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Chile Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Chile is one of the countries ranked highest in Latin America in terms of democracy and the rule of law. Since democracy was restored in Chile in 1990, political and civil rights have been strengthened. Press freedom also prevails if strong media ownership in the media limits diversity.

However, in connection with the popular protests against the government that broke out in the fall of 2019, serious accusations have been made against the police and the military, concerning violence against civilians. Many experience parallels to the days of the military dictatorship (see further Current Policy).

  • Countryaah: Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Chile, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.

Work on strengthening democracy has otherwise been ongoing since the fall of the military dictatorship (see Modern History), although constitutional reforms have often been a political issue. Not least were the contradictions around the electoral system, but since the 2017 election this is more proportional than before, something that the left has long advocated but the right opposed (see Political system).

In the rankings of countries according to freedoms and rights, only Uruguay and sometimes Costa Rica are better located in Latin America. Many times Chile gets a slightly higher rating even than the US. Political parties seem free, elections are held in a democratic and fair order, the right of assembly and organization is respected.

In Transparency International's (TI) index of corruption, Chile is ranked 26 out of 180 countries (the entire list is here). Although it is also a better location than almost all countries in the Western Hemisphere, TI warns of a sharp downward trend in recent years. The reason is mainly a huge corruption scandal within the national police force, carabineros, which has previously been regarded as the least corrupt in all of Latin America. Over 100 police officers have been identified in a tavern where millions have been embezzled.

Democracy and Human Rights of ChileOther human rights problems that exist include corruption and, not least, land conflicts with the Mapuche people (see Population and Languages). Since the 1990s, groups of mapuche have organized campaigns or occupied land in protest of dam construction, logging and industrial facilities on land that the indigenous peoples previously controlled. The most radical want to see a self-governing nation (Wallmapu). Both activists and landowners have been killed (see below). Former President Michelle Bachelet in 2017 apologized for the abuses they have suffered from the state.

Freedom of expression and media

Since the first newspaper was founded in Chile in 1812, freedom of the press prevailed for long periods, but in 1973 the military regime introduced censorship and several newspapers were banned. Freedom of the press remained limited even after democratization in 1989, but in 1996 the right for military courts to repeal journalists was abolished, and in 2001 a new press law was passed. Among other things, it was no longer punishable to "prosecute or insult" civil servants.

However, journalists can still be convicted of defaming the President, Parliament or the Supreme Court (HD). In 2008, a public law was passed that gives the right to request and obtain information from authorities.

Journalists investigating abuse during the military dictatorship are sometimes still exposed to threats. In many cases, such excavating reporters have been hit by burglaries and their material stolen.

Although great progress has been made since the military dictatorship, source protection is not always respected and some topics are sensitive to reporting, not least corruption issues and mapuche protests. It is not uncommon for journalists to become targets for attacks in connection with demonstrations.

Two conservative ownership groups together have about 95 percent of the daily newspaper market: the El Mercurio group and the Copea group.

In 2020, Chile is ranked 51 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom in the world. This means a five-step decline compared to the previous year (the entire list is here).

Judicial system and legal security

The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary and it also works essentially without political interference.

However, both the UN and human rights organizations have criticized Chile for treating the Mapuche people. Particularly questioned has been the use of terrorist laws against activists. In the autumn of 2009, serious clashes between mapuche and police occurred. About 50 activists were imprisoned and despite the government's promise never to use terrorist laws from the Pinochet era against the activists, the authorities now took such action. This meant, among other things, long detention times and that the activists could be brought to trial with secret evidence.

There are accusations of repeated human rights violations against mapuche, including police violence, torture, legal processes and stigma. The impunity of those involved is widespread.

The death penalty was abolished in 2001. Prisons are overcrowded and conditions are difficult.

Legal aftermath of the dictatorship

Investigations are still underway on human rights violations committed during the military regime. Hundreds of people have been tried and many have been punished. In a particularly noteworthy case, for many years the suspected murder of 1982 was investigated by former President Eduardo Frei (the elder). The Christian Democrat Frei had become one of the sharpest critics of the Pinochet regime when he suddenly passed away in connection with an operation. His remains were unearthed on two occasions before a court in January 2019 sentenced six people for involvement in the murder (see Calendar).

Ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet himself had his legal immunity suspended by HD shortly after he returned to Chile in 2000 (see Modern history). Prosecution was brought against him for involvement in kidnappings and murders. The trial was postponed while Pinochet's health was tried. After several trips, however, HD decided that Pinochet was too old and ill to pass a trial. The support for Pinochet among the population fell sharply since the dictator was accused the same year that as army chief had spent nearly $ 30 million on arms sales, money deposited into secret bank accounts, including in the US. In the fall of 2005, HD asserted Pinochet's legal immunity in the case. The court also issued a summons to prosecute Pinochet for the murder of hundreds of people in an investigation into Operation Colombo, the cover name for the Security Police's strike and murder of 119 left-wing opposition in 1975. By then, doctors had found the 90-year-old Pinochet in sufficient health to pass a trial.

Pinochet was arrested in October 2006 in connection with a legal investigation into kidnappings, torture and murder at the infamous torture center of the security police, Villa Grimaldi. He was released to the bail in November for a few weeks later being placed under house arrest in connection with a new legal investigation. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a heart attack and on December 10 he died. Many Chileans cheered but were also disappointed that he could never be held responsible for the abuses committed during his time in power. At the same time, supporters of Pinochet mourned his death.

After the Pinochet regime's amnesty law was deemed not applicable to cases involving "disappearances", other members of the old military junta could be held accountable. Twelve former junta members were convicted in 2002 for the murder of a union leader in 1982 and the former head of the Army intelligence service for ordering the murder.

In 2004, the army collectively assumed the blame for the human rights violations committed during the dictatorship and at the end of the year Parliament passed a law on damages to 28,000 torture victims. These had been identified in a report - compiled by the so-called Valech Commission, formed by President Lagos in 2003 - with testimony from 35,000 former political prisoners from 1973 to 1990.

Among some 90 former military men convicted of human rights violations in 2005 were the heads of Pinochet's intelligence agency, Dina and CNI. Dina's manager, Manuel Contreras, had previously been convicted of other crimes.

The German Paul Schäfer was extradited from Argentina in 2005 accused of, among other things, the sexual exploitation of children in the colonia Colonia Dignidad, which he founded in southern Chile. The colony cooperated with the Pinochet regime and was used as a concentration camp for political prisoners. Another twenty people, including security service employees, were indicted the following year for abuses committed in the colony.

In March 2006, a judge ordered that 13 people be arrested for involvement in executions in connection with the coup in 1973. In May 2008, orders were issued for the arrest of another hundred former security police and soldiers. More than a year later, 25 high-ranking people were arrested during the Pinochet regime, and orders for the arrest of an additional 129 Dina members were issued. They were accused of being involved, among other things, in Operation Condor, which with the support of other Latin American countries searched and murdered leftists in the mid-1970s.


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