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The Transition In Chile Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 March 2017

The Transition In Chile


For many years, Chile has been under the authoritarian rule of Pinochet whose regime has a reputation of massive and extreme human rights violations and repression of any movement against the established regime (Winn 19). However, because of the economic crisis, growing frustration especially within the labor movement began to rise (Winn 43). Protests which led to intensified worker militancy at the grassroots level and growing discontent among the people punctured Pinochet’s invincibility hence forcing a transition within Chile (Winn 44).

This led eventually to a transition, which was the start of lessening the control of Pinochet. The Pinochet regime has a significant effect on Chile which shaped the policies of succeeding administrations. This paper hopes to explain the transition that happened in Chile, the different forces and movements which helped in the transition, and the events that happened which eventually led Pinochet to lose his grip over Chile. Finally, this paper hopes to give its observation and comments.

The Transition

In 1985, the opposition came together on a “National Accord to Full Democracy” which called for an end to states of exception and political exile and a reversal of Pinochet’s authoritarian constitution and neoliberal policies (Winn 44). Thus, according to the article of Winn, because of the widespread but frustrated opposition, Chile’s communists supported the protest and enlisted the youth’s support in shantytowns (Winn 45). The new U.S. Ambassador Barnes, furthermore, in orchestrating a democratic transition, helped persuade Chile’s center-left democratic opposition to accept the only mechanism left to them which is the holding of the plebiscite (Winn 45).

Many perceived that Pinochet would likely win in the plebiscite because of his control over the mass media, the levers of government and public purse strings, and there were fears of fraudulent electoral ritual (Winn 45). This however led to a deeper U.S. involvement (Winn 45). In return for the Center-Left’s participation in the plebiscite, the United States agreed to press the Pinochet regime to suspend censorship, give the opposition media access, allow exiles to return home and permit foreign electoral observers (Winn 45). Washington even agreed to help Pinochet’s opponents with funds, expertise, and computer equipment, which would allow them to create a parallel vote count (Winn 46).

Thus, the result was the Concertacion por el No, a center-left alliance of sixteen parties, with Christian Democrats and Socialists at its core (Winn 46). Chile’s workers and unions were said to have played a significant but only a secondary role in the struggle for democracy (Winn 46). This was due to the lack of a dominant charismatic labor leader and the severe repression of labor leaders and activists which forced them to focus more on the defense of their own, rather than their national movement (Winn 46). Moreover, it was the old political parties especially the Christian Democrats and the Socialists that led the transition to democracy (Winn 46).

The 1988 plebiscite enabled the Concertacion to end the Pinochet dictatorship, but in return for accepting Pinochet’s authoritarian constitution and decree-laws (Winn 49). Negotiations began and the struggle for control among the right, the center and the military continued (Requa 78). The Concertacion negotiated with the junta regarding the modifications in the 1980 constitution repealing the exclusion of Marxists from politics and made the constitution somewhat easier to amend (Winn 49). They also won a reduction in the number of appointed senators and an even balance between military and civilians in the National Security Council (Winn 49).

However, they were not able to put an end to other so-called “authoritarian enclaves”— such as the independence of the military from civilian control and the undemocratic electoral law considered to have limited Chile’s restored democracy (Winn 49). There was a unique undemocratic binomial electoral law which created two-member congressional districts with both seats contested in the same balloting, in that political parties or electoral alliances could run two candidates for these seats, but to elect both they had to more than double the vote of their opponents (Winn 49).

The Concertacion was also confronted by a judiciary and government bureaucracy packed by Pinochet (Winn 49). Thus, Concertacion governments did not greatly alter the policy course set by Pinochet (Winn 49). His presence was said to have dominated the era until his retirement from the army and arrest in 1998 and until his resignation from the Senate and withdrawal from public life in 2002, in exchange for immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses (Winn 50). Pinochet continued to cast an authoritarian shadow over Chile’s restored democracy with the army that acted as a political pressure group (Winn 50).

Pinochet may not be president from 1988 to 1997 but he remained commander of the armed forces until he retired in March 1988 as captain general at the age of eighty-two (Winn 50). He not only insisted on control of military affairs but also did his best to shape other policy areas (Winn 50). Hence, no other military retained as many prerogatives after the restoration of democracy as the Chilean armed forces (Winn 50).

Aylwin administration was unable to fulfill his promises of constitutional and institutional reforms that would reverse Pinochet’s authoritarian legacy (Winn 50). With respect to human rights abuses, a commission was formed in order to investigate the most serious human rights violations, deaths and disappearances (Requa 82). A report was released by the Commission but was however criticized for failing to deal with questions of justice or prosecution for the past crimes (Requa 83).

The Amnesty Law of 1978, furthermore ensured military impunity during the 1990s with the exception of the deaths of Letelier and Moffitt which allowed for the investigation of ex-military officers mainly because of the pressure from the Carter administration (Requa 85). Frei, Aylwin’s successor on the other hand advanced causes of justice and human rights, but this success was undercut by his efforts to end other human rights prosecutions and his acceptance of Pinochet’s becoming an unelected senator for life after his retirement as armed forces commander in March 1998 (Winn 51).

