issue 174 - August 1987
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.
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.
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.
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 main right-wing parties are the National Party, National Renewal and the newly formed National Advance.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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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