New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 174

new internationalist
issue 174 - August 1987

Chile: The Facts

GOVERNMENT

Since 1973 the Congress has been suspended and the Government is in the hands of a military Junta whose four members have nominated Augusto Pinochet as President. In principle the Junta runs the country; in practice General Pinochet takes the decisions. The civilian ministers, drawn from the business and academic communities, consider themselves non-political.

According to the Constitution, ratified by a plebiscite in 1980, there will be a further plebiscite in 1989 in which the Junta will offer a single Presidential candidate. If their nominee is rejected there will be an open Presidential election a year later. Whether Pinochet will be the 1989 candidate is not clear. But even if the Junta replace him with a right-wing civilian politician, the Constitution is such that the Government will remain very much under the influence of the armed forces.


ECONOMY

Chile's GNP per capita is $1,700 (Australia, for comparison, is $11,740) and it is classified by the World Bank as an 'upper middle-income' country. International trade has traditionally been based on raw material exports - copper, timber, fishmeal and fruit - and the import of manufactured goods.

Working population2

Agriculture and fishing
Mining
Manufacturing
Construction/utilities

16%
2%
15%
4%
  Transport
Commerce
Services
10%
15%
38%

The Pinochet Government rigidly followed the monetarist ideas of Milton Friedman - including low government expenditure and few import restrictions. This encouraged foreign banks to lend huge sums in the early 1980s. So people had more money to spend and there was a consumer boom. But local manufacturing industry was badly damaged by the flood of imports and little of the money went into productive investment. With the international recession copper price the economy collapsed in 1982 and has only recently shown any signs of recovery.

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Economic indicators5

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

Growth in GNP (%)

8

6

-14

-1

6

2

Inflation (%)

31

10

21

23

23

27

Price of Copper (US c per pound)

99

79

67

72

66

64

Foreign debt ($bn)

11

16

17

18

20

21

Debt interest (% of exports)

18

35

48

43

51

51


POLITICAL PARTIES

Political parties have been illegal since 1973 and have had to operate in a semi-clandestine fashion. But a new 'Law of Political Parties' now allows parties to register - under strict conditions (see p. 12). To date only far right-wing parties have done so. Legal or not, Chile has a large number of political parties and factions, many of which are grouped into two main coalitions:

Democratic Popular Movement (MDP)
The MDP includes, among others, the marxist parties: the Communist Party (pro-Soviet), the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR - advocates armed struggle), the Socialist Party - Almeyda (the main Leninist faction of the Socialist Party).

Democratic Alliance
This includes the Socialist Party - Nuñez (the less-centralist socialist faction: more receptive to feminist ideas, for example), the Radical Party (traditional socialist and member of Socialist International) and the major centre party, the Christian-Democrats.

Other parties
One of the most significant is the left-wing Movement for Popular Action (MAPU - a breakaway from the Christian Democrats). There is also a guerrilla organization, assumed to be the armed wing of the Communist Party, the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, which mounts small-scale attacks on the Government - and has had one unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Pinochet.

The main right-wing parties are the National Party, National Renewal and the newly formed National Advance.


FAMILIES

EMPLOYMENT
The Gross National Income per person is $141 per month. The official minimum wage is $47 per month. Unemployment is currently around 20 per cent - though anyone who works for at least an hour a month is considered to be 'employed'. Government work schemes employ 150,000 people paying $23 per month if the person is a head of household - or $14 if not.

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Membership of trade unions has dropped from 41% of the workforce in 1972 to 10% today - largely because trade unions and their members have been persecuted. The law permits strikes but only under certain conditions and for a limited period. The 4,994 trade unions (organized by workplace) come together into a number of federations - these are currently negotiating for a single co-ordinating body.6

Reduced Government expenditure and high unemployment have had their greatest impact on the poor - who have seen their share of national income decline even further, as the income distribution figures below indicate.

Income distribution - Greater Santiago4
 
1965-70
1970-73
1982-84
Poorest 40%
12%
13%
10%
Middle 40%
33%
37%
30%
Richest 20%
55%
51%
60%

AGRICULTURE

Chile's farming has been inefficiently run - so food has to be imported to feed the cities. There was extensive land reform in the period 1964-73. Farm sizes have been increasing again in more recent years as small farms are bought up for the growing of profitable export crops but there is still a significant number of independent small farmers.

