The Armed Forces

Chile Table of Contents

The armed forces constitute an essentially autonomous power within the Chilean state. An entire chapter of the constitution (Chapter 10) is devoted specifically to the armed forces, granting them a status comparable to that of Congress and the courts. Although the opposition felt that it had reduced the tutelary role of the armed forces with the constitutional reforms of 1989 by softening the language dealing with Cosena's powers, the military continued to have a constitutionally sanctioned right to discuss politics and policy and make its views known to the democratically elected authorities.

Whether or not the commanders of the services "represent" their views "or make them known," the political fact remains that the armed forces are defined by the constitution as the "guarantors of the institutional order of the Republic." Thus, their leadership exercises tutelage over the conduct of the elected government and other state bodies. This privilege is given only to the commanding officers. The 1980 constitution lays down strict rules requiring lower-ranking officers to refrain from any political activity or expression and to conform strictly to the orders of their superiors.

The 1989 reforms did not change the provisions that insulate the commanders in chief of the armed services and the National Police from democratically elected leaders. Although the military commanders and the head of Chile's paramilitary police, the Carabineros, are chosen by the president from among those officers having the most seniority in their respective services, the appointment is for four years, during which time the commanders cannot be removed except by Cosena under exceptional circumstances.

The constitution also specifies that entry into the armed services can only be through the established military academies and schools that are governed exclusively by the services without outside interference. The Organic Constitutional Law on the Armed Forces (Law 18,948 of February 1990) governs in detail military education, hierarchy, promotion, health, welfare, and retirement. It also provides the armed forces with a specific minimum budget that cannot be reduced. Other legislation provides the military with a set percentage from the worldwide sales of the state-run copper companies.

Despite seventeen years of military rule, the armed forces are remarkably uncontaminated by factionalism or partisan politics. No major divisions within the services are apparent. However, because the military enjoyed privileged treatment during Pinochet's rule, any attempt to tamper with military prerogatives was likely to be strongly resisted.

Pinochet's insistence on retaining his position as commander in chief of the army displeased the Aylwin government. As commander of the army, the general affirmed the military's determination to resist prosecution for human rights violations. Yet the army's credibility was badly damaged by allegations of financial wrongdoing by Pinochet's son, the discovery of mass graves containing corpses of individuals who died while in military hands, and the illegal export of arms to Croatia. The report of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, known as the Rettig Commission, confirmed many of the allegations of military abuses.

The Aylwin government contended that the full consolidation of democracy could not be accomplished without a fundamental change in the relationship between civil and military authority. Members of the CPD asserted that presidential control of the armed forces existed in all modern democracies and since 1822 had been an essential element in Chile's constitutional tradition.

A proposal for reform of the Organic Constitutional Law on the Armed Forces was signed by President Aylwin on March 29, 1992, and sent to Congress. Aylwin's initiative dealt specifically with Article 7 and Article 53 of the organic laws of the armed forces and police, which limit presidential prerogatives in relation to the hiring, firing, and promotion of members of the military. Among the suggested reforms was a provision providing the president with the right to choose commanders of the armed forces from among the ten most senior officers, instead of the top five. These proposals were opposed, however, by both parties of the right, making it impossible to envision any constitutional reform on this matter in the foreseeable future.

The opposition contended that the tenure of the commanders had contributed to the stability and moderation of the Chilean transition. It argued that these reforms would result in the politicization of the armed forces by undermining the hierarchy, discipline, and professionalism of military institutions. The rightist parties also contended that the reform proposals, if successful, would upset the counterweights on presidential power and would disturb the institutional balance existing between the president, the Constitutional Tribunal, Congress, and Cosena. This balance, they argued, helped guarantee the success of the Chilean transition by insulating the armed forces from overt political pressures.

More about the Government and Politics of Chile.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress