Chile once boasted a longer history of stable democratic rule than most of its neighbors and much of Western Europe. Now it is the last major country on the South American continent to return to civilian government after a wave of authoritarianism. In December Chileans will have elected a new president after 16 years in the formidable grip of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. That election should set U.S.-Chilean relations, plagued by a history of intervention and mistrust, on a more constructive, cooperative course.

Chile's transition to civilian rule has been remarkably smooth, despite several anxious moments. In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, the people rejected Pinochet's bid to remain in power through 1997. The dictator conceded his defeat, opening the way for presidential and congressional elections, rather than clinging to power by force. Slowly the nation's tradition of democratic politics has reemerged, turning back the regime's attempt to uproot the system of partisan politics forever.

What explains this success? The credit goes not so much to Pinochet, who had become as addicted to power as Noriega or Duvalier, and had every intention of remaining in office for a quarter-century. But his ambitions were thwarted by two elements. First, Chile's deeply rooted democratic and law-abiding political culture has survived 16 years of repression. During the transition, government opponents across the spectrum have proven themselves capable of uniting for a common purpose and have resisted radical behavior that might jeopardize the return to civilian control.

Second, the armed forces have remained highly disciplined, professional and uncorrupted despite unprecedented proximity to power. Sworn to uphold the transition formula envisioned in their own 1980 constitution, they vetoed any suggestion of illegal or forceful intervention to retain political control when their own commander in chief was defeated at the polls last October.

Of equal importance to assuring a smooth transition is Chile's current economic stability. While first-term civilian leaders in Peru, Brazil and Argentina inherited severe economic and political problems, the Pinochet government's macroeconomic policies have placed the country on an exceptionally sound fiscal footing. Inflation has steadied at 13 percent, export earnings have nearly doubled since 1985, deficits are under control and clever debt-equity swaps have reduced the $20-billion foreign debt by almost $2 billion. Although these gains have come at the cost of painful cutbacks in social spending and severe wage restraints, Chile's populace of 13 million, with a large middle class and relatively low levels of extreme poverty, is better off than most of its South American neighbors.

The path back to civilian rule has been long and frustrating for Chile's democratic forces, but the dire predictions by both sides that last fall's plebiscite would collapse in a cycle of protest and repression did not come true. The hodgepodge of opposition parties, reluctantly accepting a transition formula designed to favor Pinochet, overcame years of squabbling to unite in a successful campaign against the dictator. The voters, displaying enormous civic maturity and patience, turned out in record numbers (90 percent of eligible voters) and quietly handed Pinochet a 55-43 percent defeat.

The regime, haughtily confident of victory until the last moment and then boxed in by its own effort at political engineering, had no stomach to thwart the will of the populace in order to keep an unpopular dictator in office. Since then, both sides have made further concessions, such as agreeing on reforms to the 1980 military constitution, tacitly acknowledging that the time has passed for ultimatums of either an authoritarian or a socialist nature.

Polls indicated that the new Chilean president will be a man of democratic moderation. Opposition candidate Patricio Aylwin Azocar, 71, is expected to defeat the regime's candidate, former Finance Minister Hernán Büchi Buc, 40, by a comfortable margin, and his broad coalition of 17 parties should gain a majority in Congress in the December 14 elections. A law professor, longtime Christian Democratic Party leader and former president of the Senate, Aylwin seems an ideal transition leader. Serene rather than charismatic, expressing concern for poverty and human rights while endorsing much of the regime's free market economic model, he is a reassuring figure for a society still uncertain and divided after the coup of 1973 and 16 years of dictatorship.

Despite the promising transition prospects, several serious problems loom on the horizon. Pinochet is attempting to limit the power of the future democratic government by creating autonomous institutions, headed by his own appointees. The armed forces, deeply distrustful of civilian leadership, will strongly resist any attempt to prosecute them for human rights abuses or to amend the 1980 constitution significantly.

Another troubling issue is the disarray of the political right. Its likely defeat in the presidential and most congressional races would leave conservatives weak and tempted to resort to nondemocratic measures. Also, Chile's economic success has not been evenly shared, and the new government will feel increased social demands from a population that expects democracy to bring improved living standards.

