Chile is a stable democracy that has experienced a significant expansion of political rights and civil liberties since the return of civilian rule in 1990. Ongoing concerns include corruption and unrest linked to land disputes with Indigenous Mapuche people. In 2019, Chile experienced massive and at times violent protests against the government and societal inequality. The demands for change culminated in a national plebiscite in October 2020, in which voters chose to replace the dictatorship-era constitution with a new charter to be drafted starting in 2021.
- In an October plebiscite, an overwhelming majority of voters decided to replace the dictatorship-era 1980 constitution with a new charter, which will be drafted by a 155-member constitutional convention set to be elected in April 2021.
- In March, President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that included a stringent national lockdown, which continued throughout most of the year. Nonetheless, Chile suffered over 600,000 cases and 16,000 related deaths by the end of 2020, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.
- The massive protests and subsequent police repression that erupted in October 2019 declined significantly amid measures to contain the COVID-19 crisis, but sporadic protests and police abuses continued throughout the year.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Presidential elections in Chile are free and fair. The president is elected to a four-year term, and consecutive terms are not permitted. Piñera was elected in December 2017 to serve his second term; he had served as president previously, from 2010 to 2014.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 2017 legislative elections were the first to take place under new rules that established more proportional districts, and increased the number of seats in both houses. The Chamber of Deputies now has 155 seats, up from 120 previously. The number of Senate seats was increased from 38 to 50, but the new seats will be introduced gradually, with the Senate reaching its new 50-seat capacity in 2022.
Senators serve eight-year terms, with half up for election every four years, and members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected to four-year terms. Since 1990, congressional elections have been widely regarded as free and fair.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Chile’s electoral framework is robust and generally well implemented. In October 2020, a national plebiscite was held on replacing the 1980 constitution, considered by its critics an ideological embodiment of the dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. An overwhelming 78 percent of voters supported replacement, and 79 percent endorsed the election of a 155-member constitutional convention to draft the new charter. Elections to the convention were set for April 2021. The balloting will be held concurrently with subnational elections, including for governors, who will be elected for the first time following a 2018 legal reform.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Chile has a multiparty political system in which parties operate freely. The current Congress, which held its first session in March 2018, includes representatives from more than a dozen political parties, as well as several independent candidates. Multiple new parties were registered or began organizing in 2020, motivated by interest in participating in the constitutional convention set to be elected in April 2021.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Power alternation between parties occurs regularly, both in Congress and for the presidency.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to exercise their political choices without undue influence from actors that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The constitutional convention set to be elected in April 2021 will feature gender parity among its 155 members, and 17 seats will be reserved for members of Indigenous communities.
Women are represented in government, and the electoral system includes a quota for women in the legislature. However, women report difficulty gaining influence in intraparty debates.
The interests of the Mapuche minority, which represents about 9 percent of the population, are present in political life, with Mapuche activists regularly making their voices heard in street demonstrations. However, this activism has yet to translate into significant legislative power. In 2017, one Mapuche candidate was elected to the Senate, and one to the Chamber of Deputies.
Public officials from affluent backgrounds, including family-based political networks, remain overrepresented in positions of political power.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
While lobbying and interest groups exist and work to shape policy, there is little significant intervention by actors who are not democratically accountable in policymaking processes.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Anticorruption laws are generally enforced, though high-level corruption scandals crop up with some regularity. In June 2019, General Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba became the first former army commander in chief to face corruption charges in a criminal court; he remained under house arrest throughout 2020, as investigations into military corruption continued to expand. In November 2018, Piñera dismissed 21 army generals amid multiple corruption scandals in the military, bringing about the most significant change in the army’s high command since 1990.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The government operates with relative transparency. In 2009 the Transparency and Access to Public Information Law came into force; it increases public access to information and created a Council on Transparency. Agencies have generally been responsive to information requests, and failures to comply with the law or other measures designed to encourage transparent operations have been punished with fines.
In September 2019 the government replaced the decades-old Copper Law, in what was viewed as a major step toward improving transparency in the wake of series of corruption scandals involving the armed forces. The previous legislation had stipulated that 10 percent of the state-run copper giant Codelco’s export sales be channeled to the armed forces without oversight.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Guarantees of free speech are generally respected, though some laws barring defamation of state institutions remain on the books. Media ownership is highly concentrated.
During the 2019 protest movement, the offices of at least two newspapers were set on fire, looted, and otherwise vandalized: El Líder in San Antonio, and El Mercurio de Valparaíso in Valparaíso. Another outlet in the El Mercurio group, El Mercurio de Antofagasta, was attacked by protesters in January 2020.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for religious freedom, and the government generally upholds this right in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Generally, academic freedom is unrestricted in Chile. In 2019, protesters occupied, vandalized, and looted some universities, forcing several educational establishments to finish the semester early or move classes online. Some academics were publicly harassed, especially on social media. However, in 2020 academic freedom was restored to its previous level after the government implemented restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which severely dampened both the protest movement and on-campus activity in general.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the protest-related disturbances, closures, and intimidation that affected university campuses in 2019 largely subsided in 2020.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Chileans enjoy open and free private discussion.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
The right to assemble peacefully has traditionally been widely respected. However, peaceful protest activity that arose in 2019, when people took to the streets to demonstrate against the government and against societal inequality, was severely disrupted by a variety of factors including people who took advantage of the protest movement’s cover to engage in looting, arson, and vandalism; and by widespread police violence and a restrictive state of emergency that was imposed in response to the unrest.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted President Piñera to declare a new state of emergency, and the government took measures that restricted civil liberties, including a stringent lockdown and a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people.
