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Level 2/3 Fall 1998
Tutor: Dr. Róbinson Rojas

The Chilean Experience 1974-1998
[The main achievements and shortcomings in the Chilean
 experience since 1974 until the late 1990s]

by Allan Hejslet (
   Exchange Student
   Aalborg University


One of the most heated international debates in the last months,
has been the on-going discussion of whether Chile's former
dictator, General Pinochet, can be tried at an international
court for his crimes against the Chilean people. This is not the
first time, however, the country has been the centre of
international attention.

International focus has been on Chile since 1973, where the same
Pinochet led a military coup against Chile's democratically
elected president, Salvador Allende. This was a violent coup that
would see significant changes to a country that had begun making
reforms towards a democratic socialist system. However, with the
military leaders this changed. Monetarist policies were
introduced, and privatisation and free market mechanisms were key
words describing the new system. With the harsh rule of the
country that made the transformation possible, this new system
came to be known as the Chilean experiment.

With this essay I will try to assess the possible consequences
of the new system. Political consequences based on a substantial
amount of literature on the subject, as well as empirical
analyses of economic and social consequences. I cannot expect to
cover every detail of Chile's political, economical and social
development in the last twenty-five years, but the most relevant
areas will be analysed. Based on this investigation I will try
to conclude on the main achievements and shortcomings of the
Chilean experience since 1974 until the late 1990s. 

Achievements and shortcomings

Having read a vast amount of literature about Pinochet and his
military regime, it is almost impossible to comprehend the
atrocities and horrors that were committed both in connection
with the coup itself, and in the years that followed. Yet
everything points in the same direction, and the transformation
from democratic socialism to that of a military regime was a very
violent one. Paul E. Sigmund writes that the number of people
killed after the coup has been estimated at between 1300 and
4000[1]. According to Amnesty international and the United Nations'
Human Rights Committee, 250,000 Chileans had been detained for
political reason by the end of 1973[2]. Orlando Letelier, former
Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, describes the political
repression, torture and killings that went on with the new system
indicating that these were not just going to be short-term
incidents. 'The killing of thousands, the establishment of
concentration camps all over the country, the jailing of more
than 100,000 persons in these years, the closing of trade unions
and neighbourhood organisations, and the prohibition of all
political activities and all forms of free expression'[3]. Letelier
was later assassinated, and in 1993 the former chief of the
Chilean secret police was found guilty of ordering the murder[4].

This gives a very good indication of the lack of political
tolerance reinforced by the military regime, and statements by
several authors underline this. In the words of James Street, 'it
is estimated that the Pinochet government expelled 18,000 people
at all levels from the universities, including 20 to 35 percent
of the teaching faculties. The government barred thousands of
students from classes, abruptly terminated their careers, and
threw many into prison, where they were tortured, or simply
eliminated'[5]. Sheahan takes this further, 'sweeping aside legal
protections of the individual against violence by the state (..)
the freest of free markets was purchased with the most severe
repression'[6]. All this leads to the political costs of
transforming a functioning democratic system into a repressive
and supreme dictatorship. It is obvious that the possibility of
a new system like this could only be implemented by the brutal
force of a strong police and army. Chile had a long tradition of
elections, so the military junta could not expect to impose a
totally different system without public protests. This is also
reflected in the military spending of the new regime, as compared
to the spending on health and education. The two latter I will
deal with in relation to the assessment of possible social gains
and losses.

TABLE 1) Chile: Selected public payroll expenditures as share of
                total government wage bill, selected years (percentages)

                          1970        1975        1980        1983
Health                     8.9         6.4         7.7         7.9
Education                 13.9        12.1        12.8        11.9
Defence                   10.2        13.6        15.6        16.0