Finally, Aylwin's coalition could break down within several years, as parties that buried their differences to defeat Pinochet and win the presidency begin to compete for their share of electoral power, placing new strains on the political process.

But there is an overriding reason for confidence in Chile's future stability: the paradoxical fact that the transition falls far short of the ideal sought by each major political actor. No one, from Pinochet to the Communist Party, was able to impose an absolute vision of change. Instead, each group has been forced to make concessions and compromises, to relinquish utopian dreams in order to achieve incremental progress, and to recognize that both the country and the world have changed. Today, it is extremely unlikely that Chile will return to the extreme polarization that led to the violent collapse of democracy in 1973.


For the military regime and its civilian supporters, the outcome of the 1988 plebiscite was a shattering defeat. For Pinochet, it meant clear personal repudiation by voters from whom he had expected gratitude, and the end of an illusion that he could control the destiny of "his" country until death. For the armed forces, it meant the failure of their cardinal goal: to render partisan politics obsolete and replace them with "protected democracy"-a smooth, vertical relationship between individuals, intermediary groups and the state.

Military leaders had blamed Chile's troubles not only on the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende Gossens, which they overthrew on September 11, 1973, but on democracy itself, which they viewed as a showcase for venal, self-serving demagogues, incapable of defending the country against leftist subversion. Once in power, they repressed all vestiges of the old system-persecuting political and labor leaders, purging universities and bureaucracies-and sought to build a new system above the fray of party politics, based on a new constitution that envisioned a strong president and a tutelary role for the military. They also drastically reduced the state's economic role and promoted free market policies, believing the stimulus of dynamic new enterprises could replace the appeal of ideology and partisanship for a new generation of Chileans.

In planning the transition to civilian rule, officials designed a legal process they were certain would guarantee their policies a firm foothold in the future. The military constitution called for Pinochet and the other three armed forces commanders to designate a new president to serve from 1990 to 1997, subject to ratification in a yes-no plebiscite. To no one's surprise, the dictator imposed himself as candidate, warning that communism, chaos and economic ruin would return if he were defeated.

Regime officials were convinced they would win-and went out of their way to ensure a fraud-free election so they could prove to doubters that they had won fairly. They failed to see that Chile's economic transformation had bypassed many poor and middle-class families, and that many Chileans harbored deep resentment for years of humiliation and repression under military rule. Moreover, in their determination to end partisan politics, they failed to realize that in a society with strong democratic roots and political subcultures, party ties are remarkably persistent despite substantial social and economic change. Dismissing opposition polls as biased, they relied on glowing reports from local government and army officials. But the military regime's expertise in strategic planning was undermined by the self-defeating logic of authoritarianism: officials were deaf to bad news and unwilling to report it up the chain of command.

To build a winning campaign against Pinochet, the political leaders had to set aside the ideological disagreements and personal rivalries that had fragmented them for years. They also were forced to accept the regime's restricted transition formula, after five years of unsuccessful efforts to speed up the return to democracy and liberalize the conditions for a transfer of power. In 1983, when a wave of protests had swept the country, opposition leaders pressed the armed forces to negotiate an immediate transition, but they were able to obtain only limited political concessions.

Two years later they came closer to upsetting Pinochet, when 11 groups including prominent conservatives signed the National Accord for a Return to Full Democracy. Yet once again, they misjudged the depth of the armed forces' commitment to a controlled transition formula, and the extent to which the economic elite was willing to accept military rule as a bulwark against the return of socialism. To the elite, Pinochet seemed a safer guarantor than democracy, which they blamed for the 1970 election of Allende. Playing skillfully on this fear and warning of a tacit alliance between moderates and Communists, Pinochet persuaded conservatives to back him instead of the accord, leading to the collapse of that effort to isolate the dictator.

Even then, democratic leaders continued to fantasize that somehow Pinochet would fall. Until early 1988, they rejected the plebiscite formula and demanded instead free and open elections. The opposition feared that participating in the plebiscite would legitimize an undemocratic transition and constitution, and trap them in a legal framework the regime could easily manipulate. Even if Pinochet were rejected in the plebiscite, he could remain president another year and army commander until 1997.

