Chapter Three:

        Rise and Fall of "La Cofradía Blindada"


"The Armed Forces have assumed the moral obligation that the Fatherland imposes on them."

-Military Junta, September 11th, 1973[1]


"May there be moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: the soldiers of Chile."

-Salvador Allende, September 11th, 1973[2]


            September 11th, 1973 began a military era-- a seventeen-year government by what one Chilean expert calls la cofradía blindada or "the armored brotherhood."  The years of the military government would not only strengthen the brotherhood but also thicken the armor that insulated it from civilian society.  Examining the rise and fall of the military regime in the last quarter century is indispensable to the understanding of civil-military relations today. 


Coup? Pronunciamiento? Junta?

            The story of September 11th has been told many times from many different perspectives.  Yet the Once de Septiembre undoubtedly remains the single most cataclysmic day in Chilean history, remaining frozen in the national conscience.  Its anniversary continues to be a day of polemical demonstration and often violence.  The military commanders-in-chief, Pinochet, Merino and Leigh, finalized their plans to overthrow the Allende government at a meeting on September 9th, also securing the support of Carabineros commander in chief, General César Mendoza.  The coup began early in the morning of September 11th, as the navy took control of the port city of Valparaíso.  Hearing of the revolt, Allende fortified himself inside La Moneda with the GAP, the Grupo de Amigos Personales (Group of Personal Friends), a rather heavily armed but small force.  Fighting broke out in downtown Santiago as the army surrounded La Moneda under sniper fire.  The Carabineros, the traditional palace guard, abandoned La Moneda when informed that their commanders were in on the coup.  All but Allende's most militant supporters evacuated the presidential palace as fighting intensified but Allende refused to surrender.  Allende gave a famous impassioned speech over the radio during the attack, but the end arrived soon after.  The neo-classical La Moneda, squeezed tightly into downtown Santiago, was struck on the north facade by rockets launched from air force fighters.  When troops stormed the burning palace, President Allende was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted shot to the head.[3]


            Amid social chaos, a freely elected Latin American marxist was replaced by a military junta.  The shock was immeasurable for Chilean society.  The 1891 Civil War and the chaos of the 1920s were ancient history to Chileans, who believed in the permanence and security of their position as a model modern democracy amid backward neighbors.  Many had thought Chile immune to the social upheaval that plagued Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.  The military coup and especially the ineffable violence and repression that followed shattered the illusions of an entire nation.  While the military's initial intervention may have held good intentions and a certain degree of justification in the chaotic context surrounding it, the regime quickly took on an altogether different nature.  As far as the military was concerned, no coup had taken place.  Chilean officers and their civilian allies still refer to September 11th as the Pronunciamiento Militar (Military Pronouncement), eschewing the labels golpe de estado or coup d'état that are standard everywhere else.  Pointing to public opinion at the time regarding the societal crisis, as well as a congressional resolution, the military claims that it had a clear mandate to act as it did in defense of la patria.[4] 


The Military in Government

            As planned, a junta consisting of the four commanders-in-chief took over executive power in Chile in September 1973.  In principal, supreme power would rotate among the junta members, but practice soon saw the centralization of power in the person of General Augusto Pinochet.  In the end, Pinochet would rule nearly seventeen years-- longer than any ruler of Chile since the Spanish arrival and almost twice as long as any leader since independence.  Ostensibly a member of a junta at first, a questionable election in 1980 would grant Pinochet the title of Presidente, as well as ratify a new constitution.  Although the degree of his knowledge or direction of repression may now be a subject of debate, Pinochet became a dictator.  The Pinochet regime represented a hybrid of a personalistic and military authoritarian rule.  While the regime quickly became an undeniably personalized one, it also never ceased to be a military in nature.


            Some believed that the military regime would return power to a new civilian government soon after order was restored in the coup's aftermath.  But a few months after the coup, Pinochet declared that the junta would rule for at least five years while the political and economic structure of the country was redesigned.  This master plan provided the justification for the military's repressive measures.  In the minds of the military, a state of civil war existed in Chile in 1973.  Terrorist cells like the MIR were operating freely and had to be destroyed for the restoration of order.  The armed forces maintain that many of those who died in the early days of the regime were killed by soldiers acting in self-defense.[5]  The violence was certainly bilateral, and some outbreaks of violence approached pitched battles between soldiers and organized anti-military forces.  However, few but the most ardent apologists believe that all the victims were active anti-military combatants.  Again, this "pacification" of the country finds its justification in the military idealization of la patria, and its obligation to defend its long-term survival against internal and external enemies. 


