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Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp.

375395, 2002

Searching for Civilian Supremacy:

The Concertacion Governments
and the Military in Chile
Leiden University, The Netherlands

This article explores the nature and evolution of government-military

relations in Chile since democratic restoration in 1990. Its highlights
both the attempts by the Concertacion governments to reinstate
civilian control on the armed forces, as well as the mechanisms used by
the military establishment to resist it. Special attention is given to two
particular actors of the Chilean democratic transition who have played
a critical role in the evolution of government-military relations in the
post-authoritarian period: the civilian Right and the Judiciary. As this
article aims to show, the strength of the Chilean right has constantly
represented a formidable barrier for the Concertacion governments in
attempts to introduce the legal reforms required to re-establish civilian
supremacy over the military. Furthermore, legal decisions adopted by
the Chilean judiciary on human rights-related cases have also played a
crucial role in the evolution of government-military relations during
the past decade.

Keywords: civil-military relations; democratic transition; civilian

control; military contestation


Since the restoration of democratic rule in 1990 government-military relations

have represented one of the most sensitive and complicated facets of Chile's
democratic transition.1 Crucial issues of the transition, such as the human rights
abuses committed under the military regime, the fate of General Augusto
Pinochet, and the persistence of authoritarian enclaves in the country's legal and
institutional framework, have put the relations between the Concertacion
governments and the armed forces under severe tension.

1 I want to thank Jonathan Barton, Warwick Murray and the anonymous referees for
their useful comments on an earlier version of this essay.
2002 Society for Latin American Studies. Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. 375
Patricio Silva

This article assesses the main challenges and obstacles the Chilean
Concertacion governments have had to face since 1990 in their attempts to
subordinate the armed forces to civilian rule. These governments have
encountered formidable political, legal and institutional problems which have
shaped a far from promissory environment for the redesigning of government-
military relations according to the new democratic reality.
Chilean democracy has inherited from the former authoritarian regime a
political constitution and a large body of laws that were explicitly intended to
guarantee a tutelary role for the armed forces in the country's future. These
arrangments include, among other things, the 1978 Amnesty law for the military,
the inability of the President to substitute the chiefs of the armed forces, and the
existence of a National Security Council that includes military representatives
intended to `supervise' government performance. These and other legal and
constitutional constructs have generated veritable `authoritarian enclaves' within
the Chilean democratic system.
Another characteristic of the Chilean transition has been the fact that civil-
military relations have been constantly influenced by a single military figure who
became the personification of the former regime; General Augusto Pinochet.
Particularly since his detention in October 1998, and following his return to Chile
in March 2000, the so-called `Pinochet factor' has increased government-military
The fact that many of the legal instruments left by the Pinochet government
are still in place is mainly due to the persistent opposition by right-wing
representatives in parliament to the proposals for legal amendments presented by
the Concertacion. Indeed, since 1990 governments have had to conduct their
relations with the armed forces in a political environment in which the military
has enjoyed firm support from a significant proportion of the population.
Another important factor in government-military relations since 1990 has been
the judicial resolutions adopted by the Chilean courts in relation the human rights
abuses committed in the recent past by the military regime and, particularly, those
directly related to the person of General Pinochet. As this article shows, almost all
the critical moments experienced in government-military relations since 1990 have
been directly preceded by judicial decisions affecting the interests of General
Pinochet or military institutions at large. The courts of justice have constituted an
unpredictable variable as both the timing and the direction of their final verdicts
have often surprised all the parties involved.
In short, since democratic restoration in 1990 civil-military relations in Chile
have not been exclusively circumscribed to the government and the armed forces
alone. The considerable strength of the Right and conservative sectors in Chile
(and hence their power in parliament) constitutes in my opinion a critical factor
for understanding the democratic governments' inability to regain full civilian
control. At the same time, court resolutions have forced the Concertacion
governments to find ways to dissipate the resultant tensions.
This article has two main goals. Firstly, to analyse the different strategies
followed since 1990 by the three Concertacion governments in dealing with the

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armed forces. Its second objective is to show to what extent human rights issues,
rightwing political sectors, and the judiciary system have influenced the nature
and evolution of government-military relations during this period. For this
purpose, the article starts with a brief theoretical section in order to identify a
series of possible strategies democratic governments can follow in their attempts
to regain civilian control over the military. After this, I pay attention to the main
legal obstacles left by the former military regime in an attempt to impede a full
reestablishment of civilian control. The subsequent three sections focus on the
main features characterising the strategies towards the military followed by
Presidents Aylwin, Frei, and Lagos respectively.