The inexorable approach of the October voting day finally convinced opposition leaders to make the best of a flawed contest. Voters ignored calls for a boycott or violent disruption of the plebiscite, and both the new moderate stance of socialist leader Clodomiro Almeyda and the formation of the Party for Democracy led by Ricardo Lagos enabled the 17-party coalition to mount a credible, unified challenge. To ensure a fair election, opposition experts designed a computerized system for a parallel vote count on the day of the plebiscite. With limited funds, constrained television access and a vast network of volunteers, Pinochet's opponents campaigned on a platform of democracy and dignity, maintaining an extraordinary degree of unity and proving they were far from the pack of selfish demagogues the regime had always claimed.

Before midnight on October 5, government officials realized they were facing defeat. Pinochet's staff toyed desperately with suspending the vote count, hoping to provoke opposition violence and justify military intervention in the election. But there was simply no excuse: the voting had been perfectly calm, Marxist groups had refrained from any disturbances and key conservative leaders such as Sergio Onofre Jarpa of the Renovación Nacional party had acknowledged the likelihood of a "no" victory.

Most important, Chilean military officials were not willing to entertain any notions of aborting the plebiscite. The army was strictly loyal to its commander in chief and stung by his defeat, but it was neither a Panamanian Defense Force, wed to a dictator's personal fortunes and perquisites, nor an Argentine military establishment, fragmented by conspiratorial alliances with the civilian right. It was a professional institution committed to constitutional rule, which had intervened only twice in the republic's 150-year history and viewed the 1973 coup as a necessary action resulting from overwhelming civilian demands. Its proudest legacy to the nation was the 1980 constitution-and under the rules of that charter, their candidate had lost.

The commanders of the navy, air force and national police, jealous of army dominance, had even less reason to condone electoral intervention, and with the concurrence of key army officers, they made it clear on voting night that they would insist on respect for the results. When the opposition swept every region but two, there was nothing left for the fuming general to do.

The plebiscite was equally devastating to Chile's Communist Party, a significant force in Chilean politics since the 1920s. Convinced for years that popular discontent would lead to Pinochet's collapse and place Chile on a revolutionary course, the party abandoned its traditional commitment to electoral politics in 1980 and formed an armed rebel movement, the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, to spearhead the insurrectionary process. Encouraged by the 1983 protests and alienated from democratic politics by years of harsh repression, a tough new generation of cadres smuggled arms from abroad and plotted to assassinate Pinochet.

But the plans were uncovered, and a failed attempt against the dictator's life on September 7, 1986, provoked wide public repudiation, reinforcing the general conviction that Chile should seek a peaceful solution to its problems. The party continued to misjudge the popular mood, vehemently declaring that the plebiscite would be a hoax. The peaceful defeat of Pinochet left the Communists divided, isolated and struggling to define a new role in a society that had rejected their revolutionary objectives.


The October 5 referendum was only the first step in a difficult transition. The opposition had to chafe under military control for another 17 months, but felt it now had a mandate to demand major constitutional reforms before the election of a new government. The regime was determined to maintain an image of absolute control, but tacitly recognized some political concessions were now inevitable. A delicate process of negotiation began early in 1989 but collapsed repeatedly amid mutual charges of intransigence and bad faith.

Democratic leaders were especially determined to change the most authoritarian elements of the constitution. The charter banned all Marxist parties, called for almost one-third of the Senate to be appointed by the president and other officials, and established a National Security Council dominated by the military commanders in chief, with authority to represent the views of the armed forces on policy matters-a vague power many regime opponents feared would provide the military with a veto over civilian authorities. Amending the constitution would be very difficult under the charter's requirements for three-fifths approval by both legislative houses in two consecutive Congresses.

Junta members and government moderates felt it would be wise to accept minor changes in order to defuse tensions and minimize future reforms. But Pinochet and regime hard-liners balked repeatedly, insisting that changing any basic features of the constitution would jeopardize their concept of a "modern, stable, protected" democracy. The impasse was broken by Renovación Nacional, which had reluctantly supported Pinochet's candidacy but was eager to ensure a smooth transition and open channels to opposition leaders. After a joint study Renovación and antiregime lawyers proposed a series of reforms and entered negotiations with the interior minister, who threatened to resign when Pinochet rejected the package the minister had negotiated. Again, top military officials intervened on behalf of compromise, and the general was forced to relent.