As stated earlier, the military regime did not allow any
opposition to their rule, and with the total transformation of
the system into a monetarist one, they thus had the military
power to suppress the inevitable resistance from both
politicians, students as well as the common Chilean. Moreover
they tried to minimise any future opposition by political
indoctrination. James Street puts it this way, 'determined to
eradicate all remnants of the previous Christian Democratic as
well as Marxist political movements, the Pinochet government took
direct control of the entire educational system, from
kindergarten to university and revised all courses with heavy
emphasis on patriotic dogma. It virtually eliminated the social
sciences (..) the government replaced electors in all the
universities with "rectores delegados" selected for their
military background'[8].
These were then the political consequences of the rule under the
military regime; the outlawing of political parties, the
repression of students as well as the torturing and killings of
all whom opposed the regime. Consequences that I will conclude
to be political shortcomings of the Chilean experience of the
first years. However, there was a development towards the more
democratic political system of today. I will look at the economic
and social consequences more thoroughly later, but for now just
state that it was the widespread unemployment of nearly a third
of the work force in 1983 that fuelled the political protests
that would eventually topple the Chilean dictatorship. But this
development was also influenced by external factors. 'Partly
because of a fear that the protests would lead to a
Nicaragua-style polarisation that might be dominated by the
Communists, the United States began to press the Pinochet
government for an orderly transition to civilian rule'[9]. It is
ironic that according to several authors, notably Sheahan and
Rojas, the United States had also played a significant covert
role that initially had brought Pinochet to power in 1973[10]. But
this is closely related to the United States' influence in the
Latin American region both as an economic and political hegemon.
It is not a new phenomenon that the US led a very active foreign
policy under the Cold War to contain possible development towards
Communism and left wing politics in general. In the beginning of
the post-Cold War system other economic factors may have become
more important for the US foreign policy in the region.
In regards to political consequences of the Chilean experience
since 1974 I conclude that the experience has mainly been
negative. Pinochet introduced a severely brutal police state, as
the recent description of him in the Economist also suggest. 'He
is a former dictator with innocent blood on his hands (..) Even
if Mr. Pinochet really was fighting a civil war, as he claimed,
the four Geneva Conventions make it illegal in an internal
conflict for a government to murder or torture anyone not taking
active part in hostilities, who has laid down their arms or is
sick, wounded or in detention. Moreover, once he had gained
control of the country, the murder, torture and imprisonment over
which the general presided clearly violated the Nuremberg charter
and the UN Convention against torture[11].

Transition towards democratic elections like the ones before 1973
has only been a relatively recent achievement, and the overall
picture of the political consequences since the military coup is
dominated by horrible and tragic images of the torturing and
deaths of innocent victims.

Moving on to examine the economic consequences of the new system
is a rather complex matter. Broadly speaking one extreme system
was replaced by the other, 'monetarism (..) as a development
strategy aims to lay the base for a more successful and pure
model of capitalist development through radically changing
prevailing economic structures in the societies where the new
strategy is implemented'[12]. In relation to this it is the notion
that the free market is better at developing the industrial
output and the private market as a whole, and that a
protectionist system in comparison is inefficient. With the
monetarist system in Chile, the public sector was to a large
extent privatised. To give an idea of the magnitude of the
transformation, more than 500 commercial firms and banks were
controlled by the state in 1972-73, as compared to 25 firms in
1980[13]. The idea was that opening the domestic economy to
international competition of the free market would increase its
competitiveness. This would be accomplished through a floating
exchange rate and tariff reductions,- leaving Chile's further
development in the hands of the private sector. This sector would
accelerate economic activity and growth, starting a
chain-reaction for the benefit of the entire population.
Analysing empirical data from the years of the transformation in
1974 until the mid 1990s should provide the information of an
assessment of to what degree this development and growth has
taken place. I will specifically be looking at the growth rate,
the sectoral development of the GDP, unemployment and inflation.
Thereafter I will analyse the social gains and losses with an
assessment of the development of the real wages, poverty and
inequality in spite of growth.  

TABLE 2) Annual Rate of Growth.
1974      0.97
1975   - 12.95
1976      3.54
1977      9.88
1978      8.16
1979      8.31
1980      7.79
1981      5.53
1982   - 14.12
1983    - 0.66
1984      6.33
1985      2.46


Table two is characterised by a very unstable rate of growth. The
initial years of the new system did not produce growth, and the
following years had an impressive rate of growth snapped by
another crisis in the beginning of the eighties. The overall
picture is thus not very impressive, and what was described as
'the Chilean miracle' turned out to be a premature assessment.