Military contestation, prerogatives, and civilian control

As Stepan (1988) points out, attempts by new democratic authorities to regain

civilian control over military institutions can be frustrated by intense disputes
between the military and the incoming government. He mentions three areas of
potential conflict: the way the new government deals with the legacy of human
rights violations committed by the former military regime; the government's
initiatives related to the organisational mission, structure and control of the
military; and the government's treatment of matters related to the military budget
(1988: 689). Further, Stepan identifies military prerogatives as potentially
conflictive. As he indicates, military institutional prerogatives `refer to those
areas where, whether challenged or not, the military as an institution assumes
they have an acquired right or privilege, formal or informal, to exercise effective
control over its internal governance, to play a role within extramilitary areas
within the state apparatus, or even to structure relationships between the state
and political or civil society' (1988: 93). As we shall see later, the Concertacion
governments' attempts to introduce radical changes in all three areas mentioned
by Stepan have largely failed.
On the issue of the strategies followed by democratic governments in order to
regain civilian control, Fuentes (2000: 11920) identifies three general types:
division of spheres; non co-operation; and engagement. These strategies are
mainly related to the question of how much the democratic authorities include or
exclude the armed forces from decision-making processes. Historically, a strategy
based on the principle of `division of spheres' has been the result of a tacit
agreement between parties on the role each has to fulfil. While civilian authorities
regard it as inappropriate to openly intervene in matters considered to be part of
the military domain, military officers restrain their involvement in civilian
political and institutional matters. As Fuentes points out, between 1932 and 1973,
Chile appeared to follow this pattern. A non co-operative strategy is based on
excluding the military from decision-making processes related to defence policies
and civil-military relations. In this way, the strategy assumes that subordination
implies complete military obedience to civilian policies. In contrast, a strategy of
engagement attempts to incorporate the military. The basic tenet of this strategy

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is that the best way to obtain the military's subordination is by cooperation with
strong civilian leadership in strategic matters. In this strategy the government
consciously attempts to increase levels of expertise among civilian officials on
strategic issues and defence policies. As shown later in this essay, since 1990 the
three democratic governments have followed different and in some cases mixed
Before dealing with the military policy followed by the Concertacion govern-
ments, the following section briefly assesses the main legal and institutional
constrains left by the military government in order to ensure a tutelary role in the
new Chilean democracy.

Crafting the military's political guardianship

The defeat of the Pinochet government at the 1988 referendum marked the
introduction of a series of laws to reduce the space for action available to future
democratic governments. In 1989, the military negotiated a series of important
constitutional reforms with the opposition. Although these reforms eliminated
some important authoritarian components of the 1980 constitution, many non-
democratic elements remained. The `authoritarian enclaves' left by the Pinochet
government were constructed to ensure military prerogatives in the fields of
political autonomy, institutional involvement, and professional and doctrinal
The most patent example of military political autonomy which still remains is
the fact that the president is not entitled to remove the commander in chief of the
armed forces and heads of services at his discretion (The 1980 Constitution
allows the commanders in chief to maintain their position for a period of four
years). Only if the National Security Council (in which the armed forces control
half of the seats) supports the president in this endeavour, can the commander in
chief be removed. In addition, the president is not allowed to promote or remove
officers of the armed forces without the approval of the commander in chief
(Ensalaco, 1994: 422). The military's political autonomy is also guaranteed by
the existence of a protected mechanism for the establishment of the military
budget. Constitutional law established a minimum budget which, adjusted for
inflation, cannot fall below the budget of 1989. In addition, the armed forces
obtain 10 per cent of the annual earnings from copper exports by the National
Copper Corporation (CODELCO), to be used exclusively for military
In 1978 the armed forces passed an amnesty law to protect themselves from
possible prosecutions for human rights abuses committed in the period 1973

2 These prerogatives were established by the 1980 Constitution, and in the Organic Law
of the armed forces, adopted in 1989, only a few months before elected President
Patricio Aylwin was installed.