During 1990s moreover there was more continuity than change in economic policy and labor relations (Winn 51). The privatization of social security and health care was continued under the Concertacion, privatization of state enterprises neoliberal tariff and exchange rate policies were extended further, labor law reform was limited and the government stance on labor relations favored the business sector (Winn 51). Thus, Concertacion legitimated and consolidated Pinochet’s economic and social revolution even more rather than to reverse it (Winn 51).

Individualism and consumerism reflected the society and culture of Chile embracing Pinochet’s neoliberal ideology (Winn 52). And although there were economic benefits, it did not extend to Chile’s manufacturing industries which had to confront intensified Asian and Latin American competition without the government assistance that they had expected from an elected center-left government (Winn 53).

Concertacion however did take steps to ameliorate some of the worst social costs of the model like the new taxes to be devoted to social spending to the poor (Winn 54). But the Concertacion’s economic miracle also had its costs like environmental degradation and the heightened vulnerability to external shocks Winn 55). Thus in 1998 it was said that some three million Chileans still lived in poverty, despite the longest period of steady economic growth without inflation in modern Chilean history (Winn 56). Despite the 8 years of prosperity it had done little to reverse the negative redistribution of wealth and income (Winn 56).

The Arrest of Pinochet

The detention of Pinochet in London was said to be one of the most riveting legal battles in contemporary history and which somehow freed Chile from his grip (Burbach 107). The provisional warrant for Pinochet’s arrest from Spain referred to the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile with charges of torture and hostage taking committed by Pinochet (Burbach 107).

The ruling of the House of Lords then was that Pinochet could be extradited and tried for torture and murder as former head of state (Burbach 110). Although Pinochet was detained for a number of days to ensure his arraigned and his appearance before the court, the House Secretary in the end, released Pinochet based on humanitarian reasons using the medical reports as the basis (Burbach 122). Furthermore, Jack Straw who was the House secretary intended to end the legal and human rights drama which was no longer of interest to the Labour government (Burbach 121).


The repression that were experienced in Chile along with the economic crisis that loomed the country gave an impetus for the people to protest against Pinochet’s regime. Thus, as Bickford puts it, the human rights movements in Chile were more of an anti-authoritarian movement (Bickford 10). Chile’s experience of massive human rights violations during the 1970s and the 1980s resulting in death or disappearances and cases of torture was what brought about the human rights movements (Bickford 15). Thus dictatorship contributed directly to the creation of a strong human rights movement (Bickford 15).

The United States intervention was also a significant factor not only in pushing through with the plebiscite but also of ensuring that Pinochet was removed from the post. This essentially is what one may describe as meddling on the affairs of a sovereign country such as Chile. However, without also the said pressure and intervention, the plebiscite would not have pushed through.

It was also obvious how Pinochet tried to hold on to power despite the plebiscite. He became the commander in Chief of the armed forces and continued to assert authority and pressure on the current administration. He was unwilling to give up power that eventually limited the democracy in Chile. Thus, this limited the policies of the administration of Aylwin to some extent especially as regards the accountability and responsibility on human rights violations. Negotiations with the military and the immunity from prosecution of those responsible for the human rights violations put Pinochet and those responsible in a privileged position. And again it was only because of external pressure that the investigation against the involved military officers that made them accountable for such wrongdoing.

The neoliberal policies of Pinochet moreover was the model for the economy. Instead of changing the system which proved to be unfavorable especially for the labor during the Pinochet regime, the Aylwin opted to continue the policies. Instead of trying to correct the policies which had an adverse effect on the people, the Aylwin administration failed to institute the necessary reforms especially in terms of the distribution of wealth and income.

Pinochet’s arrest in London loosened his control over Chile, which lived under his shadow for many years. Again, the international involvement for human rights causes became relevant in this case. Were it not for this incident, Pinochet would have continued to intervene in Chile’s administration. But nevertheless, the effects of the long military regime of Pinochet cannot be underestimated as the experiences served as a basis for the continuing struggle against authoritarianism and a continuing pursuit for justice against human rights abuses.

Works Cited
Bickford, Louis. “Preserving Memory: The Past and the Human Rights Movement in Chile.” Democracy and Human Rights in Latin America. Eds. Hillman, Peeler, & Cardoza. Westport: Praeger, 2002. 9-29.
Burbach, Roger. “Five Hundred Days in the British Docket.” The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice. London: Zed Books, 2003. 107-122.
Requa, Marny. “The Bitter Transition: 1990-1998.” The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice. Ed. Roger Burbach. London: Zed Books, 2003. 77-94.
Winn, Peter. “The Pinochet Era.” Victims of the Chilean Miracle. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 44-70.

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