“In 200 years we have lost all the struggles of the state”,
Gabriel Salazar, El poder nuestro de cada día (2016).
By Jorge Molina Araneda
Chile is a profoundly unequal country, the result of the model of accumulation that emerged during the test laboratory of global neoliberalism during the civil-military dictatorship, and which has not been substantially modified since the return to democracy. If we talk about inequality in terms of income distribution, we find that Chile is the most unequal country in the entire OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The richest 1% of the population concentrates 30.5% of the country’s total income including capital gains. And if we look at the super-rich, 0.1% of the population concentrates 17.6% of the total income (López, R., Figueroa, E. and Gutiérrez, P., 2013). In the light of these data, it is necessary to look at the history of how this situation came about.
In the period from 1973 to 1990, 725 companies and assets belonging to CORFO were privatised and returned to their owners; 343 of them were returned to their owners because they had been requisitioned or intervened and 35 were privatised twice. They were called “the odd area”, because they were privatised, then went bankrupt, so the military government nationalised them, made them solvent and privatised them again. Most of them were banks affected by the 1982 crisis and unpaid loans and the newly constituted Pension Fund Administrators (AFP).
Before 1979, the Agrarian Reform initiated by the Alessandri Rodríguez government and continued by the Frei Montalva government in 1964 was liquidated. A total of 3,912 plots of 3,182,225 hectares were handed over to private owners. About 30% of this land was returned to its previous owners, and between a fifth and a third was auctioned off to non-peasants. Along with the privatisation of land, agricultural intermediation, machinery and inputs, the capital market, agro-industrial enterprises and the water market were transferred to the private sector. According to the 1951 Water Code, this resource was considered a national asset for public use, and private individuals could not freely enjoy or dispose of irrigation water. The new Water Code of 1981 decreed that these waters continued to be of public use, but a so-called right of use was constituted over them, which allows a private individual to use, enjoy and dispose of them and this can be freely transferred without contemplating a specific use or its expiry.
Among other donations, CORFO donated 65 properties to the Treasury and to private parties, while the Ministry of National Assets donated 15,888 properties, of which 10,869 went to private parties.
The Comptroller General of the Republic reported that a large part of the privatised companies were sold at a price lower than their book value. Depending on the method of calculation, the losses range from 27%, 42% or 62% of the capital sold, and the net calculation reported by this entity is more than US$2.5 billion, just for the sale price, according to the book value method. Thirty per cent of the privatisation proceeds went to CORFO and was used to provide credit for the acquisition of company shares. According to CORFO, 95 companies were sold in the period 1974-1978: ten to national and foreign companies and legal entities, 47 to national companies, 21 to national individuals, 16 to company workers and one company to a cooperative. In addition, bank shares were sold to 5,463 natural and legal persons, and Banco O’Higgins to 35 agricultural cooperatives. Due to the decapitalisation of the private sector, CORFO granted a large number of credits, without requiring equity, which forced it, subsequently, to forgive them, or “write them off”, i.e. reduce them, with the consequent loss of equity.
Due to the insolvency of debtors and the 1982 crisis, many privatised banks failed, leading the government to make regulatory interventions in 16 financial institutions, some to be liquidated and others to be restored to financial soundness. These were subsequently re-privatised. Banco Hipotecario de Chile, Banco Unido de Fomento and Financiera CIGA SA were liquidated. Banco Chile, Banco de Santiago, Banco Concepción, Banco Internacional and Banco Colocadora Nacional de Valores were placed under provisional administration. By the end of 1982, all of them accounted for 40% of the system’s placements. The newly created AFP PROVIDA and Santa María, the ISAPRE Luis Pasteur and companies such as COPEC, INFORSA, Celulosa Arauco and Celulosa Constitución were intervened.
After 1987, the last forty state-owned companies were privatised, including Banco de Chile, ENDESA and ECOM.