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1978, when most of the crimes and disappearances took place.3 As shown later,
the existence of this amnesty law has become a formidable obstacle to bringing
those responsible to justice.
The 1980 Constitution consecrates the institutional involvement of the armed
forces in matters that, previous to the coup, were reserved for the executive and
legislative powers. The document gave the armed forces an open-ended mandate
as `guarantors of the institutional order'4 and created a National Security Council
(NSC). The latter body was originally charged with the task of acting on any
issue that `in its judgement gravely threatens the institutional order or
compromises national security'. Following Pinochet's unexpected defeat at the
1988 referendum the military government negotiated a reformed role for the
NSC. It integrated another civilian member5 and broadened its mission to
`advising' the president, Congress, and the Constitutional Tribunal on issues
related to national security (Loveman, 1991).
A second major incursion of the armed forces in the political/institutional
domain was the creation by the 1980 Constitution of nine non-elected senators
(the so-called senadores designados), selected by the outgoing Pinochet
government at the eve of the democratic restoration. According to the
constitution, the president is permitted to appoint two senators (a former
university rector and a former government minister), while the Supreme Court is
allowed to select three senators (including two former Supreme Court members
and a former Comptroller General). Finally, each of the three branches of the
armed forces and the national police can appoint a former commander of their
institution as a senator. In addition, ex-presidents of the Republic (starting with
Pinochet) become `senators for life' (senadores vitalicios). This provision
permitted Pinochet to obtain a senatorial seat when his position of armed forces
commander in chief expired in March 1998, thereby bestowing parliamentary
immunity upon him.6 Following the restoration of democratic rule, the
institution of non-elected senators tipped the balance of power in the Senate in

3 The so-called `Letelier case' was excluded from this amnesty law, as a result of strong
US pressure on the Chilean military government. Orlando Letelier, former minister of
foreign affairs under the Allende government, was killed by a remote control car-
bomb in Washington D.C. by Chilean intelligence agents.
4 Article 90 of the 1980 Constitution states that `The armed forces . . . exist solely for the
defence of the homeland, are essential for national security, and guarantee the
institutional order of the Republic', quoted in Rojas (2001: 157).
5 In the original design, the armed forces possessed a majority of votes in the NSC, as it
was formed by three civilians (the president, the president of the senate, and the
president of the Supreme Court), and four representatives of the armed institutions
(the chiefs of the army, air force, navy, and Carabineros, Chile's militarised police
force). By including the Comptroller General (controlador general de la Republica) in
the NSC, a balance between civilians and military was achieved.
6 His successor, Patricio Aylwin, was later not allowed to make use of the same right, as
the same Constitution established that only those presidents who have governed the
country for six consecutive years, were entitled to become senators for life (Aylwin
had served for only four years as the Constitution stipulated in the case of the
transitional president).

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favour of the rightwing opposition, effectively impeding constitutional reforms

and modifications of organic laws.
Finally, the armed forces also procured a professional and doctrinal
autonomy, through the organic law of 1989 which prevents civilian involvement
in military training programmes, changes in logistical structures and military
acquisition policies.

The Aylwin government: enhancing presidential authority

Already during the presidential campaign in 1989, the Concertacion coalition led
by Patricio Aylwin had pinpointed the elimination of the military's political
prerogatives as one of its main objectives. The Concertacion programme called
for restoration of traditional civilian authority over the armed forces, the
derogation of the 1978 amnesty law, and the investigation of human rights
abuses. In a section on civil-military relations, the Concertacion programme
stated: `integration of the Armed Forces into the democratic constitutional order
must assure their professional, hierarchical, disciplined, obedient character,
subordinated to political authority' (quoted in Loveman, 1991: 53).
Following his installation in March 1990, Aylwin placed the democratisation
of Chile's political and legal structures, together with the aim of national
reconciliation, at the top of his agenda. However, the strong representation
obtained by rightwing parties at the Parliament7 made clear from the very
beginning that the government would meet a formidable resistance from the
legislative power over any attempt to eliminate `authoritarian enclaves'.8 In
addition, the Aylwin government also had to face the strong figure of General
Pinochet who remained as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Ostensibly,
Pinochet stated that his decision to stay at the top was to guarantee the honour
and institutional integrity of the military. Arguably, he sought to prevent the legal
prosecution of former or active military personnel for human rights abuses.9
Despite the evident lack of sufficient legal and political means to force the
subordination of the military, Aylwin showed his firm determination to make use