            The regime's desire to cleanse Chile of the cancer it saw as pervading the country led it to a surgical mentality with a global reach.  To seek and destroy subversives, the regime created the infamous National Intelligence Directorate (DINA).  In addition to the large number of murders, disappearances and incidence of torture that took place in Chile, the DINA went abroad to eliminate the regime’s enemies.  In 1974, the DINA assassinated General Prats and his wife with a car bomb in Buenos Aires (Prats had fled the country following the coup).  More widely known in this country, the DINA killed exiled Allende minister Orlando Letelier and an assistant, also by car bomb, on Washington's Embassy Row in 1976.  These distant attacks stand in a peculiar contrast to the masses who were detained, tortured or executed in Santiago's Estadio Nacional following the coup.


            However, the authoritarian means of the regime existed on a much more systematic and extensive level.  The entire political process was put in the freezer, from the highest levels of government to the most basic interactions of civil society.  The regime dissolved Congress and outlawed the political parties that had peacefully competed for power for so many years.  Labor unions and other potential opposition groups were banned, destroyed or driven underground.  For fear of fomenting subversive sentiment, the regime severely restricted the Chilean press that had been very free, lively and diverse.  Finally, the activity of every individual citizen was restricted by a strict curfew.  A means to an end, the military saw this repression as a necessity to tear the political structure down and build a new one untainted by the politics that had let a Marxist get elected.


            The restructuring planned by the military was realized in the Constitution of 1980.  That year, on the seventh anniversary of the coup, the military sent the Chilean people to the polls for a referendum.  The referendum was not only on ratification of the new constitution, but also on naming Pinochet to the post of President for an eight year term.[6]  The military campaigned heavily, without permitting a "no" campaign.  Voting procedures and tabulations have also been questioned, but Pinochet and the Constitution were approved by 67% of the population.  The 1980 Constitution drew heavy criticism as an authoritarian sham, centralizing too much power in the President (Pinochet), insulating the military from civilian control, and granting absurd prerogatives to the armed forces to interfere in the legislature and civil society.  Though important amendments have been made to the 1980 Constitution, which we will come to later, it remains the Constitución de la República.


            But Pinochet's master plan went far beyond these classical demonstrations of authoritarian rule and sought the complete economic restructuring of the country.  Performing a 180 degree turn from the socialist state-led development model, the military regime oversaw the conversion of the Chilean economy to the open-market neoliberal model.  The economists who planned the military's economic reforms had trained at the conservative Universidad Católica and the University of Chicago, receiving the nickname "los Chicago Boys."  The Chicago Boys believed that strict economic austerity measures would shock the economy back to life, controlling the inflation that had plagued the country.  The regime devalued the currency, and tariffs and government spending were cut, reducing the state's role in the economy.  Consequently, Allende's nationalizations were reversed, with the notable exception of the copper industry that remained under the state copper corporation CODELCO.[7]


            The effects of neoliberalism and economic austerity were harsh on the people of Chile, urban and rural alike.  Unemployment soared, while government welfare programs and subsidies dried up.  But in abstract economic terms, the Chicago Boys' experiment began to look like a success.  After the 1975-1976 recession, inflation came under control, while foreign investment and export earnings began to flow into Chile (albeit into the hands of the few).  Further, reform diversified the economy, breaking with the traditional dependence on copper and moving into agricultural sectors, especially fruit and wine.  "Petrodollars" of the late 1970s inflated the economy, to the elation of the regime, but such unsustainable growth fell apart in the 1982 economic crisis.  The societal problems of the 1970s returned or worsened, convincing the regime to proceed more cautiously.  This more careful formula proved effective and by the end of the 1980s, Chile had a solid economy well integrated with the rest of the world.  Often referred to as the Chilean "economic miracle," the military left Chile with a far stronger economy than it had found.  The economic successes of the military regime were clear, although the neoliberal economic growth brought the notable side-effect of exacerbating a grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth.  Nevertheless, the military regime did build a solid foundation for the 1990s Chilean economy.  A source of pride for the military and its civilian allies, some argue that this economic stabilization and growth justified the military regime and even some of its excesses.  One retired general and Pinochet minister remarked to the author that in the grand scheme of things, the persecution of 1,100 people is not all that important in the same context as the political and economic stabilization and reformation of the state.  This figure apparently refers to the 1,068 deaths identified in the Rettig Report, a truth and reconciliation commission carried out in the early 1990s.  This assessment, in addition to sounding more than a little cold and analytical, falls on the low side of estimates of how many people fell victim to human rights violations under the Pinochet regime.  The Rettig Report identified a total of 3,197 cases when all types of death and disappearance are totaled.[8]  The military has admitted to some 985 cases of execution and disappearance although not in an apologetic way.  Though interpreted alternatively as an excessive or conservative estimate, impartial and academic observers generally agree on approximately 3,000 victims.


The Transition

            Upon winning the 1980 plebiscite, Pinochet announced that a referendum on military rule would be held in 1988, after completion of his eight-year presidential term.  If he won, he would serve another eight years.  Meanwhile, the political sphere slowly opened under the military regime, with opposition groups continually testing the limits of repression, contesting the regime's hold on power and working for a return to democracy.  As a result, on October 5, 1988 the people clearly voted "No" to the continuation of Pinochet's regime.[9]  Unlike the 1980 vote, the opposition had been allowed to campaign.  The victory of the "No" campaign represented the culmination of years of effort by various opposition groups.  Others counter that Pinochet alone engineered the return of democracy without yielding to opposition pressure.  This sentiment likely overestimates Pinochet's magnanimity, but at the very least he did stick to his schedule for referenda on transition.  His plan cannot be discounted, but neither can we ignore the efforts and participation of the various opposition groups, from dormant political parties to labor groups and the Church.  The efforts of the Church were especially notable, both for social programs in the hardest times of economic austerity, and also serving as a sheltering umbrella organization for peaceful opposition elements in the 1980s.


            We can certainly then, speak of a pacted transition, where authoritarian regime and opposition came to a tacit, if tenuous, understanding of the rules under which the state might return to democracy.  Huntington characterizes the Chilean transition within the categories of a "transformation" from a "personal" regime.[10]  That is to say that the regime, embodied in one person only, consciously and voluntarily engineered the return of democracy.  The Pinochet military regime could fit Huntington's "personal" or "military" categories of authoritarian regimes.  As a military regime, posttransition governments would have to contend with institutional issues of establishing civilian control over the military.  Though not wholly separable, the regime's personalistic characteristics meant that posttransition governments would have the legacy of Pinochet's powerful personality to deal with.  This proved especially true in that Pinochet continued as army commander in chief after stepping down as President.  Although Pinochet centralized the regime in himself, the regime never stopped being a military one.  As a result, post-Pinochet governments had the dual task of struggling with the military institution as well as Pinochet himself.  As we shall see in the next chapters, the separation of the two has been a difficult and recent development.


            Without choosing between Huntington's "military" and "personal" regime categories, a very strong case can be made to dismiss Huntington's classification and name the Chilean transition a "transplacement."  While Pinochet established the framework under which the transition took place and did leave power peacefully, it would be an overstatement to say that he intentionally engineered his own departure from power.  If we are to preserve Huntington's typology, but discard his brief analysis of the Chilean case, we are better served by looking at the Chilean transition as a transplacement, where the transition was a dynamic interaction of competing political blocs.  This interplay of the "pacted transition" further conditioned the consolidation effort.  This approach lends itself well to the spectrum of democratic control in post-transition civil-military relations from Chapter One.  These inputs and framework give an accurate portrayal of the Chilean transition, the current process of consolidation and increasing civilian control of the military.  This model also serves us well in looking for clues to the future of civil-military relations and democratic consolidation.


The Military Upon Departure

            During all this violent upheaval of the Chilean society, political system and economy, how was the military affected?  That is, how did a professional military force change during seventeen long years in government?  Even military men will admit that the armed forces are designed not for government, but for defense and war.  Adapting the military to perform and sustain this role left a legacy upon the return of democracy.  Most concretely, the officer corps lost its pyramidal shape and the normal process of promotion and retirement was suspended.  The officer corps became top heavy as more senior officers were needed to fill political or bureaucratic posts.  Meanwhile, the military had to continue its "day job" of defending the nation's borders.  Indeed, border disputes with Argentina over islands in Tierra del Fuego almost led to war in the early 1980s.[11]  Threats to national security might have bolstered the regime's legitimacy somewhat, but chiefly, the exigencies of two demanding roles made for a swelling in the officer corps.


            But their years in government also exercised an immeasurable influence on the already powerful spirit and image of the armed forces.  To a large part of the society, the armed forces had lost all credibility and respect.  No longer were they a noble institution in defense of la patria, they were murderers, torturers and "babyeaters" (as one Chilean expression has described them).  But the military self-image could not have been more opposite.  Pinochet and his officers happily proclaimed Misión Cumplida (Mission Accomplished) upon leaving power.  They were leaving the country with a stable political system and a much-improved economy.  They had done their duty to defend la patria when called into action and done precisely what was necessary for the welfare of their state.  As with the War of the Pacific, the most recent time the military had really seen action, the armed forces entered in on a difficult mission and achieved victory.  The "myth of the conqueror" soared to new heights within the Chilean military, whose officers came to believe ever more strongly in their motto of "Siempre Vencedor, Jamás Vencido."