Given the concentration of ownership that occurred with the first privatisations, the dictatorship and its ideologues invented popular capitalism, the aim of which was to “disseminate ownership”. The mechanism was used to some extent in the re-privatisation of the Chile and Santiago banks and the AFP Santa María and PROVIDA. The new shares in these banks were offered to the general public on credit and in the AFPs, 60% of PROVIDA and 49% of Santa María were taken over to guarantee efficiency. Then “labour capitalism” was promoted with the aim of “making access to property possible for all Chileans”. The possibility was given for workers to invest in their AFPs, “because the AFPs would invest workers’ resources in solvent and profitable instruments, which would increase their funds”. But to avoid a new concentration of ownership, it was established that neither individuals nor groups could control more than 20% of the shares.
However, to this day, it is clear that no labour or popular capitalist is to be found on any of the boards of directors of these companies, particularly the AFPs. This makes it clear that the objective of spreading ownership has not been achieved, given that Chile stands out as one of the countries with the highest economic concentration in the world. Few countries the size of Chile have six or seven groups among the richest in the world according to Forbes records.
According to supporters of the dictatorship, the change in the economic structure of the country and the denationalisation of the economy were legal. Indeed, everything was legal, given the new rules and the new legality imposed by military terrorism. However, within this legality, the privileged information available to those closest to the regime, especially CORFO officials such as Julio Ponce Lerou, Bruno Philippi, Roberto de Andraca, General Guillermo Letelier Skinner, stood out. Those who set prices and conditions for the shares they sold from CORFO also bought, as workers, under the concept of labour capitalism. Prominent among them were Jorge Yuraszeck and members of the military junta who also bought shares in large companies. Pinochet himself attributed part of his fortune to the shares purchased in ENDESA. His fortune was denounced by the US Senate for his accounts in the Riggs Bank and others that he managed under false names, such as Daniel López.
On the other hand, the pillars of the extremist Chilean neoliberal model are:
- Labour Plan (DL 2.756 and DL 2.758 of 1979). As part of a comprehensive plan of social transformation, called “The Seven Modernisations of the State”, a new model of labour relations is reformulated and institutionalised (present to this day). More than a labour plan, it is defined mainly as a trade union intervention, which redefines the role of trade unionism in society: it breaks with the tradition of a class-based trade unionism in order to establish a depoliticised and demobilised trade unionism. To achieve this objective, the new institutional framework prohibits collective bargaining by branch, limits its content and allows the replacement of striking workers, in the Anglo-Saxon style. Collective bargaining thus loses its distributive function (combating inequality). In 2015, Chile had 8 % of dependent workers with collective contracts with the right to strike (but with the option to be replaced). Chile is the second weakest country in the OECD on this dimension. What is known as collective bargaining in Chile is not collective bargaining in other countries.
- Subcontracting. Prior to DL 2.950, subcontracting was prohibited in Chile and the decree lifts this limitation. Subcontracting is recognised as necessary at all levels, as part of the decentralising tendencies of production in order to gain competitiveness. This has remained intact throughout the Concertación period. In 2007, when the Subcontracting Law was passed, there was the possibility of eliminating subcontracting from the main activity or line of business of the company, but this was not done. The “outsourced” labour regime increases the probability of having unprotected employment by 30% (without stability or social security), hinders the full exercise of collective rights and at the same time pushes wages downwards.
- AFP System (DL 3.500 of 1981). The pension system, until then solidarity-based and pay-as-you-go, was replaced by one of forced individual capitalisation. The change means moving from a system whose benefit was defined to one of determined contribution and uncertain benefit. The social security funds are replaced by the Pension Fund Administrators, private institutions that pursue profit and that during their years of existence have provided working capital (fresh money) to a select group of Chilean companies: the largest ones (20 conglomerates accumulate around US$45,000,000,000,000 in aid from the AFPs). The individual capitalisation of the AFPs is a system that promotes the accumulation of income (through speculation and the use of workers’ pension funds) and maintains very low pensions that are strongly supported by the State.=
- Tax system. In 1974, the integration of taxes between companies and their owners was created through the Global Complementary Tax: the taxes that companies pay on their profits are a credit to the taxes paid by the owners of those companies. In addition, in 1984, the Tax Profits Fund (FUT) was created, which allows taxes to be paid on the profits actually withdrawn and not on the basis of their mere existence. This has allowed the owners of large companies to benefit from the use of these resources through investment companies that operate as financial vehicles, in order to create a tax-free zone where no taxes are paid. In 2017, it was estimated that around US$ 270,000,000,000,000 had been accumulated in the FUT. In this way, today we have a pro-rich tax system, where those who earn the most pay less tax on a proportional basis.
