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Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
    << Back to Chile National Security

    Crime rates in the early 1990s remained far below those of the United States. However, the notion that common crime was rare in Chile until the 1970s and 1980s is a myth. Chile's rural areas were plagued with outlaw gangs in the early nineteenth century. The most notorious gang, Los Pincheira, operated during the 1817-32 period, purportedly in defense of the cause of the king of Spain. Based in the Andes and the heights of Chillán, the four brothers who headed the gang--Antonio, Santos, Pablo, and José Pincheira--wreaked death and destruction in the provinces of Ñuble and Concepción. Nineteenth-century historian Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna described their rural terror, and Los Pincheira became the subject of novels as well. The gang grew to the size of an army, requiring the government of Joaquín Prieto Vial (1831-36, 1836-41) to mobilize the army to eradicate the group. General Manuel Bulnes was put in charge of combating Los Pincheira in its own territory. At the command of 1,000 soldiers, Bulnes surprised Los Pincheira near the Palaquén lagoons, killing more than 200 bandits in a pitched battle. With the defeat of Los Pincheira in 1832, the government was able to establish its authority in all of the national territory.

    The crime situation was confusing to analyze under the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s because the government and media tended to lump ordinary criminal behavior together with dissident violence. In the early 1980s, officials were prone to attribute bank robberies, assassinations, and shootouts with police to leftwing extremist organizations, although skeptics often pointed to rightist provocateurs or to government agents themselves as being responsible for at least some of the incidents. Figures on crime and criminals released by the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas--INE) are not very enlightening as to the actual status of crime in the country. There are no breakdowns of figures according to gender in either the juvenile or the adult category, and there are no statistics on prison populations.

    News media have also contributed to a perception that crime had increased in the early 1990s, but crime statistics are still difficult to obtain. Few, if any, published sources provide general crime statistics, with the main exception of figures for arrests, readily available in the INE's Compendio estadístico. According to sociologist J. Samuel Valenzuela, the general crime pattern did not appear to have changed markedly in 1992 from 1980- 91. However, violent crime was reported to have increased, and the average age of those committing crimes had declined.

    Available figures for 1980-91 show a mixed picture because some forms of crime remained stable or declined, while others had increased (see table 47, Appendix). Of those that had increased, the biggest jump occurred in the mid-1980s. Crime during the period of democratic transition from 1989 to 1991 did not fall into a single pattern. The biggest jump in the rate of robberies occurred in the mid-1980s. The average rate increased by 82.5 percent between 1986 and 1988, compared with the first three years of the decade. Between 1989 and 1991, the rate increased by 7 percent over the average in the previous three years. The trend between 1989 and 1991, however, was steadily upward. There was no overall increase or decrease in the rate of burglaries. The average for the 1980-91 years was a 17 percent decrease over 1986-88. However, the rate of burglaries was higher between 1989 and 1991 than it was between 1980 and 1982. Like robberies, murders had increased significantly in the mid-1980s. In 1986-88 the average rate increased by 27 percent over the 1980-82 years. In 1989-91 the average rate was a 9.1 percent increase over the previous three years.

    A poll conducted by the Center for Public Studies (Centro de Estudios Públicos--CEP) and the Adimark Company in March 1993 in Osorno reveals the existence of a very real fear of crime in the country. According to the CEP/Adimark survey, 59 percent of those polled perceived more crime than a year earlier. Only 13 percent felt that crime had dropped. Moreover, 76 percent said that crime was more violent, whereas only 8 percent said it was less violent. In a retrospective analysis, the study revealed that citizen concern about crime rose sharply between December 1989 and March 1991, with the figure approaching 65 percent in 1991. The study also reveals that 59 percent of those polled thought that the Carabineros provided the needed assistance. Nevertheless, some 43.3 percent said they were dissatisfied with police protection in their neighborhood; only 37.2 percent were satisfied.

    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 PUBLIC ORDER AND INTERNAL SECURITY information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Chile PUBLIC ORDER AND INTERNAL SECURITY should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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