The final package of reforms, which was easily approved by voters in a referendum on July 30, met many of the opposition's major concerns. The ban on Marxist parties was reduced to a prohibition on groups that used political violence, the size of the Senate was increased to compensate for the appointment of some members, the National Security Council's power was reduced to a purely advisory status, and some provisions protecting human rights were strengthened. The most significant change made the constitution easier to amend, requiring only a one-time, two-thirds legislative quorum, thus improving the opposition's chance of further modifying Pinochet's charter if it won a majority in Congress.

While the constitutional negotiations were delicate and laborious, preparing for the elections proved a far more daunting task. Having bitterly objected to the 14-month lag between the plebiscite and elections, opposition parties now realized they had precious little time to build organizations, select candidates for president and 158 congressional seats, and prepare voters for the first democratic contest in Chile since 1973.

Government officials believed they could use those months to turn their fortunes around, reasoning that if the aging dictator had obtained 43 percent of the plebiscite vote against a unified opposition, a more palatable conservative figure stood a good chance of success against a coalition that was bound to dissolve into partisan squabbles once the competition for congressional seats got under way.

To give its partisans an extra advantage in congressional elections, the junta crafted a set of electoral laws that gerrymandered congressional districts so that rural areas, where the "yes" vote had been strong, were allotted more deputies than urban areas where opposition support was strongest. As a result, the 20 smallest districts, with a population of 1.5 million, elect 40 deputies, while the seven largest, with a comparable population, can choose only 14.

The mechanism for choosing legislators was also designed to benefit progovernment candidates on the assumption that they would win about one-third of the votes. The law provides two seats per district, for which each party can present two candidates. Voters choose one candidate on one party list, and the winners are determined by the total vote received per list. The list receiving the highest number of votes earns one seat, and the next list to receive at least half of those votes earns the second seat. Thus, if there are two lists presented, the top list (presumably the opposition) could earn as high as 65 percent of the vote and still win only one seat, while the second list (presumably progovernment) needs only 33 percent to earn the other seat. Officials were certain, moreover, that the 17 opposition parties would be unable to agree on a single list, thus further guaranteeing the right a majority in parliament.

To the chagrin of Pinochet and his aides, however, their experiment in political engineering once again went awry. The opposition parties managed to set aside ideological and personal disputes and agreed on Aylwin as the sole opposition candidate for president, as well as on a joint program and an electoral pact that virtually constituted a single list of congressional candidates. As usual, Chile's military rulers had judged their adversaries through a prism of prejudice, underestimating their leadership skills and common purpose, unwilling to recognize that the policies aimed at destroying and dividing opposition parties had led them instead to greater maturity and cooperation.

In fact, Chile's opposition leaders were committed to the notion of a sole presidential candidate well before the 1988 plebiscite. Their first priority was reestablishing democracy, not seeking partisan advantage, and they feared that multiple candidates would divide the electorate and benefit the regime. Leftist parties reluctantly agreed that a candidate from the dominant, centrist Christian Democrats would have the widest appeal. Party president Aylwin was the logical choice, yet he had to surmount bitter opposition within his own party, lingering skepticism among many leftists from his days as a leading opponent of Allende, and the reluctance of anticlerical parties to support a candidate close to the Roman Catholic Church. But the seasoned politician blunted early criticism by serving as spokesman for the "no" campaign, earning wide respect for his able leadership and conciliatory style. By the time his candidacy was officially announced in July, it had been endorsed by virtually every opposition group.

Selecting opposition candidates for Congress, given the skewed electoral laws, was a much trickier proposition. The 17 parties had to agree on the number of candidates each would receive and where they would run, which meant winnowing down lists of candidates through internal primaries or national party councils. This was complicated by the lack of a clear yardstick to measure the relative strength of one party or candidate in relation to others. Each party complained vociferously that it was being more generous than the others in giving up slots.

