Origins of the failed institutionality in Chile

Chile is an “incomplete democracy” due to the authoritarian enclaves inherited from the dictatorship and not overcome by subsequent “democratic” governments.

During the civil-military dictatorship, significant public companies at the national level were transferred to groups linked to or coming from the dictatorship, in a process characterised by its opacity. María Olivia Mönckeberg, winner of the National Journalism Prize and Director of the Institute of Communication and Image at the University of Chile, reveals this in her book “El saqueo de los grupos económicos al Estado de Chile” (The plundering of the Chilean state by economic groups). Between 1985 and 1990, the following were privatised, among others: Empresa Nacional de Electricidad (Endesa), Compañía de Acero del non-violent (CAP), Industria Azucarera Nacional (Iansa), Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel), Línea Aérea Nacional (Lan Chile), Laboratorios Chile and Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (Soquimich), “The targets for the number of shares to be privatised announced by CORFO executives were constantly being increased. The process accelerated before the 1988 plebiscite and took off at a dizzying pace after the No vote on 5 October 1988,” he says in the book.

According to economist Andrés Solimano, a large part of the current concentration of economic power is a consequence of these privatisations. The discourse of prioritising property over social rights, when it is not known how these properties were acquired: “they say ‘the right to property is sacred’. Perfect, but tell me, how did your company obtain the right to property? I understand that it belonged to the state, to all Chileans, that it was privatised and you bought it. Why did you buy it and not your neighbour? What price did you pay? Why were you able to acquire that property and why not someone else? These are central questions”.

María Mönckeberg, in an interview with El Mostrador: “In any case, it seems to me that in this matter there is an important debt. In Aylwin’s government there was no encouragement to investigate privatisations in depth. The power groups in Chile are, a central issue. These groups have today expanded their power and constitute limits to the democratic game”.

Under the mandate of Frei Ruiz Tagle, and with the complicity of the majority of the Concertación, part of Codelco was privatised. More than 300,000 hectares of minor deposits were transferred free of charge to foreign companies. In addition, the Port of Ventanas and the Tocopilla Thermoelectric Plant were privatised. The Frei government privatised Colbún, Edelnor and Edelaysen, which accounted for around 40% of the country’s electricity generation. It was under his government that the greatest destruction of the public patrimony began, specifically the alienation of water, with the privatisation of the sanitation companies that supplied drinking water. The company Servicios Sanitarios de Valparaíso (Esval) tendered the sale of 35% of its rights, which were awarded to the Enersis-Anglian Water consortium. Subsequently, the distribution companies of the metropolitan region, Emos (Aguas Andinas), Biobío (Essbio) and Los Lagos (Essal) were sold.

During the government of Ricardo Lagos, the highways were privatised in favour of Vías Chile, a holding company 80% controlled by Abertis Infraestructura S.A., a Spanish company dedicated to the management of highways. In 2001, Ricardo Lagos sent the “Ley Corta de Pesca” (Short Fishing Law) with a 10-year term in which almost 80% of the total quotas were assured to the Angelini Group’s holding company (ITATA). The law was passed in Congress thanks to the collusion of the Zaldívar brothers, who repeated the formula a year after, favouring their own large investment in Eperva (Angelini’s company in northern Chile), whose chairman of the board was Felipe Zaldívar Larraín.

During the same presidential period, the then president of Banco Estado, Jaime Estévez, was questioned for participating in the loan of 120 million dollars to the Luksic group in the process of buying Banco de Chile. Andrónico Luksic Craig, leader of the Luksic Group business consortium (the consortium with the largest economic fortune in Chile) was revered by Ricardo Lagos during an interview with the newspaper La Tercera: “Both Andrónico Luksic Sr. and Anacleto Angelini deserve my admiration. When I was a boy there was a book called forgers of Chile, and in it was José Santos Ossa and other characters that don’t appear in most history books, where only presidents and generals appear. My perception is that they are the forgers of today”. (La Tercera / Infolatam Santiago. – 5/03/2006)

False narrative of institutionality

In eight post-civil-military dictatorship governments, it is possible to verify that the government programmes presented to the public were not fulfilled, and in many cases the opposite of what was presented was done. They were first justified by the “policy of agreements” with the right wing and, later, by the shameless unveiling of a de facto power of the elite that operates to safeguard and extend its privileges, whether through lobbying or directly through bribery (the case of the fishing law), unpunished price collusion (the cases of pharmacies and sausage slaughterhouses) or overpricing in perishable food distributors. Not to mention the usurious loans of the banking “industry” and the cases of privileged information in the stock exchange.

The confrontation of institutionality against civil society

All the facts described above, which are a sample of everything that has failed to come to public light, are evidence of the construction of an “institutionality” that ignores and takes advantage of the workers, students, retired people and the unemployed strata of the country. An institutionality that takes up the dictator’s premise: “we must take good care of the rich”. It is not a matter of mistakes, nor of incapacities, but of a clear intention at work, a direction of contempt and violence against the disempowered majorities.

