Chile is a country that prides itself on its Mestizo background and culture. Like both its culture and people, Chile’s history has a “mixed” composition. From a monarchy to representative democracy, Chile had experienced a broad array of government types. Each ruling government has left its mark on Chile’s population and political ideals. Chile’s complex historical background has created several challenges or “hurdles” for the political development of today’s Chile. The major hurdles facing Chile’s development and stability are a large gap between social groups, the inability to develop a shared national vision, and “social amnesia”.
In this paper I will analyze the challenges facing Chile’s political development and stability. I will first provide a brief background of Chile’s history, building up to its most impactful events. The historical background will lead to the description of Chile’s current regime type. In the first body paragraphs I will first analyze Chile’s long struggle with social equality and large gap between its social groups. I will next examine the inability of Chile’s population to develop a shared national vision through providing historical examples. In the third set of body paragraphs I will describe a phenomenon called “social amnesia” and relate it to Chile’s current political climate. To finish, I will provide a prognosis for Chile’s political future based on recent history and current political conditions.
Chile was colonized by Spain in 1541 by Spaniards who left Peru in search of new conquests. Instead of finding gold and silver like found in other parts of Latin America, Spaniards discovered Chile’s wealth of indigenous labor. Chile received its independence from Spain in 1818, becoming a republic and laying the framework for a centralized government.
The first years of Chile’s independence were plagued by internal conflict and variances in national vision. In 1830, the conservatives obtained power and prioritized a strong central executive power, a period known as the “Portalian state”. The history that followed resembled that of Mexico. Between 1831 and 1891, the Chilean president changed almost forty times.
In its development, Chile retained elements of Authoritarianism hindering its resemblance of a democracy. This fact did not mean that conservative leaning ideals did not go unchallenged. The liberals of the time combatted “de facto” powers such as the Catholic church and powerful members of the political and economic elite.
At first, Chile was an Authoritarian regime with an export based economy reliant on the export of wheat, copper and silver. By 1870, more than one third of the world’s copper originated in Chile. In addition to its exports, Chile maintained a strong agricultural industry. This industry was largely controlled by haciendas, large land estates.
In the 1930s, the Chilean economy was greatly impacted by the Great Depression. Chile pushed for a transition from export dependency to industrialization based on Income Substitution Industrialization (ISI). This transition would allow Chile to isolate its economy and grow its industrial base. Historians such as J. Rodrigo Fuentes argue that the Chilean economy suffered before the Great Depression through trade beginning to collapse, the invention of artificial nitrate, and dependency on export tax. With Chile’s transition to industrialization, there was a mass migration of poor, unskilled workers to urban areas. These workers had formerly been employed in Chile’s mines or agricultural industries.
Politically and socially, the 1930s and 1940s were characterized by the birth of left leaning movements that supported socialist and communist ideals. This leftward support is attained to the Catholic church’s shift of focus from Chile’s wealthy population to the poor, urban working class. The Catholic church pushed the working class to become more vocal about the inequalities that they were experiencing and played a key role in organizing them. In support of rights for the urban poor, this movement excluded the rural working class, further dividing Chile.
The left leaning movements advocating for the urban working class may explain the support for Salvador Allende. Allende drew his support from the rural working class, members of society that had historically been excluded. Allende’s coming to power focused on the usage of democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Allende’s predecessor, Eduardo Frei took a stance in between capitalism and communism which he notably called the “Third Way”. He sought to target Chile’s inequalities through land reform but was ultimately unsuccessful. Allende in turn decided to take a more left leaning, radical approach within the democratic system.
Allende’s presidency was short lived, he was killed and removed from power by a coup d’etat carried out by Augusto Pinochet. Under Pinochet, the efforts made to remedy the economy included cuts to the minimum wage, suppression of labor activity, and layoffs. During the seventeen year long era of his rule, Chile experienced high unemployment and the weakening of entire industries. Wages began to collapse, companies closed, and the social security system began to fall apart.
