Courtesy Reuters

The Chilean Road to Democracy

Chile today faces a familiar situation: a government attempting to rule the country and implement its program with the support of only a minority of the population. But the present case is different from the country’s minority governments of 1964 and 1970, and far more serious. First, General Augusto Pinochet has much less popular support now than was enjoyed by either previous government. Second, Pinochet’s authoritarian government, armed with a monopoly of force, is seeking to extend his rule to 1997, and to ensure military control over future governments. The 1980 constitution, rejected by opponents and widely criticized by independents as undemocratic in substance and virtually unamendable, is invoked as the legal foundation and source of legitimacy of this official scheme to cripple Chilean democracy permanently.

Although the majority of Chileans originally backed the military government, Pinochet’s scheme has since provoked mass opposition, which has erupted in recent years in widespread protests, strikes and unrest throughout the country. The international isolation in which General Pinochet’s regime finds itself and the worldwide repudiation that it has had to face also have done not a little to weaken its position.

Nevertheless, the Southern Cone of Latin America is not Central America, and political change in Chile will be brought about only insofar as the domestic conditions that will make it possible are present. Recent developments in Chile, especially the conclusion of the "National Accord on Transition to Full Democracy" last August, represent an important strengthening of democratic forces. They confront daunting obstacles, however, not least of which is Pinochet’s determination to maintain power.

II

At the dawn of the 1960s Chile enjoyed the enviable reputation of being one of the few stable democracies in Latin America. It ranked among the most advanced countries of the region, having attained high levels of political, social and economic development. But in the course of the 1960s a combination of historical circumstances—declining growth, rising demands, political mobilization—radically metamorphosed Chilean politics, tearing it into three

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