By midyear the parties managed to agree on a single nationwide list, but added several regional lists that included candidates outside the Aylwin coalition. The Communists, who had decided belatedly to endorse Aylwin and run candidates for Congress, were permitted to participate in the regional lists. This agreement signaled tardy recognition by the party that its insurrectionary strategy had failed and that its only hope for the future lay in returning to the political mainstream.


The Chilean right, in contrast, approached the December elections floundering in disarray. Despite their ideological homogeneity, proregime parties fragmented into a dozen bickering factions and ended up divided between two presidential candidates-Büchi and Francisco Javier Errázuriz, a prosperous businessman.

The government's partisans were utterly unprepared to compete in a democratic context after 16 years of comfortable inaction. The regime, contemptuous of politics and convinced that discipline and authority were the keys to good government, had actively discouraged the revitalization of conservative parties. Pinochet, obsessed with proving that he alone was capable of running the country, had systematically thwarted the emergence of competing proregime leaders. The conservative tendency to favor individualism over ideology had accentuated with military rule, and any instinct for collective thinking had atrophied as parties hibernated.

At first, Renovación Nacional, the principal conservative party, seemed likely to overcome these obstacles. Party president Jarpa, a man of considerable oratorical and political skills, was an obvious choice for a president who could build a coalition of small business entrepreneurs and middle-class conservatives. But regime purists viewed his pragmatism and flexibility as the lowest traits of traditional politics. Renovación was also viewed with suspicion by the Union Democrática Independiente, a movement of current and former regime officials fanatically committed to Chile's neoconservative economic experiment, which feared Renovación would be too willing to compromise it. Many influential businessmen, who had profited handsomely from regime policies of privatization and export promotion, felt Jarpa was insufficiently committed to those policies because he had pushed the regime to ease its rigid free market stance during the political crisis of 1983, when he served as Pinochet's interior minister.

Searching for an alternative candidate, a group of conservative intellectuals and entrepreneurs proposed Büchi, a brilliant young technocrat who had served the regime in a series of important economic posts and had become finance minister before the age of 40. To opponents, Büchi represented the continuation of dictatorship in civilian garb, a protégé of Pinochet and a cold technician who had slashed domestic social programs to satisfy foreign lenders. Polls have shown him consistently unpopular with poor and middle-class voters, who have borne the brunt of his policies. But to his supporters he was the perfect candidate, embodying the regime's proudest achievements but untainted by its abuses, and projecting a youthful, independent image to young, upwardly mobile voters.

More than anyone, Büchi has been associated with Chile's steady economic recovery and exceptional macroeconomic performance since the mid-1980s. After the government weathered two bouts of severe recession and a major financial crisis induced by overly rigid adherence to fixed exchange rate policies, Büchi introduced a modified brand of free market economics, continuing to hold down social spending and inflation while devising creative schemes, such as debt-equity swaps, to help lighten Chile's heavy obligations to foreign lenders. During his tenure, the nation's economic "miracle" began to blossom, with new fruit and forestry exports complementing the nation's traditional copper exports, and a new breed of entrepreneurs bringing foreign investment, modern computers and aggressive business practices to the once sluggish, state-dominated economy. With Büchi as president, supporters reasoned, there would be no risk of reversing these trends.

In June, however, Büchi stunned supporters by announcing unexpectedly that he had no desire to be president of Chile. An introspective loner, he loathed public speaking and preferred hiking in the mountains to negotiating in smoke-filled rooms. But powerful interests had other ideas. Santiago was flooded with posters, decals and radio spots urging "Büchi's return." Influential businessmen and former officials pressured him relentlessly to change his mind, while flatly informing Jarpa his candidacy would receive no support. Bitter and defeated, Renovación grudgingly agreed to withdraw Jarpa and endorse Büchi's return to the race in July.

A second candidate, however, refused to cede the limelight to Büchi and remained in the race. Errázuriz, a maverick entrepreneur, struck a popular chord by condemning neoconservative economics but drew support from right-wing nationalists for his strong anti-Marxist stance. Errázuriz has no chance of winning, although he could sap enough votes from Aylwin and Büchi to force an electoral runoff, which is required if no candidate receives an absolute majority. His candidacy worsens divisions within the right, which was unable to agree on a joint list of congressional candidates. Conservative groups are so splintered that they could fail to win a single seat in many districts.