The growth in the 'miracle years' was fuelled by money borrowed
in the banks by the private sector to finance a consumer boom
rather than actual investment in production. In 1973 - 1982
Chile's foreign debt increased 4.7 times, the total public sector
debt increased 2.1 times, whereas the private sector foreign debt
increased 24.8 times (Coughlan 1992, 7). Sheahan (1987) among
others deals with this more thoroughly than is the purpose of
this essay. He also explains the importance of  external factors
such as the dynamics of world growth had, and still has, on the
Chilean economy. 'These downswings were much more extreme than
in the rest of Latin America, or the rest of the world. The
world-wide recession of 1981-83 brought GDP for Latin America
down by 4 percent between these two years,- for Chile the drop
was 15 percent'[15]. Rojas takes this point further by emphasising
that 'the more open an economy is to outside influence from the
world economy, the more it will benefit in times of world
economic growth and the more it will suffer in times of world
recession'[16]. Simple as it may be this statement highlights the
instability shown by table two, and the overall picture of
Chilean growth in the first period exposes a relatively slow rate
of growth. The annual average between 1974 - 1989 was 3.2
percent, this was lower than Brazil and Colombia that both had
average rates of 3.9 percent[17]. The overall Chilean growth rate
in this period was thus acceptable rather than being a 'miracle'.

TABLE 3) Total gross domestic product

       1978-1981 1982-1984 1985-1990 1991-1994  1997   1998   
Chile    7.2      - 3.4      5.6       6.8       7.1    5.4* 
SOURCES: ECLAC, Human Rights in Chile & The Economist November
14-20 1998 forecast*

Table three shows that growth from 1985 - 1997 appears to be more
stable, but with the current economic instability throughout the
world in mind, these dynamics may once more have a negative
effect on the current growth as the 1998 forecast suggests. But
even with this last trend of what may be the sign of a slowing
growth, it must be stated that the Chilean growth from the mid
eighties has been significant. However, there are other factors
within the development that should also be assessed, before it
can be concluded whether the Chilean growth really has been
impressive and appears sustainable.   

TABLE 4) Sectoral breakdown of GDP

                1970          1980           1990          1995
Manufacturing   23.2          19.6           17.5          16.7
Mining           9.3          17.9           18.9          17.8
Services        49.3          54.8           54.6          57.4
Agriculture      8.2           7.7            9.0           8.1

SOURCE: World Development Indicators, 1997[18]

The table four breakdown of the GDP shows a picture of the
economy that is much less encouraging than what the initial
growth results suggest. The important manufacturing area has
decreased significantly from 1970, agriculture has maintained its
level and mining has substantially increased its level. This
points to the fact that the industry is not developing in
sustainable ways. Compared to the general situation in Latin

   Trends in GDP by sector for Latin America and the Caribbean
                  1973-1980      1980-1990          1990-1994
 Agriculture         3.5            2.3                2.2

           SOURCE: United Nations 1996

This indicates that Chile's growth as compared to the Latin
American trend is not developing the industrial sector. Chile's
growth seems more oriented at pursuing profits that to some
extent is at the expense of non-renewable natural resources. 

Rojas states that 'primary goods, including copper, fruit, wine,
forest and fish products, represent 85 per cent of exports. Only
about 10 per cent of Chile's exports are manufactures, mainly
processed from natural resources'[19]. This development is further
underlined by Cathy Schneider, 'rapid growth of raw-material
exports in such areas as fruit, seafood and lumber has coincided
with the collapse of large industry in sectors such as textiles
and construction'[20]. These statements do not indicate the same
level of optimism that the impressive growth rates seem to imply.
Street argues that dualism is evident in Chile. This is the
notion that a modern, urban large-scale manufacturing sector is
expanding alongside slow growth in the rest of the economy[21].
Everything thus points in the direction that economic growth in
Chile is not developing the industry and the domestic sector, but
is more oriented at a profitable export of products that are
mainly based on natural resources. Foreign investment in Chile
shows the same tendencies; investment in the profitable primary
sector has increased eleven percent from 1980 - 1995, whereas
foreign direct investment in the secondary sector has been cut
in half in the same span of time. The sustainability of this
development is thus questionable, and furthermore it leaves the
economy vulnerable to the changing prices of primary products
such as copper. 