            These diametrically opposed visions of the military played off of each other, establishing a dangerous social dynamic that remains strongly in Chile.  The more the military expressed pride in its actions, the more their opponents condemned their brutality, causing the military to react and recoil within its institutional traditionalism and pride.  Pinochet remained at the helm of the army, and effectively the entire armed forces, as a hero to the military and their civilian allies and a target of hatred for his opponents and victims.  With this chasm between the two sides of its society, Chile began its renewed civilian democracy.


The Playing Field for Transition

            Chile's democratic transition began with Pinochet's defeat in the 1988 plebiscite.  But despite the hard fought victory of the "No" campaign, the Concertación por el No, the opposition had another serious battle ahead, as the victory mandated a presidential election to choose Pinochet's successor.  The Concertación held together, now as a center-left election coalition united behind elder statesman Patricio Aylwin.  The same 55% that voted "No" in 1988 voted "Yes" to Aylwin in 1989.


            Even before Aylwin's election and inauguration, the transition pact was at work, with both sides jockeying to secure their preferred structure for the reborn democracy.  The Concertación extracted key constitutional reforms during this period in an attempt to dilute some of the prerogatives written in by the military for themselves.  Pinochet had envisioned a system of constitutionally guaranteed military tutelage following the eventual transition from his regime.  Not only did the Constitution of 1980 intend to preserve military autonomy over its own administration and policies that affected it, but it also left structures for the military to exert influence over the national political system, chiefly through the legislature.  The Constitution of 1980 included both direct means to military influence through a military presence in governmental institutions, as well as an indirect influence through the military’s allies on the political right.


            The first point of contention stems from the Constitution's Articles 43 and 45, which explains the composition of Congress.  A bicameral system not unlike the United States Congress, the Chilean Congreso Nacional consists of the Cámara de Diputados and the Senado.  However, unlike the single-member districts of the United States and other countries, the House and Senate both use a "binomial" system where each district elects two members.  More districts would make for a closer approximation of the ideological distribution among the population.  But following the 1988 plebiscite, the military knew what this distribution would be.  The binomial system, "designed under the assumption that the center-left opposition coalition would have a majority and that the right would have slightly more than one-third of the vote, makes it possible for a party (alliance) commanding a little more than 33 percent of the vote to end up with one-half of all legislative seats."[12]  By using fewer districts and drawing them to favor parties of the right, the outbound Pinochet regime could limit the future legislative power of the left. 


            But in the Senate, in addition to senators directly elected to the chamber, the Constitution provides for a number of Senadores Designados (Designated Senators).  In order to give the Senate a presence of elder statesmen unbeholden to electoral concerns, the Constitution laid out the following scheme of Senadores Designados:


a) The formerr Presidents of the Republic who have served a term of six consecutive years... They may take this office of their own right, and will possess it for life...

b) Two formerr ministers of the Supreme Court, chosen by vote of the Supreme Court

c) One formerr Comptroller General of the Republic, who has served a term of at least two years, also chosen by the Supreme Court;

d) One formerr Commander in Chief of the army, one of the navy, another of the air force, and one former Director General of the Carabineros, who have served a term of at least two years, chosen by the National Security Council;

e) One formerr rector of a state university... designated by the President of the Republic, and

f) One formerr State Minister, who has served more than two years in a presidential administration previous to the current administration, also chosen by the President of the Republic.[13]

The most glaring of these items is certainly the four unelected senate seats for the military and Carabineros.  But the other items also draw a great deal of criticism, for in the era of transition, only Pinochet appointees would be eligible for any of these seats.  During his regime, Pinochet had appointed Supreme Court justices, comptrollers, university rectors and state ministers, making the pool of candidates overwhelmingly conservative.  Perhaps even more significantly, the only person qualified to take a designated seat under section "a)" was Pinochet himself.  Further, Pinochet's successor would not qualify, as that term was shortened to four years.  Only the second president to follow Pinochet would qualify for a designate seat.  In light of the plebiscite results, the military rightly guessed that Pinochet's successor would come from the center-left.  The military hoped that by the second democratic election the right could win.  This shortened first term was negotiated in the interim between the plebiscite and Aylwin's inauguration.  But in the same period, the Concertación also negotiated the increase of directly elected senators to 38, hoping to dilute the influence of the Senadores Designados.