Pinochet’s government was characterized by dictatorship which eliminated all democratic institutions. All constitutional liberties were suspended, including all legal procedures. Congress was closed and political parties were outlawed. Those who supported Allende and democratic ideals were tortured, murdered, imprisoned, disappeared, in addition to other countless human rights violations.
Today, Chile has a representative democracy under the newly elected president Sebastián Piñera. Within Chile’s representative democracy, the president is both the head of government and head of state. The presidential term is now limited to four years without immediate reelection. Similar to his 2009 presidency, Piñera campaigned on promises of social and economic reform. Among his promises were education and tax reform.
Throughout Chile’s history, there has been and continued to be a large gap between social groups. These groups consisted primarily of the wealthy elite and extremely poor, lacking a middle class. As early as Chile’s establishment as a republic, elites benefited financially at the expense of the poor. In the 1830s, elites benefitted from the expansion of agriculture and mining, industries fueled by lower class labor. These industries continued to grow until the early 1900s without significant advancements in technology or labor. For example, the ox cart was used used in the agricultural industry until the 1930s. With the growth of these industries and lack of implementation of new technology, there was a higher reliance on labor. For low income laborers, this meant worsened working conditions at equal or lower wages.
A prime example of the Chilean social gap is the institution of the hacienda. In Chile and other parts of Latin America such as Mexico, haciendas were large landed estates that dominated the social, political, and economic spheres of society. Haciendas employed countless peones or peons, members of the lower class who were paid very low wages for agricultural work. Hacendados, or landowners benefitted at the expense of their peons both economically and politically. Economically, haciendas proved to be extremely profitable in an export dependent Chile. On a political platform, the wealth that hacendados accumulated granted them influence in politics and were upheld by political institutions.
Haciendas dominated the social, political, and economic arenas of Chilean society until the 1960s. Haciendas controlled upwards of 75% of all agricultural lands. Poor Chileans without land depended on them and served as inquilinos or tenant farmers. Inquilinos provided labor to haciendas in exchange for access to land to grow crops. Haciendas also drew another form of labor, seasonal workers. Seasonal workers provided labor to haciendas as well but for extremely low wages instead of access to land.
Chile has never truly made efforts to rehabilitate its ever widening social gap or attempted to amend the destitution of it lower class. This fact may be due to a sense of extreme nationalism and racial prejudice developed by its social elites. Instead of acknowledging Chile’s poor, often darker skin populations, Chile has made efforts to dilute it. In the early 1900s Chile made efforts to attract European immigrants to its country. Many elites thought that immigration of Europeans to Chile would contribute to both economic and social growth.
Since its independence in 1810, Chile has struggled with developing a shared national vision. As a republic there was a stark contrast between the agendas of liberals and conservatives. Liberals wanted to cleanse Chile of its colonial past by breaking from old social and political structures. Conservatives instead preferred a slower transition, valuing a sense of value over liberty. The two groups had different views on government structure. They disagreed on the weight of power between branches and abilities of regional and federal institutions.
Another historical aspect that has challenged Chile’s ability to develop a shared national vision is its rapid political changes. In the state’s youth, Chile witnessed its presidency change hands almost forty times between 1831 and 1891 alone. In more recent years, Chile has witnessed a stark contrast in regime type within a short amount of time. Within a difference of four years Chile witnessed its regime transition from socialist to dictatorship.
After 17 years of life under a dictator, Chile was placed back on a path to democracy. With so many drastic changes it is no surprise that Chile has struggled in developing a shared national vision. Under Allende and the Unidad Popular, peaceful means and democracy were promoted with goals of ending poverty and creating an equal society. In less than four years all rights were taken from Chile’s citizens under a repressive dictatorial regime. After the end of the Pinochet military regime, Chileans were expected to live side by side with their former oppressors.
In light of such contrasting regimes shaped by such different ideals it is hard for Chileans to find a common ground. There are those who supported the Pinochet regime and did not view themselves are oppressed under his dictatorship. In contrast there are those who experienced the military regime’s trauma first hand and have always preferred the more democratic approach. Chile struggles in developing a shared national vision because of such a variance of ideals split amongst its population.