7 This was partly the result of the significant support for Pinochet and rightwing parties
existing among the population. However, the Right's parliamentary representation
became even stronger due to the binominal electoral system introduced by Pinochet
(which clearly favours the rightwing parties) and the appointment of the nine
constitutional senators by Pinochet.
8 A long list of reform proposals were finally rejected at the parliament. These (date of
rejection between brackets) included proposals to bring Carabineros under the
interior ministry (Jan. 1992); modifications in the National Security Council and
authority for the President to fire armed services chief (June 1992); and reforms in
military justice system (reforms were never treated by the congressional committee).
See Loveman (2001: 33031).
9 Shortly before the December 1989 general elections, Pinochet had warned the
democratic opposition in plain terms: `the day they touch any of my men will be the
end of the rule of law' (quoted in Fitch, 1998: 156).

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of presidential power to enhance civilian control. Fitch (1998) stresses the

symbolic use of presidential authority used by Aylwin. As he points out,
`symbolically reaffirming his commitment to democratic civil-military relations,
President Aylwin appointed a civilian minister of defence, despite the restrictions
on his ability to exercise real policy control of the armed forces. The government
refused to schedule regular meetings of the National Security Council and
declined to consult with the military commanders except on matters within their
professional sphere of competence' (1998: 156).10 Similarly, the military
responded with special gestures to demonstrate their institutional autonomy.
Fuentes mentions a series of incidents in which this symbolic `war of positions'
between the President and the army was expressed.11 Pinochet systematically
avoided the civilian minister of defence in talks concerning civil-military affairs.12
Further, he did not attend the annual presidential speech before the Senate or any
other official act that might imply subordination to civilian rule or adherence to
protocol (Fuentes, 2000: 1212).
The question of the military budget also generated tensions during the Aylwin
government. The military's preference for a fixed amount of money (instead of a
percentage of the GNP) as mentioned previously, arose given their inability to
predict economic performance. At the time, many feared an economic decline as
a result of the possible emergence of serious social and political conflicts
following democratic restoration. However, during the democratic period
inflation gradually decreased while economic growth was considerable. The
Aylwin government treated the military budget in practice as a maximum figure.
As the economy rapidly expanded, the share of the defence budget in the total
national budget decreased from 17.2 percent in 1989 to 8.9 percent in 1997
(representing 2.96 and 1.56 percent of the GDP, respectively). In contrast, social
expenditure increased in the same period from 64.7 to 67.1 percent of the national

10 On 28 May 1990 Aylwin held an important meeting with Pinochet in which the
president reminded the commander in chief that it was not the army's business to
question political decisions made by the president or to evade institutional protocol.
Recounting that meeting a year later, Aylwin stated: `when I took power, General
Pinochet told me, I depend on you, but I will not take orders from the defence
minister. I told him, you are wrong; according to your own constitution, you respond
to me and to the minister of defence; we are your boss and you have to obey us',
quoted in Pion-Berlin (1997: 1978).
11 So for instance, on the day of his inauguration, Aylwin refused to receive the symbolic
presidential sash directly from General Pinochet, and it passed through the hands of
the president of the Senate. Some time later, during the first military parade after
restoration of democratic rule, the officer in charge did not ask Aylwin for
authorisation to initiate the event, breaking the tradition of subordination to the
12 Referring to the Minister of Defence, Pinochet stated in a newspaper interview `The
minister has no [military] rank. The Constitution doesn't concede him the rank of
Field Marshall or Captain General. He is just Minister. Obviously the man will be
there. But he will be not in charge. (. . .) I am not subordinate to the minister. (. . .) I
talk directly to the President as it has always been the case.' (El Mercurio, 26 January

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budget. As Fuentes concludes, `what originally was considered a powerful

