for him when the economy begins to falter will be significant. The military as well as the right wish him success, but will attack him viciously if they have the opportunity. At this point, the democracy will really be tested and challenged. Frei will try to avoid this test by maintaining the economic status quo and leading Chile slowly and deliberately through this next phase of the transition leading to democracy.



The transition to democracy occurred after almost seventeen years of uninterrupted control by the military. Pinochet agreed to complete the process because he thought he would be able to continue as President, at least until 1997. he failed to achieve this objective after having orchestrated every phase of the process, and making it difficult for his opponents to remove him from power. In part, his ruthless tactics instilled fear in the Chilean people, forcing them to take sides to protect life and property. He reasoned correctly that the majority of the population preferred order and economic stability to disorder and economic stagnation. But he miscalculated their willingness to submit to dictatorial rule indefinitely despite the real possibilities of recurring chaos and economic setbacks. That many Chileans, including members of the upper-class, were willing to sacrifice their lives and the threat of exile for advocating a return to democracy eventually took a toll on the military junta, weakening its ability to govern. They undermined Pinochet’s credibility as they took away from him his greatest weapon, fear. The memories millions of Chileans had of a relatively free society also could not be erased regardless of the extent to which the military went to expunge them.

The transition to democracy has not been completed. That is, elected civilian leaders are not yet in a position to make public policies reflective of the will of the majority of Chileans. Reasons why the complete transition has not occurred have been discussed. The military junta, although persuaded to remove themselves from political authority, enacted decrees and statutes designed to ensure the armed services a permanent role in the government, and the ability to frustrate the actions of elected officials. As long as this pervasive power exists, protecting the interests of a small elite, current and subsequent governments will preside over a fragile democracy. When the interests of the majority conflict with those of the small minority, elected officials will confront threats of rebellion and overt resistance if minority concerns are not considered paramount. Governing in such a milieu is a difficult situation for proponents of democracy. Not only will officials have to balance and consider the interests of those willing to accept their decisions, but they must take into account the views of a powerful minority suspicious of them and the democratic process. Unless this powerful minority agrees to participate in the same policymaking process as the majority, elected officials will confront continuous conflicts, and the country, eventually divisive disorder and chaos. Seemingly, as long as order is maintained, and economic growth occurs, a guarded peace will be sustained. The concern in the Chilean democracy is what happens when things begin to change. How will the civilian leaders respond? How will the military respond? These are questions, obviously, that cannot be easily answered. Many Chilean democrats would prefer, nevertheless, a different framework with which to use as a guide to deal with problems unavoidable in a free society.

Unquestionably, the democrats would like to revise the 1980 Constitution, legitimizing the election of all members of Congress. A second reform would be the redrawing of Congressional district boundaries to take into account population as the primary basis of representation in Congress, and not geographic area. Third, the military ought to be brought under the control of civilians, and its budget drastically reduced. Until this occurs, the “state within the state” will inhibit the democratic process. Finally, General Pinochet ought to resign his commission as a demonstration of his concern for his country’s future. A powerful, charismatic figure, as long as he is in a position of authority, he will impede the transition to democracy. The question of revoking the 1978 amnesty decree is a difficult one to address. If revoked, a few soldiers, at best, would be indicted. On the other hand, if it is revoked, it might precipitate a reaction from the military that would send the country into sustained violence. Morality dictates that the decree be rescinded, but political sense says let sleeping dogs lie. Whatever position Frei and future governments take on this issue will determine the future of democracy in Chile. My prediction is the work of the Rettig Commission ended the official inquiry into this sordid and bloody era in Chilean political history. The democracy, however, will survive, albeit fragile and uncertain, until the substantive changes mentioned above are made in the Constitution.