            The second essential civil-military constitutional issue rests in the National Security Council or Consejo de Seguridad Nacional (COSENA).  Bearing no resemblance to the U.S. body of the same name, the COSENA meets only when called by the President or two of its members together.  Intended to convene in times of crisis or threat to national security, the COSENA lodges its official opinion with the government after a majority vote.  Also, as noted above the COSENA names the military Senadores Designados.  Initially, the COSENA consisted of the President, the President of the Senate, the President of the Supreme Court and the commanders in chief of the armed forces and Carabineros.  As with the Senadores Designados, 1989 reforms sought to dilute the military presence.  The Comptroller General was added to the COSENA's membership, making for an even, yet very peculiar, four-four split.[14]


            Whether these reforms were Concertación victories or Pinochet concessions, Pinochet enacted other laws during his final days that furthered the military's protection of its sphere.  Not only did Pinochet hope to create an influential position of power for the military within the redemocratized state, but he also sought protections that would prevent the civilian government from exercising influence over the military.  Artificial constraints were placed on military spending to guarantee an annual minimum baseline of appropriations.  Constitutionally, future governments could not reduce military funding below 1989 levels.  The military had already set this "floor" rather high, but also required that the floor rise with inflation.  Further, a mechanism called the Ley del Cobre automatically earmarked 10% of the annual profits from the state copper corporation (CODELCO) for the purchase of new military equipment.[15]  These funds cannot be used for personnel expenses, but only for procurement.  Although the Ley del Cobre was originally written in 1958 under President Ibáñez, the Pinochet regime raised it to the 10% level prior to departure, further stating a minimum outlay that the state would pay if copper profits were insufficient. 


            One of the more notorious examples of military insulation and self-granted prerogatives remains the 1978 Amnesty Law.  To protect its own against any future prosecution for the violence of its early years, the Pinochet regime passed an amnesty for acts committed between the September 11th, 1973 coup and March 10th 1978.  The Amnesty Law prevents prosecution for murder and torture and has remained as a serious legal obstacle for human rights groups seeking justice against the military.


            The military further insulated itself and institutionalized its autonomy with the thorough 1990 "Constitutional Organic Law for the Armed Forces."  Essentially a military constitution, this document lays out the structural order of the military, from its raison d'être and mandate to the functioning of the pension system.  The Organic Law delineates the hierarchy of the officer corps, stating the precise procedure and schedule for promotions, as well as the role of the commanders in chief.  Articles 1 and 2 of the Organic Law copy directly from Article 90 of the Constitution in declaring that the Armed Forces "exist for the defense of la patria, are essential to national security and guarantee the institutional order of the Republic... The army, navy, air force and Carabineros, as armed bodies, are essentially obedient."[16]  But the Organic Law goes on to clarify some rules of the apolitical and obedient military:


Armed Forces personnel may not belong to political parties or labor unions, nor to institutions, organizations or groups whose principles or objectives oppose, or are incompatible with those stated above or with the role that the Constitution and the laws of the Republic grant to the Armed Forces.[17]

This description of a professional military body may be obeyed by the Chilean military, but a convincing argument can be made that the officer corps has become a political party of its own, even if its officers cannot belong to any established political organization.[18]  While carefully avoiding public demonstrations of political bias, Chilean officers possess an ideological and political unity far stronger and more specific than that of any party or union.[19]


            The supposed apolitical character of all military personnel becomes extremely difficult with respect to the Alto Mando (High Command).  The job of the Alto Mando, as stated in both the Constitution and Organic Law, is to make the military's opinion known and lobby for the military's interest to the President.  Commanders in chief must oversee the entire administration of the military institution and state the military's requirements where dependent on the civilian government.  But while these duties are standard for a commander in chief, the outgoing Pinochet regime wrote in special protections for the supreme offices of the three military branches and the Carabineros.  While the President selects the commander in chief of each branch, he must be chosen from among the five with most seniority to serve a four year term.  Once in office, a  commander in chief cannot be removed by the President-- only the COSENA, half of which consists of four commanders in chief can retire a serving commander in chief.  As with the highest ranking officer, the President has no authority to retire a serving military officer.  Only the commander in chief can exercise this kind of military control.


            Although the military left power quietly and without violence, it built its defenses carefully before returning to the barracks.  For his part, Pinochet did not step very far from the limelight.  Staying on as commander in chief of the army for another eight years, he moved back to the Ministry of Defense, which has a nice view of La Moneda.


The Aylwin Years (1990-1994): The Stubborn Elder Statesman

            Patricio Aylwin's administration was shortened to four years before he even began it, marking his term as a transition before the new Chilean democracy would enter into full force.  But despite this shortened term and the daunting obstacles in the way, the Aylwin administration worked throughout its four years to increase civilian democratic control over the military.  Upon inauguration, Aylwin faced a system of military tutelage outlined by Pinochet.  The military enjoyed almost total autonomy over its own policy sphere and also had a great deal of influence over policy in general.  The civilian government had no ability to control military or defense policy and also faced constitutional difficulties and potentially fierce institutional resistance from the military against any efforts to further democratic control.