Whoever wins the presidency, a number of difficult issues face the four-year transition government that will take office next March 11. Similar issues have wreaked havoc with moderate, well-intentioned civilian administrations in post-military Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

The most immediate problem for the new democratic government is how to assert its authority over the armed forces while establishing a healthy relationship with them. After 16 years in power, the military no longer sees itself as the servant of elected leaders, but as a fourth branch of government. Hostile to politicians in general and the Aylwin forces in particular, the Pinochet regime is attempting to secure permanent influence by creating authoritarian enclaves that would be difficult to dismantle. Offering early retirement bonuses to Supreme Court members, the regime has named nine new justices to life terms since October 1988. It is also trying to ensure that the next government will not be able to control such key agencies as the central bank and the mass media regulatory commission by naming regime loyalists to extended terms on their boards.

The armed forces still expect to exercise significant influence through the National Security Council, even though its capacity to overrule presidential decisions was weakened by the constitutional reforms. Determined not to let civilians interfere with their appointment, promotion and training process, they have recently prepared a set of new internal regulations. They will also insist on retaining constitutional provisions that reduce the president's power to choose military commanders and bar the executive from removing them.

The most intractable issue in civilian-military relations is human rights. Despite international condemnation, military officials believe repression was the necessary price for eliminating subversion and are vehemently unrepentant over charges of torture, execution and the disappearance of more than six hundred prisoners. They are determined to avoid the humiliation of human rights trials suffered by their Argentine counterparts, and top officials have hinted they might resort to force if any attempts are made to change the 1978 law that amnestied all security-linked crimes committed in the first five years of military rule.

The military's views on all these issues would clash sharply with an Aylwin administration. The opposition is committed to establishing the truth about human rights abuses, although it is divided on the degree to which perpetrators should be brought to justice. Aylwin would face strong pressure from relatives of the dead and missing to repeal the 1978 amnesty law. He has called for the armed forces to return to their traditional role, and would seek constitutional reforms to eliminate authoritarian enclaves such as the powerful military courts. If elected, Büchi would tend to defer to military wishes, but pressure would still come from Congress. In either case, reaching agreement on the proper military role in society will require a tricky combination of toughness and tact from civilian rulers.

The chief obstacle to healing the civilian-military breach is General Pinochet himself, a shrewd and still robust figure of 73 years. Polls show 80 percent of the public believes he should step down as army commander, and opposition leaders have repeatedly called for him to retire in March. But Pinochet, who wants to ensure there is no retreat from the army's privileged, tutelary role in society, clearly intends to remain in the post until the constitution forces him out in 1997. Within the army, his mystique has declined and he is viewed as a potential liability to healthy institutional relations with civilian authorities. But he has recently retired several generals who are highly regarded professionals and promoted others who are personally loyal, thus diminishing the prospects for easing the unpredictable Pinochet into quiet retirement.

The weakness of the political right also makes it harder to balance civilian-military relations. Stability requires a right with strong electoral representation and a consensus that the armed forces are subordinate to civilian authority. Büchi supporters believe that even if he loses, he can help build a strong and influential new conservative force, but the current disarray could still tempt rightists to turn to the military for protection. This would weaken the armed forces' accountability to civilian rule, and could lead to a conspiratorial relationship between the armed forces and elements on the right.

Chile's new government must also find a way to address the frustrated social aspirations that have been the cost of Chile's undeniable macroeconomic success. Without fear of being removed from office, the military government was able to lower inflation, reduce the foreign debt and cut fiscal deficits by repressing political and labor leadership and ignoring public demands for social equity. The regime instituted aggressive programs to eradicate extreme poverty but severely reduced spending on health and education that benefited the working and middle classes. By 1988 unemployment had dropped from 30 to ten percent, but purchasing power was still below 1970 levels. Farmworkers were earning under two dollars a day, and more than 600,000 families had defaulted on their mortgages, caught in a spiral of debt because their loans but not their wages or pensions were indexed to inflation.

