Latin American Perspectives: Chile's Bachelet: Testing the Limits of Limited Democracy
Issue Editors: Adriela Fernandez and Marisol Vera
On March 11, 2006 many Chileans celebrated the inauguration of the first woman ever to the presidency of that country. Michelle Bachelet would become the fourth president since the transition to democracy began in 1990, marking the beginning of the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship and bringing a pragmatic right of center coalition, la Concertación, to power. To many observers her election had the potential to become a turning point in the direction of the Chile’s social processes, not because of the Concertación and its program of government, but because of the catalytic effect her rise to the presidency could have on her fellow Chileans. If the reactions of Chileans to her in the campaign trail were any indication, strong expectations have been generated among the electorate and if these rising expectations morph into collective action, then indeed Bachelet will have to take initiatives not contemplated in the program of the Concertación.
Several aspects of the Chilean recent history are worthy of review for students of social formations. Among these: that the country held fast together, did not dissolve into anarchy as the dictatorship gave way to a civilian regime; that there have been considerable social progress vis-à-vis the misery of the Pinochet years; that this coalition, la Concertación, has proven notably resilient both in keeping its constituents parties working together as well as in maintaining its grip on Chilean politics; that many of the people that endured the brunt of Pinochet’s brutality are today excluded from the political arena, not allowed representation as parties of the left in Congress and are not part of the government in any capacity; finally, it is becoming increasingly clear to Chileans that in the last seventeen years their country has been structurally molded in such a way as to perpetuate the legacy of Pinochet: one of the starkest forms of capitalism in the continent.
The pro-growth and pro-market dimensions became the bedrock of the political platform of the Concertación, so much so that for practical purposes it it is closer to Pinochet’s than to a social democratic view that many in the ruling coalition profess to espouse. Arguing that it was necessary to proceed cautiously, lest the military became restless, the idea of opening the civic space to labor has not been allowed to take root in the polity. Thus, Michelle Bachelet’s must be a carefully executed act of adhering to her program, taking into account the objectives of the coalition that brought her to power and attempts to respond to her implicit agreement with the people of Chile. All this amounts to a daunting, if not impossible, task.
The reasons for proposing a special volume of LAP on Chile today are to critically examine the social and political determinants that brought Bachelet to power, as well as to evaluate the possibilities for the return to a more democratic, more authentic, political system. These objectives should interest the international community on several levels. In 1970 Chile pioneered a socio-economic and political experiment involving significant social change from within the system. That this experiment did not live long enough to truly test its premises does not mean that it was wrong for Chile. Furthermore, the military dictatorship that ensued has been credited, erroneously in our view, with the growth that Chile has experienced in the last 20 years. We pose that the Pinochet regime was instrumental in generating the basis for a system that, thus far, has been socially unjust and repressive while presenting a façade of democracy. There is real danger that if the Chilean system does not reform it will generate the very instability that the ruling coalition claims have been avoiding. The immiseration, and sheer exploitation, of the middle class and the working class cannot continue without a social explosion of discontent outside of the channels of political participation. Given the fact that the Chilean case has been presented as a potential model for other countries in the region, a close scrutiny of what is Chile today should be of interest to the readers of LAP.
The Bachelet’s administration has already been severely tested and those challenges represent the topics we propose to cover in this volume:
Increasing economic inequality: Implications for participation and democracy
Social Justice, access and opportunity: Impact of privatizing education, health care and pension systems
From the kitchen Cabinet to cabinets in the kitchen: Women’s rights and wrongs in government and in society
The Pinguinos activism: How high school students reinvigorated political mobilization
Seeing blue, green, yellow and red: The Transantiago debacle causes and
Human rights in the Post-Pinochet era
Always vigilant: The role of the military in the democratic transition
Conspicuous absence: Labor’s representation in policy making
Pure Chile: The environmental movement and the abuse of natural resources
Converging to the center while tilting to the right: How the Left was left out
Pinochet’s heirs: The evolution of the political right
We propose a volume divided in two sections: one with contributors living in Chile and another with observers from the outside. We envision contributors not only from academia, but also scholars who are, or have been, political activists and policy makers, not currently in government. Scholars involved in politics is a situation more commonly found in Latin America that in the US. Contributions we deem most important will be those from labor, class and gender perspectives.
Please contact: Adriela Fernandez: email@example.com or, Latin American Persectives: firstname.lastname@example.org
Manuscripts should be no longer than 25 pages of double-spaced text in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. If possible, submit two copies along with a cover sheet and basic biographical information. With these items, we also require that the manuscript be sent on a CD-R, by e-mail, or on a floppy disk if the other formats are not available. The LAP style guide is available on request or online.
Please send any manuscript submissions to:
Managing Editor, Latin American Perspectives¸ P.O. Box 5703, Riverside, California 92517-5703
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