A final point to consider about this economic development has to
do with the ecological consequences of an export that is founded
on natural resources. 'Because it has averaged 6 percent growth
over the last 12 years, Chile is being presented to Latin America
and the rest of the world (..) as the current poster child
example of export-led growth (..) It is an image without reality,
behind the facade our reality is one of poverty, human suffering,
systematic environmental destruction, and authoritarianism'[22].
The ecological perspective is certainly worth to take into
consideration, but with the purpose of this essay in mind, I will
move on to look at the inflation before the final assessment of
the social perspective. 

TABLE 5) Inflation rates

1974         369 (Coleccion Estudios Cieplan) 
1975         343
1976         198
1977          84
1978          37
1979          39
1980          31
1981          10
1982          21
1983          23
1984          23

1985-90       17.6 (ECLAC)
1991-94       17.8

1997           6.0 (Human Rights in Chile)

SOURCES: Coleccion Estudios Cieplan, ECLAC & Human rights in Chile

Table five shows what definitely must be characterised as a major
achievement of the Chilean experience. Where political and other
economic indicators have showed a more blurred picture, the
inflation is one area of success. What really puts it into
perspective is the fact that 'in the 1950s and 1960s Chile had,
on average, the highest inflation rate in the world'[23]. Being
incompatible with the basic monetarist principles as well as
investment optimism, inflation was one of the main obstacles that
faced the free market system after the coup. Sheahan states that
goals of the government included the restoration of a free market
system, the elimination of inflation and the restoration of
external equilibrium in a more open economy[24]. As table five
suggests, inflation was relatively quickly brought down to low
levels, and has not been a problem in many years. Government
strategy to reduce the public sector etc. also erased the problem
of the balance of payments, and the 1997 result was US$ 3.2
billion[25]. However, new problems emerged to take the places of
inflation and payment balances - with unemployment being a major
economic and social factor.

TABLE 6) Unemployment rates

1974          9.2 
1975         13.5
1976         15.9
1977         14.2
1978         14.2
1979         13.8
1980         11.9
1981         10.9
1982         20.4
1983         18.6
1984         19.3
1985         16.3
1986         13.9
1987         12.8
1988         11.8
1989         10.0

1992          5.0 (CEPAL)

1994          6.3 (ECLAC)
1996          5.6


To really comprehend the shortcomings of the new system in this
area, it is necessary to go back two years further. In 1972 the
unemployment rate was as low as 3.1 percent[26], and as table six
indicates the new system had a dramatic impact on this number.
Reduction of the public sector combined with a general slow
growth was largely to blame, but again it should be taken into
consideration that the dynamics of the world economy also played
a role (e.g. the oil crisis, falling copper prices etc.). The
trend with increasing unemployment was not reversed until after
the 1982 crisis, and even then the progress towards the
unemployment rates of the 90s only came about very slowly. Today
the unemployment rate has improved very considerably since the
mid 70s and 80s, but this does not change the fact that
unemployment overall has been a major shortcoming of the Chilean
experience since 1974 until the beginning of the 90s. Another
aspect of this is that unemployment has decreased, but the
quality of the new jobs has been poor and the workers are not
sufficiently organised to press for improvements. Schneider thus
states that 'the number of unionised workers, as a percentage of
the overall labour force, has fallen from 41% in 1972 to fewer
than 13% today (..) Irregular hours, unstable employment, and low
caloric intake have increased levels of physical and mental
exhaustion. The number of serious injuries in the workplace
tripled between 1980 and 1990[27]. To examine the further social
perspectives it is necessary to assess the development of the
real wages.  