institutional tool of military autonomy that inhibited any legal transformation in
the military budget was transformed during the Aylwin administration into a
political tool so show some civilian control over the military' (2000: 125).
In the legislative field, the Aylwin government sent a series of proposals to
parliament intended to re-establish presidential authority in appointing or
dismissing senior military officers. In March 1992 the government proposed that
the president should be accorded such authority with the sole condition of `having
heard' the opinion of the commander in chief of the relevant branch. In April 1993
a second law proposal was presented in which the president would obtain the
power to ask for retirement of senior military officers, leaving the commander in
chief to propose promotions. Both initiatives were rejected in the parliament.
However, continued autonomy in promotion and retirement schemes does not
mean the armed forces have been able to totally avoid civilian control. According
to the original organic law of the armed forces, the president has the faculty to
`dispose' the promotions proposed by the commanders in chief, thus `freezing' the
careers of military personnel. If the promotion is not `disposed' or accepted by the
president, the officer in question is forced to retire as officers with less years of
service are then allowed to overpass him in the chain of command (Atria, 2000:
4445). This happened several times during the Aylwin administration.13
The Aylwin government combined decisiveness with caution when addressing
the most delicate issue in Chile's democratic transition: the question of human
rights.14 Only a month after his installation, the president created the Commission
for Truth and Reconciliation (the so-called Rettig Commission, named after its
chairman) with the task of conducting a full investigation and preparing an
official rapport. Rightwing parties and the military strongly criticised this
initiative, arguing that the investigation contravened the 1978 amnesty law.
Similarly, leftwing parties and human rights organisations criticised the
government as, in their view, this initiative did not go far enough. This situation,
in which the Concertacion government has been simultaneously criticised for its
human rights policies by right- and left-wing sectors, has become the norm.

13 A serious clash between the government and the military occurred a few months after
Aylwin's installation, when he rejected Pinochet's proposal to promote two officers to
the rank of general, given connections to human rights abuses during the 1970s.
Instead, the government decided to promote two other officers of lesser seniority. The
army rejected the veto applied by the president as they considered it an `illegal act'.
The case came to an end in November 1990, when the National Comptroller
established that the decree signed by the President was adjusted to the law and that
Aylwin was indeed entitled to veto the promotion proposals from the commanders in
chief (Fuentes, 1996: 33). Since that event, the under-secretary of war also consciously
delayed for even months the signing of decrees related to promotions, sales of arms,
and other issues.
14 As O'Donnell and Schmitter have indicated, the issue of whether to legally prosecute
military officers for human rights abuses is one of the most difficult ethical, as well as
political, choices that the new democratic governments in South America could face
(1989: 2832).

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The Rettig Commission delivered its final report to President Aylwin on 9

February 1991, while on the streets of Santiago human rights activists and
relatives of the victims demanded punishment for those implicated. After
studying the multi-volume investigation, Aylwin addressed the nation on 4
March 1991 and offered the victims of state terrorism and their relatives, on
behalf of all Chileans, his apologies. He promised them moral reparation and
monetary compensation for their suffering.15 At the same time, Aylwin appealed
to the armed forces to acknowledge the pain caused and to make efforts to lessen
it (see Loveman, 1991: 5658). The army expressed its `fundamental
disagreement' with this report's concepts, topics and historical perspective. They
concluded that there was no reason for any member of the armed forces to seek
pardon, as they regarded the 1973 military intervention a `patriotic mission'
(Fuentes, 2000: 122). Following revelations by some human rights organisations
of the names of implicated former military officers connected to human rights
abuses, the army warned of security concerns to its current and former members.
The assassination of the rightwing senator Jaime Guzman16 on 1 April 1991 by a
leftist terrorist group shocked public opinion and deflected attention away from
the Rettig report towards the issue of political violence. Aylwin reacted by
lowering the profile of the human rights question and by announcing a series of
measures to combat terrorism.
Aylwin faced two situations of extreme tension with the military during his
administration. If one looks at the backgrounds of both confrontations, it
becomes clear the extent to which the military had linked its own institutional
fate with General Pinochet's own personal interests.
The first confrontation broke out following an investigation by a
parliamentary commission of a series of irregular financial transactions (the so-
called `pinocheques') conducted by one of Pinochet's sons in the late 1980s
involving the army and some state institutions. On the evening of 19 December
1990, Pinochet suddenly decreed a state of highest alert and ordered the army to
its barracks (acuartelamiento) over the entire country. This was done without
previous consultation with the government, which was completely taken by
surprise. The official version provided the next day by the high command of the
army was that this military manoeuvre had simply corresponded to a `liaison
exercise' (ejercicio de enlace) to test the institutional readiness of the army to act.
It was obvious that the real goal of this show of force was to warn the
government to back off.17 What is important to stress here is that despite the

15 There is an English translation of this report (see Rettig Commission, 1993).

16 Guzman, a professor of constitutional law, was an emblematic figure of the former
military regime as he was considered its most important ideologue. He also largely
designed the legal and institutional framework of the authoritarian regime (including
the 1980 constitution), and until his assassination he was the indisputable leader of the
most pinochetista sector of the Chilean right.
17 After a meeting between Aylwin and Pinochet at the presidential palace, an official
announcement followed in which the incident was declared closed, and the existing
political normality and stability in the country was emphasized.

