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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: CHILE


MICHAEL FLEET, Professor of Political Science, Marquette University

THE EARLY YEARS OF THE 21ST CENTURY were eventful ones for Chilean politics. Ricardo Lagos' victory over right-wing challenger Joaquín Lavín in the January 2000 runoff election enabled the ruling Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia to retain the presidency for the third consecutive term. Lagos' victory was a narrow one, but he made the most of subsequent opportunities to improve on his coalition's political fortunes. His response to Pinochet's continuing legal difficulties, once the British government released the former dictator from custody in March 2000, was to allow appropriate judicial proceedings in Chile to take their course, thereby defending human rights without appearing to badger an adversary who was not in good health. In addition, thanks to a steady increase in the international price of copper, the country's economy recovered from a brief recession, and again enjoyed the solid growth and budget and trade surpluses that had marked its performance in the early and mid-1990s.

The Concertación benefitted politically from other developments as well, among them the signing in 2003 of a free trade agreement with the US, the passage in 2004 of a law legalizing divorce, and the assumption as commander-in-chief of the army of General Juan Cheyre in 2002, under whose leadership the army and national police acknowledged their institutional responsibility for human rights violations under Pinochet, and signaled their interest in improved civil-military relations. General Cheyre's willingness to do so was prompted by public confirmation that people had been thrown into the ocean from helicopters, the release of additional material linking Pinochet to the Caravan of Death and Operation Condor cases, and the discovery of US bank accounts in his and his wife Lucia's names. These matters badly damaged the General's image and reputation, obliging him to resign his position in the Senate, and to retreat into quasi-permanent seclusion, from which he would face legal challenges and other indignities until his death in 2006.

During this biennium, Chileans and others who study the country's politics debated and reflected on the merits of the years of military rule, the accomplishments and legacy of Pinochet himself, the politics and priorities of the three postmilitary governments, the quality of the country's restored democracy, and issues of human rights and the place of women in both society and the political arena. They did so amidst widespread skepticism and/or indifference with respect to politics. Virtually all public opinion polls (Latinobarometro, CERC, Centro de Estudios Públicos, etc.) showed that Chilean citizens continued to hold "democracy," and their own democracy's performance, in relatively low regard, that they saw little point in taking part in the political process, and that they believed, despite an improving economy, that the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. This political malaise served as a backdrop against which virtually all political questions were discussed and debated.

Much of the writing on Chilean politics during the period addresses its historical roots and underpinnings. Some of the works falling under this heading range broadly: Labbé (item #bi2006000806#), for example, writes on the country's several constitutions and the development of its state and governmental structures during the 19th and 20th centuries; Milet (item #bi2006000809#) brings together a collection of essays on politics during the second half of the 20th century; and the Dávila and Fuentes volume (item #bi2006000820#) focuses on the country's left-right divide. The latest edition of Oppenheim's analysis of contemporary Chilean politics (item #bi2007004550#) includes a new chapter covering the postmilitary period and the economic policies of the several Concertación governments. Arriagada (item #bi2006000814#) provides a blunt assessment of the political role of Chilean business elites from the 1930s on, and Lira, Loveman, et al. (item #bi2006000819#) offer an account of, and reflections on, reconciliation efforts following the Balmaceda, Ibañez, and Pinochet dictatorships.

Other works focus on more limited historical periods. Covering aspects of the Popular Unity experience, for example, are two publications of the Communist Party's Alejandro Lipschutz Institute: the Actas from the Seminario Internacional 30 Años Allende Vive (item #bi2006000640#) revisit Allende's three years in power, and El poder de desafiar al poder (item #bi2006000805#) focuses on the life and times of the late Gladys Marín, one of the party's most influential leaders. In addition, Schnake's memoirs (item #bi2006000644#) offer an insider's view of the UP years, and of his involvement in efforts to form a united coalition to defeat Pinochet; Baño publishes the proceedings of a week-long conference (item #bi2006000825#) that reassesses the UP experience; Javier Pinedo (item #bi2003006965#) portrays that same experience as a failed attempt to devise an explicitly anticapitalist form of modernity; and a group of miristas offers a dramatic account (item #bi2006000647#) of their failed attempt to establish a base camp for guerrilla operations in the mountains east of Valdivia in the early 1980s.

