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.
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
The 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.