- Education. In 1981, school education was municipalised and schools began to be financed through a subsidy based on the number of students attending classes. Public schools are also allowed to receive subsidies, but they can select students, make profits and, from 1993 onwards, can charge fees (Shared Financing policy implemented in the first Concertación government). While in 1981, there was 78% of enrolment in municipal education, today only 36% remains, making it the most segregated education system in the world. In Higher Education, since 1981, the creation of private Universities, Technical Training Centres (CFT) and Professional Institutes (IP) has been allowed, generating an education market and an inorganic growth of enrolment. Today, state universities have only 12% of basal fiscal funding; 77% of higher education spending is made by Chilean families and there are practically no public CFTs and IPs.
- Health system. Between 1979 and 1981, the end of the public health system was decreed, giving rise to Fonasa (1980) and Isapres (1981). While the municipalisation of the Primary Health Care Centres (1980) reduced the scope of state responsibility. Democratic governments have not changed these foundations, limiting themselves to interventions in the areas of price regulation, control and oversight. The results are clear: today “public spending” on health is one of the lowest among OECD countries, while “out-of-pocket spending” by users is one of the highest. Private business, on the contrary, flourishes: in 2018 ISAPRES’ profits reached $81,383 million, with a nominal increase of 6.5 % (4.9 % real) compared to the previous year.
- Banking system. Since 1975, banks have been privatized (except Banco Estado), the entry of foreign banks is allowed and interest rates are liberalized, which will be adjusted according to a “conventional maximum”. In 1981 – as a result of a domestic crisis (prior to the international crisis) – the superintendency intervened in the banks, transferring their debts to the Central Bank (unpayable to this day), giving access to foreign currency at preferential prices and rescheduling their debts (35% of GDP at the time). In 1986, the General Banking Law (LGB) was created which, among other things, established portfolio segmentation according to risk type (low-income households are riskier and therefore have higher interest rates). Along the same lines, in 1999 interest rates were segmented according to loan tranches (less and more than 200 UF). In 2001, Article XIV of the LGB, which allowed the operation of finance companies, was repealed and the minimum capital requirement to incorporate a banking company was reduced by half (Art. 51 LGB), creating conditions for retail banking, which was not regulated until 2006.
- Political Constitution. In 1980, a fraudulent plebiscite was held in which a new Political Code was approved. A few days after the coup d’état, the military junta appointed a Constituent Commission (Ortúzar Commission), made up of extremely trusted members of the regime, among them Jaime Guzmán, who were responsible for drafting the preliminary draft of the new Constitution. It enshrined a subsidiary role for the state in the economy and the right to private property, relegating economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, to second place. In addition, the armed forces were given the role of guardian of democracy. Although a series of reforms aimed at eliminating the “authoritarian enclaves” were approved in 2005, the authoritarian and neoliberal legacy is still present. Today Chile continues to be governed by a Constitution whose illegitimate origin was not in the sovereignty of the people, but in the hands of a dictatorial government.
- Forestry Area. DL Nº 701 was enacted in the early years of the dictatorship (1974), with the aim of promoting the forestry sector through a bonus for the afforestation of large tracts of land with exotic forest species. This instrument has mainly benefited the large companies in the sector, where there is a high concentration (CMPC and Arauco account for 64% of forestry plantations). On the other hand, this economic instrument has had a strong impact on the native forest and its substitution by exotic species. The organisations of native peoples have stated that they have not been consulted beforehand in accordance with ILO Convention 169 and international law on this issue, and that there has been no restitution of sacred sites or consideration of a new indigenous approach.
