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Chile Modern History

Although Chile was formally neutral in World War II, the country was close to the United States, both politically and economically. But political instability, ineffective governments and social injustices have made left-wing parties and trade unions grow stronger. A short-lived social government was followed from 1973 by a hard right dictatorship under a military-led government, before democracy could be reborn in 1990.

In the 1950s, the socialist Salvador Allende formed a people front, consisting of socialists, communists and other leftist parties that challenged the conservative elite. Although the urban workers had gotten a little better, the rural workers lacked most and demands were raised, among other things, on land reform.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Chile. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Popular Front lost the 1958 election to a conservative-liberal alliance and in 1964 Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei was elected president on the promises of social justice without socialism, a "Revolution in freedom". Frei received support from the right and the United States. During his time as president, certain social reforms were implemented. Among other things, the farm workers were given the right to organize trade unions and a land reform was started. The state bought the majority of the shares in the copper mines.

Allende becomes president

Prior to the 1970 presidential election, five leftist parties had gathered in a new popular front behind Allende. The poor masses now supported Allende, who became the world's first democratically elected Marxist president.

Contemporary History of ChileThe Allende government nationalized the copper mines and also took over other foreign-owned companies, certain industries and banks, as well as large land estates. The land was handed over to workers' cooperatives. Wages were raised, basic commodity prices were frozen and people were given increased purchasing power. Unemployment fell due to large construction projects. But left-wing politics scared off investors. Capital flowed out of the country and the Treasury began its own. The rising consumption led to shortages of goods, price increases and inflation. The US and other countries withdrew their financial assistance to Chile and the Chilean state did not receive any loans from US major banks. At the same time, the military and the right-wing opposition received secret support from the United States.

Radical groups within the national front wanted to increase the pace of socialization, which led to the coalition being split. The center and right allied against Allende in Congress, but the opposition did not get a sufficient majority in the March 1973 election to be able to cast Allende. The country was paralyzed by demonstrations, inflation rushed and copper prices fell. The opposition openly urged the military to take action.

In September 1973, the newly appointed commander-in-chief Augusto Pinochet carried out a military coup aimed at crushing Marxism, establishing order and saving the economy. Allende died with weapons in hand in the presidential palace and many of his associates were killed.

Political parties and trade unions were banned and siege permits and strict censorship were introduced. The Congress was dissolved for the first time in Chile's history. Pinochet took on dictatorial powers. The military dictatorship's repression was directed mainly to the left. According to official data from 2005, more than 3,000 people were killed by the regime. Many thousands were arrested on arbitrary grounds, some "disappeared" and others subjected to torture. The soccer stadium in Santiago became a prison camp. Oppositionists fled the country, and of a population of eleven million, soon one million lived in exile. The Catholic Church eventually emerged as a significant critic of oppression (see Religion). The Christian Democrats first supported the coup but went into opposition after a year.

The economy is growing

After halting inflation and returning confiscated property to former owners, the junta embarked on a market economy program with privatization, welfare cuts and free trade investment. Chile drastically lowered its protective duties, foreign loans poured in, the economy grew and market liberals spoke of "the Chilean wonder".

In the midst of economic success, Pinochet presented a proposal for a new constitution that would legitimize his rule until at least 1989. While a state of emergency existed and all political parties were banned, a referendum was held on this in 1980. The proposal was approved and the Constitution came into force in 1981.

Then the economy turned downward. Copper prices fell, the currency collapsed in value, gross domestic product (GDP) fell sharply and banks collapsed. Unemployment soared when many of the weak industries were knocked out.

The regime was forced to curb the neoliberal program and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) went in with credits. Thereafter, the economy recovered and grew strongly during the second half of the 1980s.

Despite demonstrations and other expressions of dissatisfaction among the people, Pinochet believed the majority support. But in the referendum he had in 1988, the people refused to allow him to remain as president.

Thus, presidential elections could be held in 1989. By then, 17 opposition parties had formed a center-left alliance, the Concertación, and agreed on Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin as their candidate. He had been the leader of the Christian Democrats at the military coup in 1973, when the party urged the military to intervene against Allende. Aylwin won the election over two right-wing candidates. With his resignation as president in March 1990, democracy was restored.

Concertación gets majority

The congressional election, which was held at the same time as the presidential election, despite the years of right-wing dictatorship became a setback for the traditional left that had supported Allende. The parties within the Concertación gained a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, while the right dominated in the Senate with the help of nine unelected senators.

President Aylwin commissioned a commission to investigate the human rights violations of the military junta. However, those responsible were not punished, as the Supreme Court (HD) had approved a law on amnesty for military and police who committed crimes in 1973-78. After the junta's fall, HD was also dominated by members appointed by Pinochet.

Because the constitution forbade re-election of incumbent president, the center-left alliance appointed Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei as his candidate for the 1993 election. The alliance retained its majority, albeit slightly reduced, also in 1997, and its candidate, the Socialist Party's Ricardo Lagos, won the presidential election in 2000. Also in the 2001 congressional elections, the center-left alliance remained the largest. The country's good economy contributed to the Concertación's electoral victory.

