The history of democratization in Chile Before the 1973 coup, Chile enjoyed democratic elections dating back to 1830. In a span of 143 years, the country experienced but 13 months of undemocratic rule.2 As such, Chile was considered to be one of the most democratic states in the region. However, the long tradition of democracy was quickly erased on the morning of 11 September, 1973. In one of the most violent coups in Latin America, Augusto Pinochet, General Chief-of-Staff of the army under then-President Salvador Allende, forcefully ousted the democratically elected leader and assumed power as the head of a military junta. Many of the coup’s supporters expected the military to establish general elections, as it had in the past. Pinochet had no intention of returning the country to democracy. Instead, the military government destroyed political institutions, banned political parties, shut down congress, repealed the constitution, burned the electoral registry, dissolved labor and peasant organizations, and occupied factories and universities. In the first six months, nearly 80,000 people were arrested and 200,000 went into exile. Concerns over legitimacy, due in part to international pressure provoked by human-rights abuses, led Pinochet to convoke a plebiscite on his continued leadership in 1978. Pinochet viewed his victory as a mandate, after which he created a new constitution that formalized his regime and banned political parties.3 In his new constitution, Pinochet granted himself the title of President of the Republic. His term was set to last eight years, to be followed by a subsequent plebiscite on his continued leadership. In the 1980s, Chileans began to push for the return of democracy. The transition is commonly referred to as having taken part in two stages. The economic crisis of 1982-1983, brought on by Pinochet’s own laissez-faire economic policies, sparked popular unrest. The first stage began in May 1983 with an explosion of protest activity against the regime. The second stage of the

transition began in late 1986 as various elites opposed to Pinochet started to design an institutional removal.4 In the 1988 plebiscite, 55 percent of Chileans voted against eight more years of military rule under Pinochet. Thus, the national elections of 1989 ousted the dictator from the presidency.5 However, Pinochet remained in place as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces until 1998. Chile began the process of democratic transition and consolidation in 1990. In that year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate human-rights abuses. It has been successful in bringing to trial hundreds of humanrights violators, and was responsible for countless convictions.6 In September 2005, the constitution was amended to remove many of the vestiges of authoritarian rule, including the nine appointed senators and senators-for-life, to reduce the role of the National Security Council, as well as to enable provisions for future amendments.7 With Pinochet’s departure from his position as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Chile has successfully transitioned into a stable, consolidated democracy, free of the threat of a backslide into authoritarian rule. All four elections since the return to democracy have been judged free and fair, according to the US State Department.8 Such stability is largely due to the low levels of corruption in the Chilean government, earning Chile placement in the top 20 percent of countries in the world for its transparency in public business. Chile is tied with Japan for the 21st position on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (2005), one place ahead of Spain, and four places behind the United States.9 Chile received the highest possible score in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World rankings, equal to the industrialized nations of North America and Western Europe in its high level of political rights and civil liberties.10 Only Costa Rica and Uruguay garnered an equal ranking within Latin America. The Press Freedom Act of 2001 further contributed to strengthening democracy when it eliminated many of the Pinochet-era media restrictions.11 Although some censorship laws remain, the media generally operates independently, ranking Chile as having the 55th freest press in the world.12 In addition, the sustained growth in popular organizations is evidence that Chileans exercise their democratic freedoms through strong grassroots organization in an active civil society.13