Even if these changes occur, a democratic nirvana would not have arrived. The nation with the longest democratic tradition in Latin America requires time to mature as a democracy, taking into account its particular cultural and historical phenomena. This means that elected leaders should be allowed to make legitimate mistakes without fear of losing their lives or being overthrown by the military. Moreover, democratically-elected officials have to be afforded the opportunity to take risks within the framework of their political system. If not, changes aimed at improving the standard of living for all citizens will not occur, and the democracy will remain fragile. It is important that Frei provide the appropriate leader ship aimed at making the changes. Otherwise, Chile will enter the twentieth century, a weak, fragile democracy still held hostage to a few self-serving “authoritarian enclaves.”



a. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a Christian Democrat and son of the late, former President, Eduardo Frei Montalva, was elected President with about 60% of the popular vote on December 12, 1993. The candidate of the Concertacion, a coalition of centrist parties, Frei was expected to win the election primarily because of his moderate political views and high name recognition. return to text
b. I am aware, however, that in private some officers, forced to retire because of their political views, complained bitterly about the government. As a teacher of English in Chile in 1980, I tutored a former air force officer who was fired from his civilian job because he was associated with a ranking dissident senior officer. As my student feared reprisals from the junta, he was not about to go public with his comments. return to text
c. The Vicaria closed on December 31, 1992. It had served its purpose. return to text
d. I observed the elections in La Reina, an upper-middle class section of Santiago. Soldiers and police (carabineros) were present at the polling place, but they seemed bored as voters, still segregated by sex, cast their ballots. None of the elections officials appeared to have any objections to my observing the process up close. return to text



  1. I visited Neruda’s home in Santiago in August 1988. It had been restored, supported by private donations, but evidence of deliberate damage by the military had not been completely erased. Only a few people were allowed onto the premises at a time, and “prior” reservations were required. I did not learn why such cautiousness was taken. return to text
  2. Mark Falcoff, “Chile: A Cognitive Map,” in Mark Falcoff, Arturo Valenzuela and Susan Kaufman Purcell (editors), Chile: Prospects for Democracy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1988), p. 3. return to text
  3. This was surprising, given the perception in Chile that the communists appealed, at least, to the working poor. A few socialists won seats, but most seats went to the centrist and rightist party members. return to text
  4. The Pinochet government reinstituted a tactic used by the government during the 1940’s when Communist activists were restricted to certain areas in the country. The punishment is worse than exile in that all political rights of the “incarcerated” are suspended, and access to current newspapers, journals, etc. is denied. return to text
  5. The 1980 Constitution was approved in a referendum, although input into the document and the process of approval was limited to those designated by Pinochet. Opponents of the regime claimed that fraud took place in the voting, raising significant questions about the extent to which the electorate supported the document. Powerless to prevent the process from taking place, the opponents reluctantly accepted the outcome, and vowed to revise it if and when democracy returned. The Constitution was ratified with a 67 percent approval rate. return to text
