When Chile returned to the family of democracies

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On March 11, 1990, after an eclipse of more than 16 and a half years, democracy began to shine again in Chile. This comeback will not, however, take place without encountering obstacles, often embedded in its constitution, as the Radio-Canada journalists covering the event demonstrate.

The rebirth of Chilean democracy

In Chile, after 16 years of military dictatorship, General Augusto Pinochet ceded power to Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin.

Charles Tisseyre, Le Téléjournal, March 11, 1990.
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Le Téléjournal, March 11, 1990

In Valparaiso, the city where Chile’s parliamentary institutions have been reopened, a historic event is taking place, as can be seen for the program on Telejournal of March 11, 1990 journalist Montserrat Sens.

Thousands of Chileans, along with a significant number of foreign dignitaries, are on hand to witness the handover between General Augusto Pinochet and President-elect Patricio Aylwin.

The symbol is strong.

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean democracy, one of the oldest and most solid in Latin America, succumbed to military boots.

The dictatorship of General Pinochet would henceforth reign supreme over the country.

For 16 and a half years, many Chileans live in fear, fear of being tortured or simply disappearing from the face of the earth.

The least we can say is that there is animosity between the military and the democratic forces headed by Patricio Aylwin.

In this context, one can understand that the ceremony of handing over power is tense.

General Pinochet is having difficulty removing the presidential scarf from his uniform to be handed over to Patricio Aylwin.

It is not the general who returns the badge to the new president, the latter having refused to receive it from the dictator.

The greetings which the two men then make are rather icy.

Outside of the Chilean Congress, the mob is berating the old dictator and demanding that justice punish the crimes the military has committed since 1973.

If democracy is back in Chile, the path to consolidate it is tortuous and strewn with pitfalls, as the Chilean president-elect notes.

A return to democracy strewn with pitfalls

On October 5, 1988, the surprise was global.

That day, General Pinochet reluctantly cedes power. He was just defeated in a referendum that raised the question of a possible extension of his presidential term until 1997.

The Chileans refuse this option to 53% of the votes cast.

This unexpected rout, the old dictator owes to the alliance, called in Spanish Concertación, 17 political parties demanding the rejection of General Pinochet's project and the restoration of democracy.

In this austral spring of 1988, journalist Anne-Marie Dussault went to Chile to take the pulse of the situation.

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Le Point, November 3, 1988

His report, presented on the show Point November 3, 1988, reveals to us a country which undertakes a democratization ardently desired by a majority of its people.

The journalist notes that a certain optimism reigns in the wake of the victory of the democratic forces in the referendum of October 1988.

The latter is particularly well expressed by Hortensia Bussi, the widow of President Salvador Allende, who died under nebulous circumstances during the coup d'etat of 1973.

For the former first lady of Chile, the result of the referendum is the triumph of the people.

The return of thousands of political exiles is also a source of great joy among many Chileans.

But beyond this optimism, the new power and President-elect Patricio Aylwin know that the restoration will be strewn with obstacles.

While General Pinochet has stepped down, he never intended to leave the way open to his Democratic successors.

Examples of obstacles?

The Constitution, which the dictator imposed in 1980, is replete with articles that aim to set the wheels in motion for the exercise of fully democratic power.

For example, President Aylwin cannot dismiss General Pinochet as head of the armed forces.

Augusto Pinochet did not step down as Supreme Leader of the Chilean armies until 1998.

Moreover, the 1980 Constitution and the Election Law favor the over-representation in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of political parties favorable to Augusto Pinochet.

He is also named a life senator in the new Chilean parliament.

Finally, there is the very thorny issue of human rights violations between 1973and 1990.

Should President Patricio Aylwin and his government pardon the army for the torture and disappearances of opponents that have taken place for 16 and a half years?

On the contrary, should they pursue the military at the risk of provoking a confrontation with the army, or even a new coup?

This debate is tearing Chilean society apart.

All the more so, as Anne-Marie Dussault notes, that in the aftermath of the referendum of October 5, 1988, the army and the police are still brutally repressing demonstrations.

Worse yet, they continue to torture opponents of the dictatorship.

In 2020, many of these questions are still unresolved for Chilean democracy.

The 1980 Constitution remains in force even though it has been amended a few times since 1990 by abolishing, for example, the office of senator for life.

The constitution of Chile has been criticized in recent years during major demonstrations for having allowed a blockage against any attempt to modify the social and economic model inherited from the Pinochet regime.

On October 25, 2020, Chileans will vote to accept or refuse to adopt a new constitution of a more democratic and egalitarian nature.

In addition :

  • 45 years ago, Augusto Pinochet plunged Chile into dictatorship
  • Chilean refugees take root in Canada
  • Chile: demonstration in Santiago for the first anniversary of the social uprising
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