A third hurdle major hurdle facing Chile’s development and stability is the “social amnesia” phenomenon. Social amnesia in Chile is characterized by the refusal of the state and its population to address the trauma that was endured under the Pinochet regime. The Pinochet regime was a military regime that attained power through a coup d’etat during Salvador Allende’s presidency. Salvador Allende was the world’s first democratically elected Marxist which caused a resistance movement among the Chilean military, right wing, and the United States.
In 1973 with the support of the United States, Allende was overthrown by a coup d’etat. The coup was committed by Augusto Pinochet and lead to a 17 year militaristic regime. Under the Pinochet regime, parliament was closed, there was strict censorship, and opposition was made illegal. Those who opposed him and supported the former Allende regime were disappeared, tortured, murdered, exiled, and imprisoned. The entirety of Chile’s population experienced state issued curfews, heavy policing, raids and military patrolling.
Even after Pinochet’s arrest and the reestablishment of a democratic government, reparations have yet to be made for the human rights violations under Pinochet’s military regime. Friends and family members of those who were disappeared, tortured, and murdered by the regime continue to seek answers. Women who endured sexual torture while imprisoned have been brushed to the side and shamed.
The psychological results of the violent military regime are evident in political involvement. In the 1997 congressional elections, countless Chileans did not vote due to low levels of social trust. Even more recently in the 2017 Chilean presidential election there was a low turnout amongst the low income population. It is evident that many Chileans are afraid to involve themselves in democratic politics as a side effect of the Pinochet regime. Under Pinochet, people were murdered for supporting the likeliness of those very same democratic ideals. The 17 year military regime has continued to survive through a political alienation experienced by much of Chile.
My prognosis for Chile’s future is a hopeful one. I predict that Chile will continue down its democratic path without reverting to one of its former government types. I base this prediction on the dictatorship that Chile experienced just under thirty years ago. Under Pinochet’s military regime, Chile witnessed the social, economic, and political effects of a government that completely opposed democracy.
Since Pinochet’s regime, there has been a restoration of democratic ideals, institutions, and practices. An example of these democratic practices is the reintroduction of a constitutional framework. Economically, Chile has implemented a neoliberal economic model which in turn has reduced poverty. Chile now encourages global participation and has prioritized a transition to modernity. As a whole, since the Pinochet regime, Chile has experienced a sense of political stability.
I also base this prediction upon the belief that Chile’s citizens that both survived and witnessed Pinochet’s dictatorship will not allow Chile to return to such an oppressive form of government. As a whole, Chile witnessed the grave impact of a government lacking democracy. I predict that Chile’s seventeen year experience alone will fuel further democratic progress.
In conclusion, the major hurdles facing Chile’s development and stability are a large gap between social groups, the inability to develop a shared national vision, and “social amnesia”. Each of these hurdles contain historical roots and have continued to affect Chile throughout. Chile’s large gap between the rich and the poor has impacted Chileans since the institution of the hacienda. With time, this large social gap lead to a difference in political ideals and a sense of alienation experienced by Chile’s lower class.
Chile’s large social gap has directly influenced its difficulty in developing a shared national vision. Chile’s various areas of society, the rich and poor, urban and rural have experienced history differently. Chile’s rural poor has continuously been exploited by the political and social elite. This fact has remained constant even though Chile’s economic model has changed. From agricultural and mining based to a focus on industrialization, Chile’s lower class has fueled these efforts through heavy labor and miniscule wages.
Chile’s social groups experienced Pinochet’s dictatorship in different ways as well. While Allende supporting members of the upper class were targeted, members of the lower class were impacted in greater numbers. Economically, the lower class experienced wage cuts, unemployment, and labor suppression more than any other social group. In regards to human rights violations, members of the lower class were tortured, murdered, and disappeared. Members of the lower class were viewed as disposable in regards to their social class and economic position. Chile’s “social amnesia” demonstrates the inability of the country to acknowledge and cope with the experiences under Pinochet, especially that of the lower class.