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Chile Civil-Military Relations
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    After the boinazo of May 1993, the international press often referred to the Aylwin administration as a co-government, in which the military and civilians shared power equally. According to this view, Chile's democracy was emasculated, with a president unable to resist the military and with a Congress acting as a rubber-stamp body. This view seemed to be supported by the fact that President Aylwin lacked the power to appoint, promote, and dismiss officers. The president cannot appoint or fire the commanders in chief of each service. Furthermore, military officers seem to be immune to prosecution for human rights abuses. In fact, the notion of "co-government" is simplistic and fails to explain some of the limited yet significant developments under the Aylwin government. In 1993 Genaro Arriagada, a leader within the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Dem�crata Cristiano--PDC), referred to a civil-military opposition to Aylwin's policies. This suggests that the confrontation is not merely one between the military and civilians. Whereas the ruling center-left coalition known as the Coalition of Parties for Democracy (Concertaci�n de Partidos por la Democracia--CPD) held an advantage in the Chamber of Deputies (seventy to forty-nine), the military was protected by a majority in the Senate, thanks to the electoral engineering of the Pinochet regime that provided for nine designated senators. Without the designated senators, the CPD would have had a majority in the Senate (twenty-two to sixteen) from 1989 until March 1994. The designated senators, appointed by Pinochet, gave the right-wing opposition a three-seat advantage in the Senate (after 1991, only a two-seat advantage, with the death of a designated senator).

    The Aylwin administration was willing to raise issues in civilmilitary relations even when it was clear that it would not win. In mid-1992 the Aylwin government proposed a series of constitutional reforms that would have limited the prerogatives of the military by allowing the president to appoint, promote, and remove officers. In addition, the president would have the power to appoint and remove the commanders in chief of the armed forces, although this would not apply to the current commanders. The reforms were opposed by the National Renewal (Renovaci�n Nacional) and the Independent Democratic Union (Uni�n Dem�crata Independiente--UDI), which suffered electoral setbacks in the June 23, 1992, municipal elections and were afraid of further losses. The army also opposed the reforms in a leaked paper published by La Tercera de la Hora, a leading daily. In the prosecution of military officers for human rights abuses, an unusual coalition between the right and left derailed an initiative by the Aylwin government to complete the process.

    Unable to successfully carry out major constitutional reforms in relation to the military, the Aylwin administration exercised its power in other ways. The Chilean president can veto the promotions of military officers, and in late 1993 Aylwin adroitly used the threat of the veto to influence the matter of when Pinochet would step down as army commander in chief.

    The Ministry of Defense lacks the power to initiate actions, but it can selectively stall army initiatives through administrative inaction. It deliberately delayed the signing of decrees on postings and promotions, in addition to the sale of armaments--one of the major causes of the May 1993 boinazo.

    The co-government argument also fails to take into consideration the effects of time. As Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle prepared to take office as president on March 11, 1994, the political right was becoming less protective of the military and the political system it had created. The largest right-wing party, the National Renewal, showed signs that it was willing to consider amendments limiting the military's prerogatives, especially after the army was involved in telephone-tapping conversations of National Renewal members in 1992. Even the extreme right-wing UDI showed signs that it was weary of some of the features of the military-sponsored system, such as the binomial electoral system (see Glossary), which hurt the party in the December 1993 elections.

    Data as of March 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Chile on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Chile Civil-Military Relations information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Chile Civil-Military Relations should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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