- Denationalisation of copper. The ownership of new mining resources was handed over to the private sector in a process known as the denationalisation of copper (Law 18.097 Constitutional Organic Law on Mining Concessions). Subsequent Concertación governments gave their blessing to this policy, renouncing sovereignty over resources. Today, 70% of mining is in private hands. All this, despite the fact that the Constitution states that “the State has absolute, exclusive, inalienable and imprescriptible dominion over all mines”.
- Privatisation of water. The Water Code was promulgated during the civil-military dictatorship through DFL Nº 1.122 on 21 October 1981. This instrument installed in an unprecedented way a water market through the private ownership of the resource, allowing the holder of a right of use to trade with it. It also annulled the role of the State as guarantor of the rational use of water, leaving it in the hands of private parties to determine the need for use according to particular economic criteria, thus displacing the historical relationship between the resource and the land.
This past Tuesday, April 6, Forbes magazine released its list of the wealthiest people in the world, and Chile appears in the ranking with eight names:
In first place is Iris Fontbona and family (74 in the ranking). The widow of Andrónico Luksic, who made her wealth through mining and beverage businesses, has a fortune of US$ 23.3 billion, controls Antofagasta PLC, which owns copper mines in Chile and is listed on the London Stock Exchange, and has a majority stake in Quiñenco, a consortium with holdings in Banco de Chile, CCU, SAAM, ENEX, CSAV, among others.
In second place is Julio Ponce Lerou with US$ 4.1 billion, as he has a 30% stake in Sociedad de Química y Minera de Chile (SQM), a listed chemical and mining company.
Closing the podium is Horst Paulmann and family with US$ 3.3 billion, a figure he achieved thanks to Cencosud, one of the largest retail conglomerates in Latin America with a presence in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia.
Sebastián Piñera and his family are in fourth place, with a total fortune of US$ 2.9 billion. The ranking explains that this fortune was achieved with the credit card company Bancard; the shares he held in the LAN airline, in the Chilevisión channel and in Blanco & Negro, controller of ColoColo. The President increased his wealth from US$ 2.6 billion in 2020 to USD 2.9 billion.
The other four names that appear, in descending order, are businessman Roberto Angelini Rossi (USD 2 billion), Alvaro Saieh (USD 1.8 billion), Patricia Angelini Rossi (USD 1.6 billion) and Luis Enrique Yarur (USD 1.3 billion).
Adding their wealth together, their fortune amounts to US$ 40.3 billion, an increase of 73% compared to the previous year. Despite this numerical and financial grandiloquence, according to the World Bank (2021), approximately 2.3 million middle-class Chileans (around 19%) have fallen into vulnerability.
All this twisted reality has resulted in the most recalcitrant, reactionary and conservative political, social and economic sectors, using as a last resort a hollow and simplistic rhetoric, calling the protesters and, in general, all those who are against this system of abuse and plunder of lumpen and criminals, and calling themselves “patriots”. I doubt very much that a true patriot would plunder the national treasury, have bank accounts in tax havens so as not to pay taxes in his homeland, agree to violate the fundamental rights of his compatriots and, in short, rejoice to observe how the majority of his fellow countrymen must juggle financially to pay, at the point of unpayable debts, the basic and essential social rights of every human being – such as education, health and housing. Those who currently call themselves “patriots” are a group of kinglets who earned their privileges, thanks to their contacts, during the dictatorship and who are afraid to share even a small part of their prerogatives with the people they have kept, throughout Chile’s republican history, under a brutal segregationism… They are the same ones who supported a model of pseudo-development, enriching the minorities and impoverishing the great majorities.
Finally, following CELAG (2017), “The inability to generate public revenue that subsequently translates into public investment through transfers or the provision of basic services is what is leading the Chilean model to a growing level of social conflict that has its main points of conflict in education, the pension system and health. These basic services have been commodified and placed under the control of private capital, and in recent times an increasing proportion of Chileans have been unable to access them.