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Back to Chile: historia reciente

Belén Moncada, Director of the Thematic Year on Latin America, University of Navarra, Spain

Chile: recent history

Tue, 19 Jan 2010 08:23:17 +0000 Published in News Journal

As the forecasts whispered, last Sunday, Chileans elected the first right-wing candidate as president since the defeat of the dictatorship. If we discount the seventeen years of military regime, it had been more than fifty years since this tendency had governed Chile.

These elections, held under a scorching southern sun and in the strictest normality, represent a milestone in the recent history of Chilean democracy. For the first time after the dictatorship, a right-wing candidate wins the presidency without fanfare, without noise, and with the recognition of the center-left conglomerate that has steered the country's course since 1989.

What will change in the "long petal of sea and wine and snow", as Neruda sang, with the new government? Let us open the book of history.

The neoliberal euphoria implemented (imposed) by Pinochet since 1975 turned the Andean State into one of the least interventionist in the continent, comparable only to the United States of America. During the seventeen years of dictatorship, economic openness, excessive zeal for private property and no state intervention created a country that was economically prosperous, but overly reliant on the capitalist theory of "chorreo", which never arrived, or was never enough to end an inequality that still bleeds.

In turn, before leaving, Pinochet opened his political fist with a constitution and a democracy protected by a system where there were two majorities that guaranteed stability in the country, hungry for public freedoms.

The Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, created as civil service examination to the dictatorship between the Socialist Party, the Radical Party and the Christian Democrat Party in the 1980s, governed for twenty years with that Constitution and in that democracy. Within the legality imposed by the military government, he tried to reverse the neoliberal trend by establishing (minimum) regulations to ensure a certain economic distribution partner. Thus, during their respective governments (Patricio Alwyn, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet), their banners of struggle were political freedom and social justice, which the Pinochet dictatorship had cornered. At the same time, during those twenty years Chile grew three times more than its South American neighbors.

The social rights won in the twenty years of Concertación (the health plan known as AUGE, the regulation of private pension fund systems, public transportation, etc.) are safe with the new Piñera government, since the history of social rights does not admit any turning back. What remains to be seen is whether the new president will follow the line of increasing the (until very recently) non-existent social rights, or will leave them as they are, with the social boiler at a minimum. In any case, after twenty years of social democracy, the time in which the liberal Economics of the "Chicago-Boys" roamed freely between the sea and the mountains is over.

The triumph has been fought and recognized with a democratic maturity that amazes and fills with pride. All the former presidents of the Concertación wanted to express their congratulations to the new ruler in front of the national cameras. They have acknowledged their defeat before the voters, a defeat undoubtedly the result of weariness and of watered-down political practices with the smell of corruption of the last years.

The right wing, during the twenty years of the Concertación, has been amassing an enormous generation of young politicians eager to participate in a possible government. This new class has a broad spectrum. They have all been waiting for this moment for a long time. Their time has come.
The fact is that the majority of the Chilean population has decided, with their vote, to adopt an unusual attitude in young democracies: to assume that after a dictatorship, and even more so if it has been very hard and repressive, the pendulum should not be swung 180 degrees Degrees. The Concertación has to be very proud of the Chile it has built, of the democracy whose baton was passed on Sunday, with elegance, to a new right wing.