  6. A number of Chileans, primarily Christian Democrats, attempted to participate in the process, but were rebuffed by the government. return to text
  7. Cardinal Silva was hated by the government. He challenged its right to govern, and used his role as titular leader of the Catholic Church to confront the military in condoning human rights violations. Fresno, a moderate, was expected to be less confrontational and conciliatory. return to text
  8. See Carl E. Meacham, “Changing of the Guard: New Relations Between Church and State in Chile,” Journal of Church and State, Vol 29, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 416-418, for a brief discussion of Jarpa’s contacts with Fresno. return to text
  9. “Chilean Groups Form Opposition Alliance,” New York Times, August 8, 1983, p. A5. return to text
  10. Edward Schumacher, “Seven Chileans Reported Killed in New Protests,” New York Times, August 14, 1983, p. A3. return to text
  11. I learned this while in Chile in August 1983. return to text
  12. Meacham, “Changing of the Guard: New Relations Between Church and State,” p. 419. return to text
  13. “Chile: Legislation–Law to Divide the Opposition,” Latin American Regional Reports, Southern Cone Report, February 3, 1984, p. 3. return to text
  14. “Chile: Politics – Church and State Clash on Refugees,” Latin American Weekly Report, February 4, 1984, p. 3. return to text
  15. “A Chilean Protest Draws Mixed Response,” New York Times, September 6, 1984, p. A7. return to text
  16. “Chile: Looking for a Way Out,” The Economist, November 10, 1984, p. 48. return to text
  17. LADOC 15 (March/April 1985), pp.31-41. return to text
  18. “Politicos: Encuentros y desencuentros,” El Mercurio, August 24, 1985, p. D4. return to text
  19. Complete text – “Texto completo del ‘Acuerdo nacional para la transicion a la plena democracia’,” La Segunda, August 26, 1985, pp. 2-3. return to text
  20. “Texto completo del ‘Acuerdo nacional…’,” pp.2-3. return to text
  21. “Coordinator del acuerdo emite declaracion oficial: Molina informo sobre reunion Pinochet – Fresno,” El Mercurio, December 27, 1985, p. C3. return to text
  22. Throughout the 1980’s Chile received loans from international monetary organizations as well as assistance from large U.S. banks like, Chase Manhattan and Manufacturer’s Hanover. Investments also came from private firms, and investors. These loans and investments were questioned by the U.S. Congress, but Congress was unable to prevent them. return to text
  23. See for example, Lydia Chavez, “New Ambassador Gives Impetus to U.S. Push for Change in Chile,” New York Times, January 27, 1986, p. A3. return to text
  24. Interviews with ranking U.S. Embassy officials in 1983. return to text
  25. Shirley Christian, “U.S. Envoy Presses Chile on 1989 Vote,” New York Times, July 18, 1986, p. A3. return to text
  26. U.S. Embassy officials I interviewed in 1988 reported that Endowment funds were used to finance political activities in Chile. return to text
  27. Interviews with U.S. Embassy officials in 1988. return to text
  28. Arturo Valenzuela, “The 1988-89 Plebiscite in Chile: Political Scenarios for the Future” in Chile: Prospects for Democracy, p. 30. return to text
  29. Valenzuela, “The 1988-89 Plebiscite in Chile…,” p.30. return to text
  30. Valenzuela, “The 1988-89 Plebiscite in Chile…,” p.50. return to text
  31. “President Pinochet: ‘We Can Discuss Amendments…’,” Chilean Review, No. 23, March 1989, pp.4-5. return to text
  32. “Plebescite to Amend Constitution,” Chilean Review, No. 26, June 1989, p.1. return to text
  33. “Contabilizado el 71, 73% de las Mesas: No: 53, 31%; Si: 44, 34%,” El Mercurio, 9/29-10/6/90, p. 1.33. return to text
  34. “Interview of the President of the Republic: Augusto Pinochet,” Chile Now, No. 65 (August 1988), pp. 3-7. return to text
  35. “Presidente Pinochet: ‘Abandonare el Poder el II de Marzo de 1990,” El Mercurio, 11/24-30/90, p.1. return to text
  36. “Important New Steps Toward Democracy,” Chilean Review, No. 27, July 1989, pp. 1-2. return to text