The opposition puts a high priority on redressing this "social debt" and has pledged to revamp the regime's restrictive labor legislation. Yet opposition economists agree that the basic outlines of the regime's macroeconomic policies must be maintained and that foreign debt obligations must be met. They are determined to avoid the errors of new democratic governments in Argentina and Peru, which rushed to improve wages and social services, only to find fiscal deficits and inflation forcing them into steep recessions. To increase spending without dipping into reserves, the Aylwin team has proposed creating a "social fund" by raising corporate and income taxes. It also vows to drive a harder bargain with foreign creditors, for example by demanding that Chile's debt be valued at its market rate, which is 60 percent of the nominal value. Even so, the government may be forced to take new austerity measures if current growth levels decline, as is predicted, or if copper and agricultural export earnings drop as debt service requirements increase in 1991-93.

A Büchi presidency might reassure investors more than an Aylwin administration, since the former finance minister has been identified with Chile's free market policies. Ironically, however, as the campaign progressed, Büchi sought to project himself as a populist by promising a host of social benefits. And yet he has worked only as a technical problem-solver at the behest of a military junta and is not well prepared to balance economic and social demands in democracy, which requires a very different leadership style. His lack of political experience and coherent party base would make it much harder for him to negotiate with striking copper workers, peasant squatters or congressional opponents.

Aylwin, on the other hand, is a seasoned politician who has successfully negotiated with opponents across Chile's broad ideological spectrum. Chile's opposition parties maintain strong influence over social organizations, from labor unions to student groups. Party leaders have warned these groups repeatedly that social demands must be toned down if democracy is to survive, and social activists have responded by pledging to support an Aylwin government as long as it keeps their problems on the national agenda. Thus, an Aylwin presidency can offer foreign business a far greater guarantee of political stability than Büchi.

The unity and discipline marshalled by Aylwin's coalition in order to defeat Pinochet are bound to weaken as his transitional team moves toward the elections of 1994. The Christian Democratic leader, who cannot succeed himself, is likely to come under sharp attack from socialist parties, especially if the economy declines and social demands are unmet, as they try to carve out their own constituencies in a multiparty system. The frenetic rhetoric that polarized Chile in the waning days of the Allende era could return, as competition intensifies for the next, eight-year presidential term. But the lessons of 1973 have penetrated deeply, and the experience of 16 hard years has brought a new appreciation of democracy to this scarred society. It is a privilege few Chileans would now squander for an ideological vision-or a fleeting moment of power.


Chile's transition to democracy can be viewed as a success for U.S. policy, which has given strong support to democratic forces since 1985 and played an important role at several key moments in discouraging reversals in the political liberalization. Republican administrations and business interests have been delighted with the progress of the regime's neoconservative economic experiment, which has set an example of deference to multilateral lenders' demands for austerity and used free market tools to energize a sluggish statist economy.

And yet, there are pitfalls that must be avoided if Chilean and American interests are to be well served by a return to civilian control. Having set the proper, low-profile tone in encouraging the transition, Washington must now resist any temptation to try to micromanage the next stage. Having benefited substantially from the Pinochet regime's openness to foreign investment and lender demands, the international financial community must resist the nervous instinct to flee from the uncertainty and disorder of newly established democratic rule.

Despite its physical remoteness and lack of strategic significance, Chile has played a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy since the 1960s, when the Kennedy and Johnson administrations poured covert aid into the Christian Democratic party as a counterweight to the appeal of communism. In 1970 the Nixon Administration plotted unsuccessfully to prevent the election of Allende, then backed his right-wing opponents and was relieved by the coup that overthrew his government. Revelations of these covert U.S. activities, coupled with harsh repression in Chile, brought a major reversal in U.S. policy under President Carter. When the 1976 slaying in Washington of Orlando Letelier, a former foreign minister to Allende, was linked to Chilean security forces, U.S.-Chilean military ties were cut altogether.

The 1980 election of President Reagan brought Pinochet a more sympathetic ear in Washington, where anticommunist dictators were once again viewed as palatable strategic allies. But by 1985 U.S. policymakers had changed course again, concluding that prolonged military rule was only strengthening communist groups. They also wanted to legitimize their crusade against Nicaragua's leftist regime by condemning human rights abuses by rightist allies as well. A new U.S. ambassador in Santiago, Harry G. Barnes, Jr., spoke out against repression and rebuilt ties with the democratic opposition. U.S. officials helped ensure a fair vote in the plebiscite by financing the parallel vote count and voter education projects, and by warning the regime against trying to doctor or abort the results.