Settlements with the junta age

The power struggle between the democratic forces and sympathizers to the former military dictatorship has long slowed all legal settlements with those responsible for the junta's abuse. But in 1994, the head of the dissolved security police, Manuel Contreras, was sentenced to prison for the 1976 assassination of Allende's former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, who was on the run from Washington DC.

Ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested for the first time in 1998 in the United Kingdom, at the request of Spain, who wanted Pinochet extradited to bring him to trial for genocide and terror against Spanish nationals. The British government released him with reference to his age and faltering health, and in 2000 he was allowed to return to Chile. Pinochet had never been sentenced before his death in December 2006, but his legal immunity had been upheld on several occasions and trials had begun. The judiciary was better able to answer other members of the old military junta (see also Democracy and Rights).

The bachelor of power

Michelle Bachelet, the center-left Alliance Concertación candidate, won the presidential election held in December 2005 and January 2006. The right-wing Alliance for Chile could not agree on a joint candidate, which contributed to Bachel's victory. Chile thus got its first female president.

Bachelor's past made her popular. The father, who was a flight general, was tortured to death in one of the military dictatorships. Bachelet himself was arrested, tortured and forced to flee abroad. She trained as a physician in what was then East Germany, returned to Chile in 1979 and joined the Socialist Party (PS). During the 2000s, she became known for her ability to act first as Minister of Health, later as Minister of Defense. The divorced three-year-old mother Bachelet also had the support of many women, even outside the traditional left circles. At the same time, the continued economic upturn gave her wind of the sails (see Economic overview).

Bachelet appointed a government consisting of as many men as women and several heavy ministerial posts went to women. The opportunities for the government to get through its politics in Parliament looked good. For the first time since Concertación came to power in 1990, the alliance had gained its own majority in both chambers of parliament.

The politically most critical issue was the growing gaps between poor and well-off. In May 2006, Bachelet was faced with his first real challenge as president when dissatisfied school students organized mass protests and occupied schools demanding changes in the education system.

The right wins, Piñera president

The December 2009 election led to the right-wing victory for the first time since democracy was restored, albeit by a small margin. In the second round of the presidential election, Sebastían Piñera, a candidate for the center-right alliance, had changed his name to the Coalition for Change. He won over the Concertación candidate, Christian Democrat and ex-president Eduardo Frei (the younger). Not least, the young voters seemed to regard Eduardo Frei as "yesterday's politician", at the same time as they lacked their own memories of the dictatorship and therefore saw no obstacle in voting for a right-wing candidate. Piñera also did not represent any extreme right-wing views.

In February 2010, Chile was shaken by a powerful earthquake that claimed more than 500 lives and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Lack of food and water during the clean-up work in some places led to unrest and nightly curfews were introduced in several cities. When Piñera took office in March, his first challenge was to get through a plan for the reconstruction, at an estimated cost of around $ 20 billion. Disagreement over the funding meant that it took just over six months for the plan to be approved by Congress.

student Protests

In the late spring of 2011, an extensive strike wave began. Workers protested against labor market policy, miners carried out a general strike and demonstrations were held against plans for a building of five hydroelectric dams in the south. Most notable, however, were the student protests with tens of thousands of participants demanding changes in the education system. The protests culminated in August when police deployed tear gas against violent protesters and over 270 people were arrested. By that time, large parts of the education system had been paralyzed. The students' demands for free university studies were rejected by the government, which, however, promised other initiatives.

The mediation attempts made during the autumn did not lead to any solution. Kravall police were repeatedly deployed. Protesters tried to storm the congressional building and occupy the Department of Education. Eventually, the violence subsided, but the students continued throughout 2012 and into 2013 their protests demanding education reform.

Ahead of the November 2013 presidential election, the Left, now under the name New Majority, once again appointed Michelle Bachelet as its candidate. She won the second round of elections in December with 62 percent of the vote over Evelyn Matthei, a candidate for the center-right bloc who has now taken back her former name Alliance for Chile.

Bachelet back in power

When Bachelet took office for her second term in the spring of 2014, she set off at a high pace, after criticism that she did not get much done during her first. The aim was to build a modern welfare state, "from the cradle to the grave". Among several initiatives launched during the first 100 days there was a pension reform, specifically aimed at self-employed and low-income earners.

Work on fulfilling election promises to ban profit withdrawals in schools and free college education for all was also started. Likewise, a promised tax reform was adopted, which aimed to increase the state's annual revenue by the equivalent of 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The increased revenue would fund improvements in both healthcare and school.

Despite legislative changes intended to lead to a gradual transition to free college education, student protests continued. At the end of 2015, a setback came when the Constitutional Court rejected parts of educational reform. The government was forced to admit that free education will not become a reality during the current term of office. In May 2016, students attempted to storm the presidential palace in Santiago and in Valparaíso, the unrest led to the death of one person. During the summer, the government presented further proposals for legislative changes, but the students remained dissatisfied.

Bachelor's popularity figures plummeted rapidly after taking office and after a couple of years, only about a fifth of voters thought she was doing a good job. Several political scandals contributed to the public outcry. Voters were also disappointed that election promises were not fulfilled and over the increasingly sluggish economy. Huge protests were held in 2016 in support of more radical changes to the pension system.

 
 

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