            Of the strategies offered by Carlos Fuentes for combating military tutelage or insubordination, the Aylwin administration chose "noncooperation."[20]  Rather than attack the large constitutional problems head on within the arena constructed by the military, Aylwin elected to use the few official avenues left open for assertion of civilian control and to pursue less official methods.  Informal controls and symbolic demonstrations of civilian control or military subordination served the Aylwin administration not only in a decisive transition to democracy, but also towards the end of military tutelage.


            Aylwin began his symbolic demonstration of civilian supremacy at his inauguration where he refused to allow Pinochet to present him with the presidential sash.[21]  This bold action did not formally deviate from the law or the tacit pact of transition, but did send a clear message.  This would be the pattern for civil-military relations throughout the Aylwin administration.  Such issues of procedure or protocol fell within the room allowed for interpretation of the Constitution.  In another example, Aylwin repeatedly emphasized the administrative distance between himself and the military.  By routing the policy process and communication through the Minister of Defense, rather than dealing with the commanders in chief directly, Aylwin emphasized that they were theoretically dependent upon the Defense Ministry.  Similarly, to emphasize the apolitical role, Aylwin resisted convoking the COSENA.[22]  Due to the excessive military presence in the COSENA and the undue influence thereby granted to the military, Aylwin avoided the COSENA so that this avenue for military tutelage would not be used.  Denying the COSENA as an opening through which the Concertación and the military could meet or negotiate, the Aylwin government created other less formal structures to facilitate communication between the army and the government.  Direct contacts between Aylwin's ministers and the army allowed the government a recourse for negotiation or crisis-handling without legitimizing the tools of tutelage set in place by the military.


            Beyond these evasions, Aylwin attacked the military directly with what tools he had.  In September of his first year in office, Aylwin won a battle over the constitutional law governing officer promotions.  While the President still lacked the ability to retire officers, he could freeze their career by refusing to promote them.  This gave Aylwin a substantial, if antagonistic, tool for exercising civilian control.  Aylwin used this "freeze-veto" against suspected human rights criminals, as well as some officers who didn't pay sufficient respect to the civilian government.  Fuentes cites the example of Aylwin freezing the career of the officer who led the traditional army day parade without making the ceremonial request to the president for permission.[23]


            The civilian government also possessed other formal means for exerting control over the military through the budget.  The President, through his appointed Defense Minister, must approve military procurement and the overall strategic defense plan.  As mentioned above, the military secured certain assurances for its own budget before departing power.  However, the changing Chilean economy turned this intended prerogative for the military into a pressure point vulnerable to civilian control.  The Aylwin government could not produce the legislative supermajority necessary for a reduction of the military budget, but it was in no way obligated to raise it.  Therefore:


the Aylwin administration gave the military just what the law specified-- the equivalent of the 1989 military budget, adjusted for inflation, effectively converting that minimum into a maximum.  Soon, the military realized the mistake of tying its budget to the inflation rate.  While the inflation rate tended to decline, the nation's economic growth tended to increase.[24]

Rodrigo Atria illustrates this trend in pointing out that "while in 1990 defense spending represented 95% of spending on education, by 1997 it came to represent only 53%."[25]


            But these artful challenges to the military's autonomy did not go unnoticed by Pinochet and the military.  The Aylwin years saw several moments of high tension in civil-military relations in the still tenuous democracy.  The most serious standoff of the Aylwin administration had its origins in allegations of corruption among senior officers during the military regime.  Evidence came to light that top military officials, as well as Pinochet's son, might have abused their positions for personal profit in banking, real estate and arms trading deals.[26]  Because of the transfer of checks, the scandal became known as the "cheques" case.  Congress began investigations into the allegations, and with the army's honor in question many began to discuss the possibility of Pinochet's resignation.  But Pinochet reacted strongly, expressing his displeasure with a show of force.  As commander in chief, Pinochet ordered army units throughout the country into a state of alert with all personnel confined to the regiments to stand by their posts.  While claiming a routine training exercise, Pinochet made clear that the entire army stood with him and had its eye on the Aylwin government.  But Aylwin would not be intimidated-- the President reacted by summoning Pinochet to La Moneda to ask for an explanation.  The immediate crisis abated and possible resolutions to the cheques case were debated.


