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Chilean Exceptionalism: Development & Stability

January 11, 2012

Today we took a break from our normal classes at Universidad de los Andes in Santiago for a field trip to Valparaíso. (In case you’re a recent follower of my blog, this is what I’m doing.) We walked through a little market and then we went to el Congreso Nacional de Chile.

(National Congress building. Valparaíso, Chile.)

Unlike the US Congress and Capitol Hill, there’s only one building for the bicameral Congress of Chile. The National Congress building has two towers: one for the Senate (upper chamber), and one for the Chamber of Deputies (lower chamber).

You can learn a lot about a culture simply by observing the architecture. While geography is natural, architecture provides insight into the human element because it represents the image they want to project. Our tour guide helped me out with the interpretation of this one when he explained that it was designed this way to encourage familiarity and teamwork between the two chambers.

After taking a tour of the Senate, we went to the other tower to watch part of a Chamber of Deputies session on a law about firefighters. We then had a meeting with two diputados: Mónica Zalaquett and José Manuel Edwards.

After the two diputados spoke, Jon Perdue, our Program Director, provided some background for us. He told us that TFAS specifically chose Santiago as the location for the Institute for Leadership in the Americas for a very simple reason: over the past 20 years or so, Chile has led the region in terms of development and stability.

In responding to Jon’s comments, Mr. Edwards explained Chile’s success from his perspective, as an elected official and member of Congress. In general, Chile has made such remarkable achievements comes because of three sociopolitical trends:

  1. Strong Institutions. The Chilean government was designed to include its own system of checks and balances. While the Executive is the most powerful branch, all three branches of the Chilean government respect one another.
  2. Respect for Rule of Law. In Chile, the people and the government alike generally respect rule of law. Even Pinochet, military dictator from 1973-1990, respected the results of the election he lost in 1990.
  3. A High Level of Public Trust. Because of their solid track record since 1990, the government of Chile enjoys a high level of public trust. To a large extent, this respect seems to be mutual.

These three concepts are interconnected in that strong institutions and a general respect for Rule of Law create a sociopolitical atmosphere where the people can trust the government. If the people trust the government (even moderately) to do its job, it creates a sense of hope and confidence.

It seems to me that of these three, having a high level of public trust contributes most directly to development and stability. But without strong institutions and a general respect for Rule of Law, it’s very unlikely that there will be any measure of public trust.

The Chilean model provides a great example for the developing countries of Latin America. Unfortunately, governmental institutions don’t suddenly become strong over night, and it’s hard to cultivate a national culture based on respect for the Rule of Law in places where the nation’s leaders traditionally ignore it.

This is not to say that Chile is the only “exceptional” country in Latin America. Costa Rica and Brasil, for instance, also present sociopolitical atmospheres that could potentially serve as models for other developing nations, but as previously mentioned, its hard to import social situations along with political systems.

Those who are interested in the future of liberty and the reality of hope in the Americas should study all three of these models in the context of history and regional values.

 

[EDIT. Thanks to a chilena friend for correcting a bit of misinformation: While it’s true that Pinochet was defeated in a referendum–and then, remarkably, he respected the election results–the referendum actually took place in 1988. It was part of the initial agreement that if he lost, he would stay in power long enough to oversee the transition to democracy. This explains the delay between election loss (1988) and the end of the regime (1990).]

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2 Comments
  1. “Strong” level of public trust: “In OECD countries almost 60% of the interviewees expressed high level of interpersonal trust. In Chile, fewer than 15% of the interviewees expressed trust in others”

    Source: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/soc_glance-2011-en/08/01/index.html?contentType=&itemId=/content/chapter/soc_glance-2011-26-en&containerItemId=/content/serial/19991290&accessItemIds=/content/book/soc_glance-2011-en&mimeType=text/html

    Also, on the architecture: it’s a brutal, ugly building with a batallion of water cannons and tear-gas-launcher vehicles along one wall. It’s in Valparaiso, adding 2-3 hours to the round trip to meetings for 95% of Chileans. A word to the wise: don’t outsource your architecture analysis to tour guides.

  2. pjk permalink

    rule of law, right in the face:

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