Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Former president Michelle Bachelet was returned to office in a December runoff election, defeating Evelyn Matthei, a conservative former labor minister. During the campaign, the center-left Bachelet endorsed free education for all Chileans following two years of student protests for more equitable and affordable schooling.
Tension between Chile’s Mapuche Indians and the government escalated in 2013 as the Mapuche demanded the return of approximately 1 million acres of territory. Early in the year, violence in the Mapuche heartland of Araucanía resulted in multiple deaths, including that of a Mapuche activist. In one arson attack, a prominent farmer and his wife were burned alive, a tactic commonly used by the Mapuche. No one had been arrested by year’s end.
The year marked the 40th anniversary of the 1973 military coup that toppled Socialist president Salvador Allende. The nation remains divided over the coup, and only a minority of those responsible for the estimated 3,000 Chileans killed or disappeared during the ensuing rule of General Augusto Pinochet have been tried. Although 260 people were convicted in 2013 as reported by Amnesty International, only 60 have been sent to jail, due in part to a 1978 amnesty law.
Political Rights: 39 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
The president of Chile is elected for a four-year term, and consecutive terms are not permitted. The Senate’s 38 members serve eight-year terms, with half up for election every four years, and the 120-member Chamber of Deputies is elected for four years.
General elections held in November 2013 were considered free and fair. The center-left New Majority coalition—formerly known as Concertación—won 67 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 12 in the Senate. Parties affiliated with the conservative Alliance coalition won 49 seats in the lower house and 7 in the Senate.
Bachelet, who previously served as president from 2006 to 2010, garnered the most votes in November’s presidential election, but failed to reach the 50 percent threshold required to secure victory. In a runoff held on December 16, Bachelet defeated the conservative Matthei, receiving 62 percent of the vote.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16
Chile has a multiparty political system with two dominant coalitions. The center-left New Majority coalition is composed of the Christian Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy, and the Communist Party. The center-right Alliance coalition consists of the Independent Democratic Union and the National Renewal party.
In 2005, the Senate passed reforms that repealed some of the last vestiges of military rule, ending authoritarian curbs on the legislative branch and restoring the president’s right to remove top military commanders.
C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12
Levels of official corruption are low by regional standards. Congress passed significant transparency and campaign-finance laws in 2003 that contributed to Chile’s reputation for good governance. A 2007 law further improved transparency by offering protections for public employees who expose corruption. A freedom of information law was enacted in 2008, and in practice the government grants the public access to all unclassified information. Chile was ranked 22 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 56 / 60 (-1)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16
Guarantees of free speech are generally respected, though some laws barring defamation of state institutions remain on the books. Topics such as human rights violations committed during the dictatorship remain extremely sensitive, and journalists investigating such issues were threatened, harassed, and robbed in 2013. Approximately 95 percent of newspaper titles are owned by two private companies, and 60 percent of radio stations are owned by a Spanish media group. There are no government restrictions on the internet.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally upholds this right in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12
The rights to form nongovernmental organizations and to assemble peacefully are largely respected. Although the government regularly granted permits for large student demonstrations during 2011 and 2012, police often used excessive force against protesters. An estimated 15,000 people joined a protest organized by the Mapuche in October 2013 to demand the return of ancestral lands. The protests became violent as demonstrators threw rocks and police used water cannons to disperse the protesters. Despite laws protecting worker and union rights, antiunion practices by private employers are reportedly common.
F. Rule of Law: 14 / 16 (-1)
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally free from political interference. The right to legal counsel is constitutionally guaranteed, but indigent defendants have not always received effective representation.
The government has developed effective mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuse and corruption. However, excessive force and human rights abuses committed by the Carabineros—a national police element of the armed forces—still occur. An official body created two years ago to monitor human rights released a report in December 2012 highlighting ongoing police violence. While acknowledging progress toward a culture of respect for human rights in the Carabineros, the report condemned the “irregular and disproportionate use of anti-riot shotguns” and highlighted complaints about sexual aggression against female demonstrators. The Carabineros continued to use excessive force against members of the Mapuche indigenous community in 2013. Chile’s prisons are overcrowded and violent. Inmates suffer from physical abuse as well as substandard medical and food services.
In August 2013, the lower chamber approved a watered-down version of the Hinzpeter Law, a public security bill introduced by the administration of outgoing conservative president Sebastián Piñera. Its most contentious aspects—those giving the Carabineros greater powers during public demonstrations and increased sanctions for protesters—were removed. The Senate rejected the legislation in October, sending it back to the lower house; by year’s end, disagreement between the two houses, coupled with the center-right’s electoral defeat, resulted in the bill’s demise.
Approximately 1 million Chileans identify themselves with indigenous ethnic groups. While they still experience societal discrimination, their poverty levels are declining, aided by government scholarships, land transfers, and social spending. A 1993 law paved the way for the return of their ancestral land, but rather than appeasing the Mapuche, it prompted additional land claims, land seizures, and violence. The Pinochet-era antiterrorism law, which allowed for secret witnesses, pretrial detention, and the use of military courts, was historically used against the Mapuche. As amended in 2010, the law presumes innocence and carries a reduced sentence for arson—one of the principal tactics of the Mapuche. However, in violation of the 2010 accord, the old law continues to be used by prosecutors in a way that discriminates against the Mapuche. A UN special rapporteur criticized the ongoing use of the legislation in 2013, as well as the failure of Piñera to make good on his promise to constitutionally recognize the Mapuche people, a pledge he made early in 2013. The “Plan Araucanía”—a development plan for the southern Araucanía area, one of Chile’s poorest regions and the homeland of the Mapuche—was implemented in summer 2012 and continued into 2013. The plan financed construction of new schools and hospitals, funded the building of new roads, and provided financial support to victims of violence.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people continue to face societal bias, despite a 2012 antidiscrimination law that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Violent attacks are reported each year, and authorities have allegedly failed to pursue the cases energetically. Chilean law does not permit transgender people to change gender indicators on identity documents, a restriction that led the country’s first transgender congressional candidate to end her campaign in May 2013.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16
President Bachelet made great strides to reduce gender discrimination during her first term, including by appointing women to half of the positions in her cabinet. She also enacted new laws to increase women’s labor rights and to eliminate the gender pay gap. However, violence against women and children remains a problem. In June 2013, the European Union and UN Women signed an agreement establishing a joint fund to support gender equality in Chile, focusing on eliminating violence against women, women’s economic empowerment, and women’s political participation and leadership. As the former head of UN Women, Bachelet is expected to continue to promote gender equality in her second administration. The 2012 antidiscrimination law, which addresses gender bias, allows individuals to file antidiscrimination lawsuits and includes augmented hate-crime sentences for violent crimes.
While all forms of compulsory labor are illegal, forced labor, particularly among foreign citizens, continues to occur in the agriculture, mining, and domestic service sectors.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year