TABLE 7) Real wages

Two estimates of Real Wages in Chile, 1970-1984 (1970 = 100)[28]
YEAR        Average real wage         Real wage based          
            in indutry using          on corrected
            official price            estimate of              
            as deflator               consumer prices    

1974           69                        65
1975           62                        63
1976           70                        65
1977           80                        71
1978           90                        76
1979           99                        82
1980          111                        89
1981                                     97
1982                                     98
1983                                     87
1984                                     87


TABLE 8) Real wages 

Average real wages in Chile (1980 = 100)

1984          97.2
1986          95.1
1988          101.0
1990          104.8
1992          114.9


As table seven clearly shows, there was a sharp cut in real wages
following the coup. According to the official price index the
real wages had regained their 1970 level in 1979, but a more
precise evaluation based on consumer prices indicate that this
does barely happen in 1981-82. Following the second economic
crisis the real wages again lost value, and the conclusion to
this is the simple fact that the real wages development did not
cohere well with the actual growth. According to table 8 it is
not until 1988 that the real wages match the level in 1980,
however, the most recent years show a slight increase in real
wages. This does again not change the fact that the first fifteen
years of the new system must be characterised as a failure for
the average Chilean. Those who were fortunate to have a job had
to exist on lower real wages, not to mention deteriorating
working conditions etc.,- but as earlier concluded many others
did not have a job. 'While consumption increased for the middle
class as for the rich, it did not do so for those at the bottom
of the income scale. Comparing 1978 to 1969, consumption in real
terms by the poorest 20 percent of families fell 31 percent'[30].
What this leads to is the unequal distribution of growth that as
table nine will show still characterise the system today.    

TABLE 9) Income distribution

               1969          1978          1989           1994
Poorest 20%    7.7            5.2           3.7            3.5
Next 20%      12.1            9.3           6.8            6.6 
Next 20%      16.1           13.6          10.3           10.9
Next 20%      21.0           21.0          16.2           18.1
Richest 20%   43.2           51.0          62.9           61.0

SOURCE: World Bank[31]

With the recent improvements that I recorded in regards to
unemployment and real wages, the unequal distribution of income
is an area that still does not show any sign of change. Chile has
a very high degree of inequality that remains at practically the
same level as at the beginning of the decade. Letelier states
that a system of inequality was being implemented on a society
where the social cleavages already existed. 'They [Friedman and
the Chicago School] propose a total free market policy in a
framework of extreme inequality among the economic agents
involved: inequality between monopolistic and small and medium
entrepreneurs; inequality between the owners of capital and those
who own only their capacity to work, etc.'[32]. According to table
nine the most recent development saw an increase for the upper
middle classes, but for the lowest forty percent of the
population the prospects are not good. For the last twenty-five
years their share of the income distribution has consistently
declined, and this could indicate that Pinochet's suppressive
policy has been a success. By initially discouraging any
opposition to the rule by the violent means that I have covered,
it is possible that the people became so disorganised that
protests against this unequal system did not have an impact. The
unequal development and Pinochet as its leader was allowed to
continue, until the social costs such as unemployment became too
harsh to tolerate and protests eventually broke out in the early
eighties. Today democratic elections have replaced the
dictatorship, but as this empirical data suggests; Pinochet may
be gone, but the unequal development continues.

As a final area of significance I will look at the development
of poverty in Chile.

TABLE 10) Poverty
                     1969          1979          1989
Poverty               28.5%         36.0%         42.0%
Destitute population   8%                         12%

SOURCE: Human Development Report[33]

TABLE 11) Poverty
                1987          1990          1992          1994
Poverty          39%           33%           28%           24%
SOURCE: United Nations

'Chile from 1973 became an example of what can happen when a
government implements the message, without being forced by an
open political system to compromise with the people who are hurt
in the process'[34]. As Sheahan suggests the transformation of
Chilean system had a very negative effect on the poorest part of
the society. Table ten indicates that both poverty and the
destitute population increased in the twenty years from 1969 -
1989. This was yet another social cost of the militant monetarist
system that seemed to give inflation higher priority than
poverty. Letelier describes the poverty conditions to be
'..reflected most dramatically by substantial increases in
malnutrition, infant mortality and the appearance of thousands
of beggars on the streets of Chilean cities. Families receiving
the minimum wage cannot purchase more than 1000 calories and 15
grams of protein per person per day (..) Infant mortality reduced
significantly during the Allende years, jumped a dramatic 18
percent during the first year of the government'[35].