            The handing over of the congressional investigation to the courts, however, provoked a second crisis.  Convinced that the government was aggressively out to get them, and taking advantage of Aylwin's absence in Europe, Pinochet called all of the army's generals together for a meeting in Santiago.  The generals arrived in combat fatigues while armed paratroopers stood guards outside the military headquarters building.[27]  Because Chilean officers wear berets (boinas) as part of the combat uniform, the incident has been remembered as the "boinazo."  To send the message that this "aggression" would not stand, the army was again placed in a "state of alert," and this time combat dressed troops waited five days in their regiments.  Negotiations between the Aylwin administration and the army (Aylwin's ministers had to stand in for the traveling president) resolved the crisis.  Chiefly, the government conceded to eliminate publicity and lower the profile of the cheques case, and to address some pressing administrative issues that were being held up in the Ministry of Defense.  However, the army did not achieve one of its main goals in that "the government refused to ask for the defense minister's resignation."[28]


            The Aylwin administration had its share of crisis, and the military remained a strong political force in 1994, insubordinate to the civilian authority.  But if not fully quantifiable, Aylwin's tenure at La Moneda set a clear precedent for civil-military relations in refusing to allow a tutelary regime to take root.  The Concertación's reelection in 1994 ensured that Aylwin's successor would share the same goal of democratic control over the military.


1994-1998: Second-turnover and Stabilization

            As if coming full circle around the military regime, Chile elected the son of Allende's predecessor to follow the Aylwin transition from military government.  Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle represented the Christian Democrat party, yet marked a new generation of that from his father and Aylwin.  In addition to the generational change, the younger Frei encountered a better marked playing field of civil-military relations, thanks to the efforts of Aylwin.  Aylwin's testing of limits and stubborn defense of the civilian realm of control let Frei know what to expect out of the military when threatened with subordination.  Because Aylwin had drawn a line in the sand, Frei was able to pursue a less antagonistic strategy with a certain level of engagement.


            It can be argued that the Frei government did not share the goal of military subordination as defined by Aylwin.  Frei's administration "represented a new generation of Christian Democrats, "less committed to the struggle against the military regime and more business-oriented."[29]  This new generation approached government, and relations with the military, with less idealism and more concern with the overall development of the country beyond the political arena.  However, Frei did not abandon the affirmation of civilian authority over the military, but rather shifted to an engagement strategy and held modest, shorter-term goals.


            In dealing with the military, Frei dwelt much more in the official realm of defense policy and constitutionally mandated structures.  When disagreements or tensions mounted, the Frei government had no fear of convoking the COSENA.  Like Aylwin, Frei dealt with the military through the channels of the Ministry of Defense.  However, Frei used this structure not to make symbolic gestures about military subordination, but to actually make military and defense policy out in the open.  Bringing these policies and the policymaking process into the public eye emphasized the democratic goal of peaceful coexistence between the civilian government and the armed forces.  Meanwhile, the Frei government stepped back from the larger and more difficult battles, especially constitutional reform, despite the demands of leftist parties.  These more leftist elements of the Concertación, as well as liberal and human rights groups in the burgeoning civil society, called for Frei to more actively contest the army's prerogatives and seek justice for past human rights violations.  For its part, the military still sought an exit from the cheques case, governmental support for military modernization, and, as always, an increase in low salaries.


            These tensions came to a head in 1995, upon the Supreme Court's prosecution of General Manuel Contreras, the former director of DINA, for the Letelier assassination.  In this international high-profile case, the Supreme Court held Contreras, as well as his second-in-command, Colonel Pedro Espinoza, responsible for the Washington car-bombing.  The two were convicted, but while Espinoza went to prison immediately, the military temporarily hid Contreras in a navy hospital.  Officers showed their solidarity with Espinoza through a mass visit to the Punta Peuco prison.  Adding to the list of military political demonstrations, the Peucazo made a clear statement of officer sentiment, while making no official declaration, as all officers were off duty and wore no uniforms.  As in the Aylwin years, the military used these pressure politics to present a series of demands to the civilian government.  Frei, perhaps more conciliatory than Aylwin would have been, agreed to abandon the long festering cheques case, increase military salaries, and to make more amenable the conditions, if not the fact, of Contreras and Espinoza's imprisonment.


            While Frei received a great deal of criticism for being to soft on the armed forces, his engagement strategy stabilized the dynamic established by Aylwin of military subordination to the civilian government.  This subordination was certainly incomplete, due chiefly to the continued constitutional prerogatives afforded the military in the Senate, COSENA, budget and Organic Law.  Nevertheless, by 1998 the transition to democracy was certainly complete, with military tutelage clearly defeated.  The Frei government looked to the challenges of full democratic consolidation from a strong position, able to exert immense influence on the military.


[1]From Junta official communiqué Bando #5, James Whelan, Out of the Ashes: The Life, Death and Transifguration of Democracy in Chile (Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1989), 494.

[2]From Allende's final radio address.  Ibid., 476.