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open clashes between government and military leaders, several informal

mechanisms of negotiation functioned between both. Most conflicts did not
reach the public arena as they were successfully channelled and dissipated by a
small number of senior governmental officials who possessed direct links to a
number of top military officers (who functioned as liaisons).18
The second major crisis occurred in May 1993 when Pinochet again ordered
the army to its barracks while President Aylwin was on an official trip in Europe.
This action (which lasted for five days) was accompanied by a high profile
meeting of the entire high command of the army (in full combat outfit) at the
building of the armed forces, in front of the Moneda presidential palace. Outside
the building some one hundred combat-ready black beret elite troops (boinas
negras) were deployed with the backing of armoured vehicles. Chilean vice-
president Enrique Krauss, who was in charge of the handling of this crisis (known
as the boinazo) ordered a series of urgent meetings between Correa, Ballerino and
other top officials of the government and army to ease the tensions. The cause of
this crisis was the reopening at parliament of the investigation of the `checks
case', this time linking General Pinochet directly to the financial scandal. When
Aylwin came back to the country he publicly rebuked General Pinochet for the
boinazo, but in practice his government studied the military claims and asked the
parliamentary commission in charge not to involve General Pinochet in their final
report (Otano, 1995: 159).
In the final year of the Aylwin government, tensions with the army were
reduced somewhat. Eventually, Aylwin even praised the role played by Pinochet
in the democratic transition, arguing that his presence was critical in maintaining
the unity of the armed forces and the avoidance of military insurrections
organised by subordinate officers; as had been recurrently the case in
neighbouring Argentina during the 1980s (Loveman, 1995: 318).

Government-military relations under Frei: towards a defence

From the start, the government led by Eduardo Frei (19942000) made clear that
its main priority would be to foster the country's overall modernisation, stressing
the fields of education, health case, infrastructure, and a further political and
commercial insertion of Chile within the world community (see Toloza and
Lahera, 2000). Frei was also determined to lower the profile accorded to the

18 Critical figures for the maintenance of this `hot line' between the government and the
army were the Socialist minister Enrique Correa and General Jorge Ballerino who
established an alternative channel of communication for the treatment of sensitive
questions (Loveman, 1995: 317; Fuentes, 1996: 35). Another important informal
avenue of communication between the government and the military was the creation
of a `group of reflection' under the auspices of the non-governmental organisation
Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo (CED) in which politicians and military officers
discussed issues of mutual interest (Rabkin, 199293: 145).

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human rights question by approaching it as a strictly legal matter in the hands of

the judiciary system. Although some new attempts to introduce constitutional
reforms to eliminate the still existing authoritarian enclaves, the new government
wanted to avoid investing too much time and energy in long political and
legislative battles, which in the past had proved ineffective.
In the field of government-military relations, Frei decided to follow a different
strategy to his predecessor. The question of military subordination to the
political authorities received less attention, while the emphasis was given to the
constitution of larger and more formal spaces of cooperation between the
government and the armed forces on defence matters.19 By placing defence policy
at the centre, the government forced the actors involved to adapt in both political
and technical terms. Most of the conflict between the government and the armed
forces in the period 19901994 had been related to political issues about the
authoritarian past, and not to questions related to professional development and
future defence policies. In this way, the government's expectation was that the
call to jointly formulate an explicit non-partisan and consensual defence policy
would be received well among the armed forces.
For this purpose, the government decided to expand the professional and
technical expertise on military matters within the personnel of the Ministry of
Defence and to establish for the first time a solid `defence community'.20
Academic institutions such as FLACSO, CED, universities and academic
institutions of the armed forces created new opportunities to discuss defence
policy issues between civilian and military experts in the form of workshops,
conferences, lectures, and the publication of working papers and specialised
journals.21 The creation of an active civilian-military defence community was a
critical requirement for work towards the elaboration of a `book on national