  37. “Important New Steps…,” pp. 1-2. return to text
  38. Esteban Valenzuela, “Universidad de Chile: i Racionalizacion o desarrollo?,” Mensaje, Vol. 37, No. 372 (September 1988), p. 360. State financial support declined from 64 million pesos in 1974 to 22 million pesos in 1987, although there were appropriations during some of this period when support exceeded 22 million pesos annually, but never above the 1974 level. In U.S. dollars the range was about 2.5 million dollars to $800,000. return to text
  39. Valenzuela, “Universidad de Chile: i Racionalizacion…,” pp.358-360. return to text
  40. Valenzuela, “Universidad de Chile: i Racionalizacion…,” pp.358. return to text
  41. Valenzuela, “Universidad de Chile: i Racionalizacion…,” pp.358. return to text
  42. Domingo Namunura, “Chile: Pais armamentista y Militarista,” Mensaje, Vol. 34, No. 359 (June 1987), pp. 224-25. return to text
  43. Thomas G. Sanders, “Chile: Looking to 1989,” Universities Field Staff International Reports (USFI), 1987/No. 10, Latin America, p. 4. return to text
  44. Sanders, “Chile: Looking to 1989,” p. 4. return to text
  45. Sanders, “Chile: Looking to 1989,” p. 4. return to text
  46. “Chile Reduces Foreign Debt by U.S. $1.6 Billion,” Chilean Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, April 1987, p. 4. return to text
  47. Jacqueline Weinstein, “Activos Publicos en liquidacion,” Mensaje, Vol. 34, No. 358 (May 1987), pp. 150-155. return to text
  48. Nelson Soza Montiel, “Privatizacion de Empremar: i Laconversion del almirante Merino?,” Analisis, June 13-19, 1988, pp. 27-28. erturn to text
  49. “Bilateral Trade Balance,” Chilean Review, Vol. 1, No 3, March 1988, p. 3. return to text
  50. “Bilateral Trade Balance,” p. 3. return to text
  51. “Bilateral Trade Balance,” p. 3. return to text
  52. “Chile Quotes,” Chilean Review, Vol. 1, No. 11, January 1988, p. 4. return to text
  53. Shirley Christian, “Chile’s Growing trans-Pacific Ties,” New York Times, March 28, 1988, p. D9. return to text
  54. “Chile Quotes,” p. 4. return to text
  55. Bernadita del Solar, “Foreign Capital: Investing with Confidence,” Chile Now, No. 65, August 1988, p. 8 return to text
  56. Clara Germani, “Chile’s prosperity not for all: Workers wait in vain for economic benefits to trickle down,” Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 1988, pp. 1-32.return to text
  57. “Debt falls through equity swaps,” Latin American Economic Report, August 31, 1989, p.4. return to text
  58. “Debt falls through equity swaps,” p.4. return to text
  59. Shirley Christian, “Chile Plans to Create Strong Central Bank,” New York Times, October 23, 1989, p. D14. return to text
  60. Christian, “Chile Plans to Create Strong…,” p. D14. return to text
  61. Christian, “Chile Plans to Create Strong…,” p. D14. return to text
  62. Christian, “Chile Plans to Create Strong…,” p. D14. return to text
  63. “Chile – Politics & Military: Don’t touch ‘my’ men, says Pinochet,” Latin American Weekly Report, October 26, 1989, p. 3. return to text
  64. “Chile Establishes Autonomous ‘Central Bank’,” Chile Economic Report, No. 221, January 1990, p. 5. return to text
  65. “Chile – Politics & Military…”, p. 3. return to text
  66. “Patricio Aylwin Elected President,” Chile Economic Report, January 1990, p. 7. return to text
  67. “Chile: Church Fights a Court Case in Santiago,” Latin American Links, May 1989, p. 7. return to text
  68. “Briefs – Chile,” Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Vol. 7, No. 14, April 15, 1987, p. 8. return to text
  69. Weekly Repression Report, prepared by the Vicariate de la Solidaridad, 7/4-10, 1988. return to text
  70. “Human Rights in Chile,” Chilean Review, Vol. 1, No. 9, November 1987, pp. 1 & 4. return to text
  71. “Dijo el Presidente de la Republica: ‘La Libertad de Prensa es la Base de Todas las Libertades’,” El Mercurio, September 9-14, 1988, p. 1. return to text