[3]Many have debated whether Allende's suicide was fabricated by the army to conceal his murder, but most evidence indicates that the suicide was real.  See Whelan, 511-512 and 519-520.  Whelan further alleges that Allende used an engraved AK-47 Fidel Castro had given him.  For a completely dissenting opinion, see Robinson Rojas Sandford, The Murder of Allende, translated by Andreé Conrad (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), in particular, Chapter One: "The Artful Staging of a Suicide."  Neither author makes any attempt to conceal their very strong, but opposite, biases.  However, both make extensively argued cases for different versions of Allende's death and the coup in general.

[4]As a highly visible representation of the military's perception of September 11, ten peso coins minted during the military government replaced the profile of "The Liberator" Bernardo O'Higgins with a winged victory figure stretching her arms aloft as chains break from her wrists.  The word "Libertad" (Freedom) is printed beneath, with small numbers reading "IX, XI, 1973."

[5]Some Chilean officers' descriptions of the situation echo those by Vietnam veterans of being surrounded by a hostile civilian population in which their attackers could anonymously move, attack and escape.

[6]Some, like Samuel Huntington, believe that from the beginning Pinochet planned a return to democracy, even if he took his time about it.  Collier and Sater argue that Pinochet planned to allow a "protected democracy," but had no intention of leaving before a second full term ended in 1997.  Others naturally feel that these public performances were merely to provide a cover for Pinochet's megalomania.

[7]For more on the Chicago Boys and the neoliberal economic reform project see  Lois Oppenheim, Politics in Chile (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), especially Chapter Six, "The Neoliberal Economic Model and Its Social and Political Consequences."

[8]Sandford, writing long before the Rettig Commission’s report makes claims of 15,000 killed and 100,000 tortured.

[9]Indeed, a good deal of evidence indicates that Pinochet very nearly rejected the poll returns.  Tabulations from outside his government and pubic statements by other generals in his government, however, left him in a position where he could not deny this defeat.  See "That Was Nice, Now the Hard Bit," The Economist 15 October 1988: 50.

[10]Huntington, The Third Wave, 110-111 and 113-114.

[11]As Argentina's natural enemy, Chile and Pinochet supported Britain in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict.  The close friendship between then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and General Pinochet has been widely publicized, most recently during her visits while Pinochet was detained in London.

[12]Wendy Hunter, State and Soldier in Latin America: Redefining the Military's Role in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.  Peaceworks No. 10 (Washington: United States Institute for Peace, 1996). 45, note 138.

[13]Constitución Política de la República de Chile: Artículo 45 (Santiago: Ediciones Publiley, 2001), 39-40. Author translation.

[14]Peter Siavelis duly notes that the Constitution makes no provision for the adoption of resolutions after a 4-4 vote.  The President and Congress in Postauthoritarian Chile (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000), 38, note 90.

[15]Although copper does not dominate the Chilean economy as it once did, the export earnings of the state copper corporation remain a large and important source of foreign exchange.

[16]Constitución Política de la República de Chile: Article 90, 71.  Author translation.  The Organic Law only governs the actual armed forces and naturally omits "Carabineros" from the phrase used in the Constitution.  Here we have one case where the subtle distinction between the Carabineros and the military excludes the federal police.

[17]Ley Orgánica Constitucional de las Fuerzas Armadas: Ley 18.948.  Diario Oficial 28 February 1990.  Article Two.  Electronic version at  Accessed 13 February 2001.  Author translation.

[18]See Tótoro Taulis, 44.

[19]We will come later to cases where officers have walked a fine line between the official and unofficial, overt and subtle in demonstrating their political opinion.

[20]Fuentes, 120.  See Chapter One.

[21]This broad traditional sash is worn over the shoulder of the President on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of democratic power.  Tradition dictates that the outgoing President personally present the sash to his replacement.

[22]Fuentes, 122.

[23]This was not a real question of permission or approval, but a small piece of tradition that the army broke to make a subtle statement.  As mentioned previously, the army stages an immense parade in Santiago's Parque O'Higgins every September 19th.  The President and his government wait in a reviewing stand, and the ceremonial parade leader rides ahead of all the other troops, coming to a halt before the President to formally ask permission.  Fuentes mentions the incident as a retaliation for Aylwin's refusing the sash from Pinochet at inauguration. See "After Pinochet," 121.

[24]Fuentes, 125.

[25]Rodrigo Atria, "Estado, militares y democracia: La afirmación de la supremacía civil en Chile," Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad (FLACSO-- Chile) 15.1 (January-March 2000): 44.  Author translation.

[26]For the specifics of the allegations, see "Trust the General" The Economist 26 January, 1991: 38.

[27]As mentioned above, the armed forces headquarters is directly across from La Moneda.  The proximity gave the demonstration a direct and powerful force.

[28]Fuentes, 124.

[29]Ibid., 127.