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 the indigenous Mapuche population.
Key Developments in 2018:
- Conservative politician and former president Sebastián Piñera took office in March for a second, nonconsecutive four-year term, replacing President Michelle Bachelet. The new legislature elected in 2017 held its first session the same month.
- In December, President Piñera asked for the resignation of the director of the carabineros (militarized police), Hermes Soto, due to the irregular handling of the murder of an indigenous Mapuche man by police officers.
- In September, lawmakers narrowly defeated an opposition-led initiative to remove three Supreme Court justices for “abandonment of duties” after they had granted parole to seven prisoners convicted of human rights violations committed during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Numerous jurists accused the Chamber of Deputies of attempting to curb judicial independence.
- A number of arson attacks led by Mapuche activists took place during the year. Meanwhile, authorities continued to draw criticism for prosecuting violent actions of Mapuche activists under antiterrorism laws.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 37 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
Presidential elections in Chile are widely regarded as 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.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The 2017 legislative polls 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.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
Chile’s electoral framework is robust and generally well implemented.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 15 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
Chile has a multiparty political system. The new Congress, which held its first session in March 2018, includes representatives from more than a dozen political parties, as well as several independent candidates. Additionally, the number of important legislative coalitions has increased from two to three, with the leftist Frente Amplio, or Broad Front, joining the existing major blocs: the center-left Nueva Mayoría, or New Majority, and center-right Vamos Chile, or Let’s Go Chile. Parties operate freely, and new parties have emerged in recent years.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Power alternation between parties occurs regularly, both in Congress and for the presidency. In 2014, center-left President Bachelet succeeded conservative President Piñera, who in turn succeeded Bachelet in 2018.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
People are generally free to exercise their political choices without undue influence from actors that are not democratically accountable.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
Women are represented in government, and the new electoral system includes a quota for women in the legislature. However, the presence of women in Congress and in other government positions does not guarantee that their interests are represented, and 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, two Mapuche candidates were elected; one to the Senate and one to the Chamber of Deputies.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 10 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
While lobbying and interest groups exist and work to shape policy, there is little significant intervention by actors who are not democratically accountable in the policymaking process.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4
Anticorruption laws are generally enforced, though high-level corruption scandals crop up with some regularity. In November 2018, Piñera dismissed 21 army generals amid multiple corruption scandals in the military, making the biggest change of the army’s high command since 1990. The reputation of the army was further affected when it was revealed the same month that the commander-in-chief, General Ricardo Martínez, had disclosed during a military event that army officials had sold weapons to criminal groups. The government claimed that the general was referring to past incidents that had already been adjudicated, but requested details from the general regarding his statements.
Corruption scandals dented former president Bachelet’s popularity during her presidency, as well as that of her coalition.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4
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.
However, the legislature has limited ability under the constitution to supervise or alter the executive budget. Moreover, a legal provision reserves 10 percent of copper export revenues for the military, with little independent oversight.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 57 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
Guarantees of free speech are generally respected, though some laws barring defamation of state institutions remain on the books. In 2018, journalist Javier Ignacio Rebolledo Escobar faced charges of “damaging the honor” of a former military officer who had been convicted of crimes against humanity for acts committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. The charges, which carried a prison sentence of up to three years, were related to material in a book Rebolledo had released in 2017. In October, a judge dismissed them without ruling on their merit, citing instead a procedural irregularity.
Media ownership is highly concentrated.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
The constitution provides for religious freedom, and the government generally upholds this right in practice.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is unrestricted.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Chileans enjoy open and free private discussion.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
The right to assemble peacefully is widely respected, though protests are sometimes marred by violence. In July 2018, an altercation erupted between demonstrators marching in support of free and safe abortion, and counterprotesters. Three women suffered stab injuries, and several people were arrested. Separately, protests against police brutality gained momentum throughout the country following the police shooting of a young Mapuche man in November.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) form and operate without interference.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
There are strong laws protecting worker and union rights, but some limited antiunion practices by private-sector employers continue to be reported.
F. RULE OF LAW: 14 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally free from political interference. However, judicial independence was tested in September 2018, when opposition deputies tried to remove three Supreme Court justices for “abandonment of duties” after they granted parole to seven prisoners convicted of human rights violations committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. Although the Chamber of Deputies narrowly rejected the impeachment, the voting strained relations between the legislative and judicial branches, and numerous jurists accused the Chamber of Deputies of trying to curb judicial independence.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
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.
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. In May 2018, three Mapuche land-rights activists were convicted under antiterrorism laws of arson in connection with the deaths of two prominent landowners, and of them two received life sentences. Their case had been dismissed previously, in 2017, due to a lack of evidence, but that trial was later annulled.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 /4
While the government has developed mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuses, excessive force and human rights abuses committed by the carabineros (militarized police) still occur. In a high-profile scandal, in November 2018 carabineros personnel killed 24-year-old Camilo Catrillanca, grandson of a prominent Mapuche indigenous leader, in Araucanía Region. Initially, the carabineros claimed that the killing was part of a confrontation, but in December the Chilean media released videos that supported the description of a witness who claimed that Catrillanca had been shot in the back. Piñera consequently removed carabineros director Hermes Soto, and a number of other officials including some high ranking ones were removed or stepped down, as did the governor of Araucanía. Four agents involved face murder and other charges.
The slow and delayed repatriation of the ancestral land of the Mapuche indigenous group has been a cause of years of violent protests, and a number of arson attacks led by Mapuche activists took place in 2018. Targets included trucks and equipment belonging to logging operations.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4
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 September 2018, Congress approved a gender identity law allowing for gender identity to be changed on the civil registry, and the president signed it into law in November.
In 2018, massive protests against practices, specifically in the education system, that perpetuate gender inequality, abuses, and discrimination helped bring visibility to gender disparities in Chilean society. In response, in May the government announced a number of legal initiatives intended to reduce gender inequality.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 15 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
The constitution protects the freedom of movement, and the government respects this right in practice.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
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 territorial rights to land, ancestral waters, and natural resources.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
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, but gender violence remains. A total of 42 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were reported in 2018. Gender abuses and discrimination prompted massive feminist protests during the year.
In 2017, a law introduced by then-president Bachelet that decriminalized abortion in the events of rape, an inviable fetus, or danger to the life of the mother, took effect.
A 2015 law recognizes civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4
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.