Feature

Chile: The military still calls the shots

Chilean lawmakers are congratulating themselves for what they misconstrue as a victory for civilian rule.

Andrés Velasco
La Tercera

Chilean lawmakers are congratulating themselves for what they misconstrue as a victory for civilian rule, said Andrés Velasco. Last week, the National Congress voted unanimously to repeal the infamous “copper law,” which guaranteed the military 10 percent of the annual income from the nation’s copper mines. Instead, under a new law, Congress will set the military budget every four years. It sounds like a much more democratic arrangement with more civilian oversight, right? But look closer. Every other aspect of government is funded yearly, in the annual budget allocation. By making the defense budget untouchable for four years, the government is tying its own hands. “What happens if we have another massive earthquake” like that of 2010? To finance rescue and reconstruction, we wouldn’t be allowed to cut defense; “instead we’d see our education, health care, and pensions slashed.” Worse, the government doesn’t even have a free hand when it does vote on the budget—the new law guarantees that defense spending must be at least 70 percent of what it has been for the past six years, when copper prices were soaring and the military was rolling in cash. Cutting social spending while keeping the military flush “is exactly what Pinochet did.” That doesn’t sound like civilian oversight to me.  

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