Several of this volume's selections treat aspects of military rule. Ariel Dorfman's piece (item #bi2005004497#) includes a new retrospective by Dorfman himself. The US journalist Marc Cooper captures the feel of things (item #bi2006000801#) at various points in the 1970s and 1980s when he was visiting friends and relatives. Rebolledo reflects on the reasons for which the armed forces resorted to kidnapping, inhuman treatment of prisoners, forced disappearances, and summary executions (item #bi2004002271#). The veteran Chilean journalist Gamonal has published a collection of his radio talks and newspaper columns during the year leading up to the 1988 plebiscite (item #bi2006000637#). Maira, who lived in exile in Mexico for many years, and returned there in 2000 as Chile's ambassador (under Lagos) offers his account of the formation of a united antimilitary opposition that defeated Pinochet in the plebiscite and helped to restore civilian rule (item #bi2006000810#). And Santiso offers an analysis of the transition process that stresses its limited rationality, its inherently uncertain character, and the need for both sides to redefine their goals and preferences at crucial junctures (item #bi2003003903#).

Finally, two works address the exile experience. The Mexican historian Serrano's book (item #bi2006000643#) compares the circumstances and treatment of Chilean exiles in Mexico after the coup with the earlier experiences of Spanish republicans and anti-Batista Cubans, while Oñate and Wright's study (item #bi2006000804#) analyzes the experiences of 35 individuals, most of them "ordinary Chilean citizens" with whom they were able to conduct extended interviews.

Other books and articles in the period deal with Chilean politics since the return of civilian rule in 1990. Ortega and Moreno (item #bi2006000650#) interview 14 Concertación leaders on the alliance's origins, subsequent evolution, and principal challenges today, while Torcal and Mainwaring (item #bi2004002397#) argue that the country's political divisions, both during and following military rule, are political, rather than social in character, i.e., the result of political loyalties and legacies, and not class status or ethnic or religious identity. Borzutzky and Oppenheim's edited volume (item #bi2006001730#) offers a useful overview of policies and practices under the Aylwin, Frei Ruiz-Tagle, and Lagos governments. Silva's articles (items #bi2004002741# and #bi2005002382#) describe what he sees as the depoliticization of Chilean society and the decline of civil societal life in the post-1990 period. Weeks analyzes civil-military relations under restored civilian rule (item #bi2004003590#), analyzing the handling and resolution of confrontations in several specific cases. And a short piece by French journalist Kourliandsky gives Ricardo Lagos' government high marks for its initiatives in the early stages of his presidential term (item #bi2003003947#).

Perhaps the most interesting publications of the period are those assessing the quality of Chile's new democracy. Leftist critic Tomás Moulian brings together the best of his published newspaper columns and online blog entries (item #bi2006000802#) during the period, while Garretón's Incomplete Democracy (item #bi2004003589#) concedes that the Concertación's imperfections are many and unfortunate, but correctable with time and effort. In their essay (item #bi2006000824#) Arrau and Avendaño liken the dominant role played by contemporary economic elites to that of wealthy Chilean landowners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Several publications focus on the increased incidence of corruption in postmilitary Chile: the journalist Brescia compares the several controversies (item #bi2006000808#) plaguing the Frei Ruiz-Tagle government with comparable developments under both Aylwin and Lagos, and under Pinochet as well; while the political scientist Fuentes argues (item #bi2006000641#) that the campaign finance reform law passed under Lagos in 2003 is not likely to reduce spending, provide transparency or accountability, or improve the image of politicians or politics.