  72. Clara Germani, “Chilean Opposition treads warily on rights issue,” Christian Science Monitor, October 25, 1988, p.7. return to text
  73. Germani, “Chilean Opposition…,” p. 7. return to text
  74. Shirley Christian, “Chilean Burden: A Legacy of Terror,” New York Times, October 10, 1988, p. A8. return to text
  75. Christian, “Chilean Burden…,” p. A8. return to text
  76. Jorge Andres Richards, “Patricio Aylwin – ‘Espero el ritiro voluntario de Pinochet’,” APSI, No. 13, May 1-7, 1989, pp. 11-14. return to text
  77. “Chile: Church Fights a Court Case in Santiago,” Latin American Links, May 1989, p. 7. return to text
  78. Shirley Christian, “Chilean General Warns Opposition on Amnesty,” New York Times, August 1, 1989, p. A4. return to text
  79. Christian, “Chilean General…,” p. A4. return to text
  80. Christian, “Chilean General…,” p. A4. return to text
  81. “Chile – Politics & Military: Don’t touch…”, p. 3. return to text
  82. “Chile – Politics & Military: Don’t touch…”, p. 3. return to text
  83. “Chile – Politics & Military: Don’t touch…”, p. 3. return to text
  84. “Two More for Democracy,” The Economist, December 23, 1989, p. 65. return to text
  85. “Enfatizo Patricio Aylwin: ‘Noes hora de mirar al Pasado’,” El Mercurio, December 12, 1989 – January 3, 1990, pp. 1-2. return to text
  86. “Tambien la que disuelve la CNI: Junta Aprobo Leyes de FF.AA de Carabineros,” El Mercurio, January 11-17, 1990, pp. 1-2. return to text
  87. “Convocada por el Presidente Pinochet: Junta tratara 4 Proyectos en sesion Extraordinaria,” El Mercurio, February 22-28, 1990, pp. 1-2. return to text
  88. Shirley Christian, “Chile’s Civilian President-to-be Acts to Calm Pinochet in Reprisals,” New York Times, March 3, 1990, p. A4. return to text
  89. Peter Ford, “Legacy of Human Rights Abuse: Chile Treads Narrow Rights Path,” Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1990, p. 3. return to text
  90. Ford, “Legacy of Human Rights…,” p. 3. return to text
  91. Christian, “Chile’s Civilian President…,” p. A4. return to text
  92. “Chilean General is Badly Wounded,” New York Times, March 22, 1990, p. A4. return to text
  93. “Chilean General is Badly…,” p. A4. return to text
  94. “Aylwin Firmo Decreto: Creada Commission investigadora sabre DD.HH,” El Mercurio, April 19025, 1990, pp. 1-2. return to text
  95. “Aylwin Firmo Decreto…,” p. 2. return to text
  96. “Chile: Fixing the Blame, The Economist, May 12, 1990, p. 41. return to text
  97. “Chilean President Grills Pinochet,” Albany (NY) Times Union, p. A9. return to text
  98. Silvia Borzutzky, “Chilean Democracy Before and After the Pinochet Regime,” paper presented at XVII International Congress of Latin American Studies Association, September 24-26, 1992, p. 24. return to text
  99. Ibid, pp. 26-27. return to text
  100. See Ibid, p. 27, for a discussion of this as well as Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela’s “Chile’s Return to Democracy,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 68, p. 177. return to text
  101. Ibid, p. 27. return to text
  102. Peter Hakim, “NAFTA…and After: A New Era for the US and Latin America?,” Current History, March 1994, p. 100. return to text
  103. John Grimond, “Latin America, Yes, We have no mananas,” The Economist, November 13, 1993, p. 11. return to text
  104. Nathanial C. Nash, “Will More Guns for the Generals Aid or Threaten Democracy,” The New York Times, April 5, 1992, Sec. 4, p. 4. return to text
  105. See Organization of American States. Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, (Washington, D.C.: Organization of American States, 1988). return to text
  106. “Gobierno Anuncio Inicio de Programa de Privatizaciones,” El Mercurio, April 14-20, 1994, pp. 1-2 return to text
  107. Raquel Correa, “Genaro Arriagada, Ministro Secretario General de la Presidencia: ‘El Gobierno Esta en Rodaje…’,” (an Interview with Mr. Arriagada), El Mercurio, April 11-27, 1994, p. 6. return to text