Land distribution

Percentage of surface area7

1955

1985

Less than 5 hectares

0.3%

29.6%

From 5 to 25 hectares

7.1%

25.5%

Over 25 hectares

92.6%

44.9%

Fruit for export is growing into one of the most important farming activities. It now accounts for 25% of agricultural production by value.8 Grapes (mostly for North America) are the major export, with apples (mostly for Europe) close behind. Workers on fruit plantations earn about $1.50 per day - about a third of these eat less than a daily minimum of proteins and calories.7


EDUCATION

Primary and secondary education is free (though pupils must provide their own exercise books and pencils). Chile's previous commitment to education has produced a literacy rate of around 90%. Nowadays Government policy is to privatize the school system: educational entrepreneurs are being paid a certain amount per pupil by the State and some large 'chains' of private schools have been established. State schools have been passed to the municipalities as a first step towards selling them. Government spending on education has been dropping following IMF pressure on public expenditure: about 8,000 teachers have been fired over the last year - with the opportunity taken to remove the more independently minded. The provision of school meals has been halved.

University students take out loans to pay their fees. Typically this will involve paying back $2,000 at $500 a year - now impossible for graduates without private means.


HUMAN RIGHTS

The following accusations have been made through human-rights organizations for the year 1986 against Government authorities - the intelligence agency (CNI), the military and the carabineros.

Murders
58
Attempted murders
252
Arbitrary arrest
33,655
Intimidation
559
Torture
256
Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
757

Members of human-rights organizations (169) and journalists (145) have been particular targets. Of all those arrested, charges were laid against only 360. In addition there are 500 political prisoners and 746 exiles forbidden to return to their country.


HEALTH

Thanks to a public health measure instituted since the 1940s current standards of health are good compared with most developing countries: infant mortality is low at 22 per thousand live births and life expectancy high at 70 years. But there are now worrying signs. Public medical expenditure dropped by 20% between 1970 and 1983. The Government has been privatizing both the health insurance system and the clinics. A recent report says that of the beds in the 179 public hospitals 95% are now in a state of 'abandonment'. It concludes that only 20% of the population has access to modern medical care.11

The Popular Unity Government of 1970-1973 made a point of providing free milk for all young children. This has been drastically reduced. Some 20% of children under 6 in poorer zones of Santiago are judged to be malnourished.13 With reductions in public health standards, cases of typhoid have doubled since 1970. And hepatitis cases doubled between 1982 and 1984.14


PUBLIC OPINION

Periodic opinion polls are carried out by a number of research institutions. One study in 1985 invited a sample to classify themselves politically and found the following percentages:

Left 11% Centre-right 17%
Centre-left 19% Right 14%
Centre 30% No reply 9%

Asked about democracy, 57% considered it preferable to any other system, 14% thought that in some cases a non democratic government was better and 25% thought that to people like themselves it made no difference either way.10

A Gallup poll was carried out in 198611 on the credibility levels of various professions. The following are the percentage of the sample which believed or believed strongly in each profession.

Priests

54%

Civilian members of the Government

23%

Lawyers

29%

Journalists

27%

Armed forces

21%

Politicians

23%

Economists

20%


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Northern Chile has few people but much of the country's mineral wealth. This includes copper, of which Chile is one of the world's largest producers as well as nitrates, which were an important export before the development of artificial fertilizers.

 

Most of Chile's 12 million people live in the central region - 80% of them in towns and cities. The capital, Santiago, has jour million. About 20% of Chileans are directly descended from Europeans and generally occupy the highest social positions. Some 75% are mestizos, the result of intermarriage with Indians.

 

Further south are most of the Mapuche Indians - around 5% of the population.1 Since 1973 they have been under constant attack by the Pinochet Government, which is determined to assimiliate them into national society. Their territory has been reduced, by theft and discriminatory legislation, to around 600 isolated reservations.

 

The far south is wild and wet - made up of lakes and mountains and hundreds of islands. It has about a third of the national territory but only 3% of the population. Probably more valuable in the long term will be territory even further south: Chile's slice of Antarctica.

1 The Mapuche statement for the Pope's visit in 1987 claimed there are 700 000 Mapuches
2
Berta Teitelboim, Indicadores Economicos y Sociales, PET 1985
3
Jose Pablo Arellano, La situatcion social en Chile, Notas Technicas NO. 94, CIEPLAN, 1987
4
Dagmar Raczynski, Dismineo la extrema pobreza entre 1970 y 1982?, Notas Tecnicas No. 90, CIEPLAN 1986.
5 Flano and Saez, El modelo economico neolibral frente a la crisis, Chile 1981-85, Notas Tecnicas No. 93, CIEPLAN 93, p18.
6 Apsi Economica, April 1987.
7
Sergio Gomez, Tenencia de la Tierra, FLACSO, 1986.
8
Coyuntura Agria 1986, Academia de Humanismo Cristiano.
9
Informe de la Comision Chilena de Derechos Humanos, March 1987
10
Notas sobre la cultura politica, FLACSO, May 1986
11
As reported in El Mercurio, 7 May 1987
12
Proyecto Alternativo, Comision de Salud, January 1987
13
Jorge Scherman, Las Politicas de Salud y su impacto en los sectores populares: Chile 1974-1986, PET, October 1986
14
Contreras et al, Salud publica, privada y solidaria en el Chile actual, July 1986, PET.

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