Other pieces focus on the lack of political participation at the local level, and on the role of the Christian Democratic Party at both local and national levels. Posner argues (item #bi2005002787#), for example, that the Concertación governments have been no less determined than the military to retain control over policies and expenditures at the municipal level; Greaves (item #bi2006001909#) comes to a similar conclusion; and Valdivieso (item #bi2005001995#) argues that lower income groups have been effectively excluded from both the social and political processes. And on the PDC, former Senator and veteran party leader Ruiz de Giorgio (item #bi2006000823#) accuses his fellow Christian Democrats of having abandoned the party's traditional principles for the logic of neoliberalism; political scientist and former Foreign Minister Walker (item #bi2003002131#) argues that the party needs to embrace decentralization and community-based approaches to social and economic problems; and yet another political scientist, though not exactly a party member, Yocelevzky argues that the Concertación is simply a capitulation by the left to the PDC and its historical neocapitalist project (item #bi2006000817#).

A number of works on politics since 1990 focus on party politics, political alliances, and related phenomena. In his individually authored piece (item #bi2005003188#) on the binomial electoral system, Siavelis argues that the incentives for coalition maintenance are less inherent to its mechanisms, than dependent on the political context in which it operates, and in the article that he writes with John Carey (item #bi2005004909#) they stress the importance for the Concertación alliance of the continued possibility of offering consolation prizes in the form of bureaucratic appointments to losing candidates. In their analysis (item #bi2006000652#) of elections since 1989, economists Cerda and Vergara argue that increased subsidies from the government are likely improve the electoral outcomes of Concertación candidates. Joignant and Navia analyze the recent electoral successes of the right-wing UDI (item #bi2005004944#), now the country's most popular single party, and Monsalve's essay (item #bi2004002345#) discusses the demands of indigenous Mapuche communities for greater political autonomy and the devolution of their traditional communal lands, and outlines the responses of the PS, PDC, Renovación Nacional, and the UDI.

Although he was released by British authorities and permitted to return to Chile in 2000, Pinochet's detention for 16 months continued to attract the attention of both writers and the reading public. Black's piece (item #bi2004000362#) argues that the affair greatly weakened his aura of invulnerability; Ekaizer's work (item #bi2006000639#) provides useful background material and both conversational and textual detail; Dorfman's account (item #bi2006000648#) offers both trenchant analysis and literary elegance; and Pion-Berlin's article (item #bi2005002973#) may be the most useful and insightful piece of all. In a related vein, three additions to the already voluminous literature on human rights violations and the struggle to obtain clarification and accounting are worthy of note: a book (item #bi2006000826#) by a Chilean sociologist working in France, another volume (item #bi2006000649#) in the series produced by Loveman and Lira, and an updated, English-language version of Verdugo's classic exposé of La caravana de la muerte (the Caravan of Death) (item #bi2006000803#).

Finally, scholarly and public interest in the women's movement were also substantial during the period. Some of the works included below focus on the movement's historical development. These include Baldez's book-length study (item #bi2006000815#) comparing the movement's conservative and more progressive factions, and Power's works on right-wing women, i.e., her book (item #bi2006000638#) on their opposition to Allende, and her article (item #bi2003004017#) on their attitudes towards gender roles and sexuality under the military government. Other works look at the somewhat disappointing record of achievement of the movement since 1990: Baldez's 2001 article (item #bi2003000599#), and Franceschet's more detailed, book-length study (item #bi2006000645#). Paul Lewis' article (item #bi2005002367#) analyzes the results of precoup presidential elections, plebiscites under the military, and both presidential and legislative elections since 1990, and argues that there is a modest, but decisive gender gap that favors conservative candidates.

Standing alone, but worthy of mention in any section on Chilean politics, is the journalist María Olivia Mönckeberg's El imperio del Opus Dei en Chile (item #bi2007004551#), a balanced and informative study of the shadowy Catholic movement and its growing influence on Chilean society and politics.


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