The application of available violent actions to preserve institutionality

The practices of the elite range from systematic economic violence, generating the appropriation of the profits that result from the daily toil of work and capital, in which the figures of achievements in a high GDP, are shown in a per capita that is a mockery in the face of reality, of a repugnant inequality, in which poverty is a life sentence for the families of Chilean men and women.

But they do not stop there. If people wake up and mobilise for their just demands, they do not hesitate to use police and even military forces to repress such audacity. And if people use self-defence against an institutionality that represses them, under the justification of the “internal enemy” they will be shot, mutilated, imprisoned and degraded as marginalised, godless and lawless lumpens, from the editorials of the mass media that are in the hands of the elite.

If the powerful assess that mobilisation is extremely dangerous to their interests and privileges, they do not hesitate in bombing the government house, murder, torture and forced disappearance. And they have higher scales of violence to their credit, such as the bombing and killing of the civilian population, shamelessly shown on their news screens and social media, as a monstrous warning of their power, so that the people abandon all resistance to their infamous and inhuman governance.

The overflow and revolt, as a moment of institutional weakness

In 2019, a year that will go down in history for the explosion of protests, citizens from all over the world joined mobilisations, tired of the denial of their rights and a sum of unfulfilled promises by those who “govern” them. The almost null possibility of social mobility through education, the perception of their vulnerability in the face of economic adjustments and the absence or deficiency of public services, their job opportunities marked by social distances imposed by origin, geography, ethnicity, informality and gender, among other things. The uncertainty of a dignified old age, citizen insecurity, which is not only felt as incapacity but also as state complicity with organised crime and which leads to high levels of corruption, and a marked absence of the promised social improvements, brings them together to raise their voices in different scenarios around the world and to demand that their respective governments, who are unable to provide answers, cease actions that perpetuate an unequal and inhumane system.

On many occasions, clashes and violence between police and demonstrators took place and the streets became battlefields, such as in Iraq where demonstrators, especially young people, protested against corruption, the serious deficiencies in public services and the lack of employment; in Lebanon, initially for a new tax on free courier services, but which became a broader movement against corruption and the incapacity of the political elites inherited from the civil war; in Iran over rising fuel prices; the increase in the price of food; in Algeria they erupt against the decision of the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to run for a fifth consecutive term; in Catalonia over the verdict of the trial of the leaders of the Catalan independence process, popularly known as the ‘Procés’ trial; in France over the so-called ‘yellow jackets’ against the eco-tax on fuel and subsequently over demands for more social justice and improved acquisitive power; in the UK over its exit from the European Union.

Also in Georgia because of electoral law reform; in Bolivia because President Evo Morales declared himself the winner of a fourth consecutive term and was overthrown amid allegations of fraud by the opposition; in Colombia because of demands by trade union leaders for changes in the social and economic policies of the government of Iván Duque (right-wing) and against corruption and inequality; in Ecuador over the government’s withdrawal of fuel subsidies; in Hong Kong over a bill to extradite criminal suspects to China, which is seen as an attack on promised freedoms; and in Pakistan over the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is accused of electoral fraud and economic hardship.

And in our country the rise in the price of the metro fare was the straw that broke the camel’s back (it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years). And the demands for profound changes to the political, economic and social system and for the resignation of the then president Piñera, sounded in multitudes of throats together with the slogan “UNTIL DIGNITY BECOMES COSTUME” and “CHILE AWAKENS UP”. The outburst or popular revolt without leaders showed a “moment of change” to the system of values and individualistic social behaviour, characteristic of a neoliberal society, retaking in streets, squares and student courtyards the necessary face-to-face conversation, recognising the other as someone who has a name and surname, who suffer from the same social problems that no longer have importance for institutional politics. Actors with different slogans and demands joined in. From this, feelings converge against the inequality that afflicts the population in general. It is a moment of “disbelief” in the institutional narrative, that which without blushing said: we represent you, we are working hard for you, the benefits have not arrived yet, well, hold on a little longer, the trickle down is coming. The rich will be so rich that they won’t be able to hold on to every single note and they will fall, by overflow, on each one of you.

The options of the necessary revolution

But this new anniversary of the Popular Revolt in Chile catches us at a moment of maximum degradation of institutionality, and at a time when the handle of power is dangerously in their hands. In the face of the violence of the model and its leaders, we maintain that Active Nonviolence is the mode of struggle of civil society, it is the force of the weak, it is the courage that is not intimidated in the face of the murderous sides, in defence of life and in particular human life, its solidarity, its rights, its open future, its diversity and the joy of living.

Collaborators: M. Angélica Alvear Montecinos; Guillermo Garcés Parada; Sandra Arriola Oporto; Ricardo Lisboa Henríquez and César Anguita Sanhueza. Public Opinion Commission