Due in large part to pandemic-related restrictions, both civilian violence and police repression decreased significantly in comparison to 2019. However, sporadic protests did occur, and a minority of the thousands of Chileans who gathered in a central square in Santiago on the first anniversary of the start of the 2019 upheaval looted, rioted, firebombed a police headquarters, and burned two churches. The police continued to engage in acts of repression, including an October incident in which a member of the carabineros (the national police) allegedly threw a teenager off a bridge in Santiago; the officer was charged with attempted murder. In late November, protesters demanding Piñera’s resignation clashed with carabineros in Santiago, resulting in the detention of 74 people.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because, while violent incidents were reported, there was a significant decrease in protest-related violence compared with 2019.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) form and operate without interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
There are strong laws protecting worker and union rights, but some limited antiunion practices by private sector employers continue to be reported.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally free from political interference.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The right to legal counsel is constitutionally guaranteed and due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, indigent defendants do not always receive effective legal representation.
In December 2020, opposition senators introduced a bill proposing a general amnesty for the hundreds of protesters arrested during the main wave of upheaval in late 2019. President Piñera repeatedly declared that he would veto any such law, and the bill remained pending at year’s end. The Public Prosecutor’s Office stated in October that more than 5,000 indictments related to protest violence had led to 725 convictions for various crimes, with 648 people still detained pending resolution of their cases.
Hundreds of carabineros also remain under investigation by prosecutors for alleged human rights violations, but as of October only one police officer had been convicted, and local human rights advocates criticized prosecutors’ alleged lack of political will to investigate and prosecute state agents.
Human rights groups and the United Nations have criticized the government’s use of antiterrorism laws, which do not guarantee due process, to prosecute acts of violence by Mapuche activists.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
While the government has developed mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuses, excessive force and human rights abuses committed by the carabineros still occur, and such abuses intensified during the social upheaval that started in 2019. The protest movement was also marked by a general state of unrest in many places, as some took advantage of the uprising to commit acts of arson, looting, and other vandalism.
By the end of 2019, at least 29 civilians had been killed and more than 3,000 injured, including over 350 eye injuries inflicted due to security forces’ use of rubber bullets and pellets. More than 2,700 members of security forces were also injured during the unrest. The government’s National Institute for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International all accused the carabineros and the military of perpetrating human rights violations during the protests, including excessive use of force against protesters, as well as torture and sexual abuse of people held in detention. Significant property damage that took place during the protests also contributed to a threatening and unstable environment.
In 2020, the scale of abuses committed by the security forces fell because of the decline in protests amid the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions, but criticism of security force tactics continued. In November, the head of the carabineros, Mario Rozas, resigned after police officers shot and wounded two minors in a raid at a state-run foster home; Rozas had faced heavy criticism for the police’s handling of the social crisis in 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
While indigenous people still experience societal discrimination and police brutality, their poverty levels have declined somewhat, aided by government scholarships, land transfers, and social spending.
LGBT+ people continue to face societal bias, despite a 2012 antidiscrimination law that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. In November 2018, the president signed a gender-identity law allowing for gender identity to be changed on the civil registry.
In practice, elites benefit from systematic favorable legal treatment, and widespread grievances about social inequality were a major driver of the 2019 protests.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution protects the freedom of movement, and the government respects this right in practice. Freedom of movement was constrained in 2019 due to the roadblocks, damage to train stations, and vandalism associated with the social unrest that began in October. In 2020, the transit impact of civil unrest ceased, and by the end of the year the only constraints on freedom of movement stemmed from governmental measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the roadblocks, disruption to public transportation, and other restrictions on movement associated with the protests of 2019 were alleviated in 2020.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals generally have the right to own property and establish and operate private businesses, and are able to do so without interference from the government or other actors. However, Mapuche activists continue to demand greater territorial rights to land, ancestral waters, and natural resources, and ongoing tensions in the Araucanía Region produced violent clashes in August 2020 between Mapuche activists and non-Indigenous groups supported by the carabineros.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
The government generally does not restrict personal social freedoms. However, violence against children and women remains a problem. A law against femicide went into force in 2010. A total of 40 femicides were reported as of December 2020. According to HRW, emergency calls reporting gender-based violence and harassment rose significantly in the first half of 2020.
In 2017, a law introduced by then-president Michelle Bachelet that decriminalized abortion in the events of rape, an inviable fetus, or danger to the life of the woman, took effect.
A 2015 law recognizes civil unions for same-sex and different-sex couples, but same-sex marriages are not recognized.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
While compulsory labor is illegal, forced labor, particularly among foreign citizens, continues to occur in the agriculture, mining, and domestic service sectors.
Although there have been improvements in fighting child labor, minors still suffer commercial sexual exploitation and work unprotected in the agricultural sector. Moreover, there is limited public information about forced child labor.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free