In recent months Washington has moved toward more relaxed relations with the lame-duck Pinochet regime, but Chilean military officials bitterly resent having been abandoned twice by Washington in their fight against communist influence-after 1976 and again in 1985-and have come to view the United States as a soft and unreliable ally. The business elite has also not forgiven the Americans for turning against Pinochet, and its pique was vividly illustrated early this year, when prominent businessmen claimed that the poisoning of a shipment of Chilean grapes and the subsequent U.S. decision to temporarily ban the import of Chilean fruit was part of a plot by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Chile's socialist left, on the other hand, has moderated its anti-American stance significantly in recent years, aided both by U.S. criticism of human rights abuses and a renewed political outlook of its own. Leading Chilean leftists have lived abroad since the coup, coming to understand the complexities of U.S. foreign policy and to identify more with the moderate socialism of contemporary Europe than the radicalism of Fidel Castro. With the Communist Party isolated from the political mainstream and the opposition likely to win power, Washington has little reason to fear a resurgence of an insurrectionary threat or extreme anti-Americanism.

Chile is often cited as an exemplar of free market economic policies. The task today is to prove they can be maintained without authoritarian control. If the nation's new leaders can maintain macroeconomic stability while addressing social needs, then Chile can be legitimately invoked as an important example of economic and public policy reform worthy of emulation in the rest of Latin America and the Third World. If it wants to see Chilean democracy succeed, the United States can help by pushing multilateral lenders to relieve the nation's staggering foreign debt burden-which still represents 90 percent of the gross national product-thus making available resources for needed capital investment and social services.

The normalization of civilian-military relations in Chile could also be aided by a renewal of U.S. military assistance. This would show the Chilean military that elected leaders can deliver foreign defense aid, and would help blunt resentment against inevitable cutbacks in bloated military budgets. Improved relations are especially important at a time when the United States is embarking on a high-profile program of military aid to fight cocaine traffic in Peru and Bolivia. The Chilean army will inevitably view this as enhancing the defense capacity of two traditional enemies, and Washington must be careful to compensate Chile for the perceived imbalance.

The most important obstacle to renewed military ties is the legacy of the Orlando Letelier assassination, a sore point with American administrations for more than a decade. Unless responsibility for this episode is resolved, Congress is extremely unlikely to restore military aid to Chile. The Pinochet regime has repeatedly denied U.S. requests to extradite General Manuel Contreras, the former secret police chief. While a new civilian government might be more willing to meet the U.S. request, the armed forces would vehemently oppose it, and pressure from Washington would simply wedge democratic leaders into a corner.

Yet the murder of Letelier and his assistant was too blatant a case of state-sponsored terror for U.S. officials to drop the issue now. Negotiations between Chilean and U.S. officials, including members of Congress, are needed to reach a mutually acceptable solution. An investigation through the 1914 Bilateral Mediation Treaty might provide grounds for Chile to compensate the victims' families, without extraditing a high-ranking member of the armed forces. Washington must work closely with elected Chilean leaders on this matter, giving them time to reach domestic consensus on how to proceed.

Overall, the United States should maintain its current unobtrusive presence in Chilean politics, even if democracy brings unrest, for interference would only jeopardize the transition. Washington's stated neutrality in the December election is a far more appropriate policy than the meddling of 1964 and 1970 that contributed to the breakdown of Chile's 150-year-old democracy. Washington will also have to accept a more "nonaligned" foreign policy from Chile's new leaders, including opposition to U.S. military presence in Central America. Ultimately, a stable, independent and prosperous democracy in Santiago will prove a sounder ally than either a beholden client state or a mercurial anticommunist dictatorship.

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  • Pamela Constable is an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow on leave from her position as Latin America Correspondent for The Boston Globe to study military rule in Chile. Arturo Valenzuela is Professor of Government, Director of the Latin American Studies Program at Georgetown University and author of several books on Chile. The authors are collaborating on a book about the Pinochet years to be published by 1991.
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