There can be no doubt that social costs such as increased poverty
have been major shortcomings of the Chilean experience since
1974. However, there seems to be some reason for optimism about
improving conditions. 'The Aylwin government (..) has increased
social spending from 58% of total national budget in 1988 to 65%
in 1995 (combined total for education, health, housing and social
security spending)'36. The development between 1987 - 1994 show
significant results of this new policy, and even though poverty
still remains a major problem, the recent development is reducing
the least fortunate part of the Chilean population. Moreover have
poverty indicators such as life expectancy and under-five
mortality improved since Letelier stated the initial effects of
the new system.

Life expectancy at birth (years)
1980 1990
 69   72

Under-five mortality rate (per 1000 live births)
1980 1990
 103   83

SOURCE: World Bank[37]

With the overall social consequences of the Chilean experience
as being depressing shortcomings, these recent results and
increased social spending at least gives some hope for the


I conclude that the overall Chilean experience from 1974 until
the late 1990s has been dominated by shortcomings rather than
achievements, with the reservation that there have been some
improvements under the new democratic government during recent

Growth under the monetarist system was overall acceptable,
however, I also conclude that it was unstable and influenced by
the dynamics of world economy making it a dependent economy, and
particularly vulnerable in times of world recession. Recent years
have shown a more impressive growth rate, and could as such be
considered an economic achievement of the 90s. But I also
conclude that this growth does not appear to be sustainable,
since it to a large extent is based on natural resources and
furthermore does not develop the domestic economy to a
satisfactionary degree. In this way I conclude the growth
development to be an achievement for the typical foreign
capitalist that has invested money in Chile's export sector, but
a shortcoming for the Chilean who wants a developing Chilean
manufacturing industry. A shortcoming for the Chileans that want
the country to develop for the benefit of the population as a

I matter-of-factly conclude the inflation and the balance of
payments to be areas of definite success. But I also
matter-of-factly conclude that unemployment, the development of
real wages, the distribution of income and the increasing poverty
have been overall shortcomings of the Chilean experience,
exposing the social failure of the militant monetarist system.
Moreover I conclude that it was the brutal political repression,
indoctrination and violence that made these inequalities possible
until the late eighties. 

As my final conclusion I claim that the recent development does
give some hope for a better future. Recent development during the
90s has seen improvements in social areas such as unemployment,
real wages and poverty indicators. Other areas such as the
distribution of income does not, however, show any signs of
change, and the Chilean society remains extremely polarised. But
a very important achievement of recent years has been the
restoration of political democracy in Chile, making political
changes possible that were impossible from September 1973 - 1989.
The restored democracy encourages hope for social improvements,
and hope for the future - a hope that for the majority of the
population seemed very vague under the black years of Pinochet
and his military regime.    


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The Economist, October 24th - 30th  & November 14th - 20th, 1998 

Edwards, Sebastian & Edwards, Alejandra Cox
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Edwards, Sebastian
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1 Wiarda & Kline 1990, 212
2 Human Rights in Chile. Then and Now
3 Letelier 1976, 9
4 Rojas in Letelier 1976, 1
5 Dietz 1995, 34
6 Sheahan 1987, 221
7 Williamson 1990, 78
8 Dietz 1995, 34
9 Wiarda & Kline 1990, 218-219
10 Sheahan 1987, Rojas; The role of US imperialism in Latin America 
11 The Economist October 24th - 30th  1998
12 Coughlan 1992, 1
13 Williamson 1990, 55 
14 Coughlan 1992, 22 
15 Sheahan 1987, 231
16 Rojas: 15 years of monetarism
17 Coughlan 1992, 15
18 Rojas, 15 years of monetarism in L.A.
19 Rojas, 15 years of monetarism in L.A.
20 Schneider, Chile. The underside of the miracle
21 Dietz 1995, 47
22 Larrain 1996, 1
23 Duran 1985, 100
24 Sheahan 1987, 221
25 Human Rights in Chile. Then and now
26 Coughlan 1992, 6
27 Schneider, Chile. The underside of the miracle 
28 Sheahan 1987, 230
29 Edwards 1995, 263
30 Sheahan 1987, 228
31 Rojas, 15 years of monetarism, 3
32 Letelier 1976, 3
33 Rojas, 15 years of monetarism, 4
34 Sheahan 1987, 222
35 Letelier 1976, 8
36 Human Rights in Chile. Then and now
37 Edwards 1995, 265