19 One of Frei's key civilian advisers on military issues described the conflictive nature of
civil-military relations under Aylwin and the need for change in the following terms:
`. . . the political authorities in the area of defence, with their relative lack of power,
exercise a certain vindictive logic of promotion of presidential authority over the
Armed Forces. In consequence, defence debate focused on the question of who
exercised power in that area, and not whether the functions and policies of defence
were desirable on their own merit. (. . .) This debate over supremacy, equilibrium, or
subordination led to an ongoing state of rivalry in civilian-military relations. (. . .)
[T]he continual legal, institutional, or purely political conflicts finally led to the
recognition that the focal points in civilian-military relations had to be changed [by]
center[ing] the debate on the military's own subject: defence policy itself' (Garc a,
2000: 1756).
20 As the minister of defence, Perez Yoma, put it, `in Chile there is not a true community
of defence. Many perceive defence as an exclusive problem of the armed forces if we
review the history of this century, we realise that such a perception tends to be
dominant. . . . The challenge is to combine democratic consensus with an attitude
change in the whole of the Chilean people without distinctions' (quoted in Rojas,
2001: 166).
21 For instance, the academic journal Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad, published by
FLACSO, has constituted a strategic point of dialogue between civilian and military
experts on defence issues.

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defence' specifying both the objectives and mechanisms of Chile's defence policies
as well as offering transparency on this issue at the regional level (see Defence
Book, 1998).
Despite this conscious attempt to reduce the tensions through re-focusing, Frei
faced severe civil-military crises in the latest part of his presidential term. In fact,
most of these crises were not originated by initiatives from the Frei government
but were the result of verdicts of the judicial system and unforeseen events. The
first major confrontation involved Chile's police force. A month after his
installation a judge convicted 17 carabineros of kidnapping and killing of
political opponents in the so-called degollados case, one of the most emblematic
cases of gross violation of human rights during the authoritarian regime.22 In his
verdict, the judge implicated the chief of Carabineros, General Rodolfo Stange,
who in previous years had attempted to cover up police involvement. President
Frei formally asked Stange to resign but he refused to do so and the existing
legislation protected his position. As retaliation, the government held up the
processing of a police promotion list and continued its pressure on Stange, who
finally went into retirement in October 1995 (Loveman, 2001: 333).
Another complex situation for the Frei administration came in May 1995
when the Supreme Court sentenced General Manuel Contreras, former head of
the Chilean intelligence agency (DINA), and Colonel Pedro Espinoza, his second
in command, to seven and six years in prison, respectively. They were found
guilty as intellectual authors of the assassination of Orlando Letelier in
September 1976. However, a few days after the sentence the army unexpectedly
took Contreras to the naval hospital in Talcahuano, arguing that he required
medical attention. Simultaneously, the army protested the court's `arbitrary
resolution' and demanded special treatment for these officers as their personal
security would be at risk in an ordinary prison. In addition, the army demanded a
final political solution to the pinocheques case, an increase in the military budget,
and the custody of imprisoned military personnel by the army itself. Colonel
Espinoza entered prison on 19 June. Three days later some 300 hundred officers
demonstrated (in civilian clothes) in front of the Punta Peuco prison (in what
became known as the peucazo). Although this action did not violate any norm, it
constituted a strong warning for the government.23
Subsequent to the peucazo affair government-military relations became even
tenser, with Frei not managing to foster unity among the Concertacion parties on
the policy approach. Frei had not directly involved the Socialists in the decision-
making surrounding the peucazo. As a consequence the leftist sectors of the

22 In 1986 a special commando of Carabineros assassinated (by slashing throats) a group

of human rights activists and members of the Communist party.
23 After a series of negotiations, the government agreed to open a special prison
exclusively for military personnel at Punta Peuco, near Santiago. Furthermore, the
government allowed the army to share custody of the prisoners with personnel of
gendarmera and announced a rise of salaries for armed forced personnel for the next
year. Finally, President Frei petitioned the State Defence Council to suspend actions in
the check case for `reasons of state' (Fuentes, 2000: 12930).

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The Concertacion Governments and the Military in Chile

government felt free to directly criticise the attitude adopted by Pinochet and the
armed forces during the crisis. Deep divisions among the Concertacion partners
emerged again during the last months of Pinochet's term as commander in chief
of the army, in the time leading up to 10 March 1998.24
Following Pinochet's resignation as commander in chief25 and his installation
as a senator for life, the government had expected to be able to initiate a new
chapter in its relations with the armed forces. They had a desire to develop a
good working relationship with the new chief of the army, General Ricardo
Izurieta. This General represented the more technocratic oriented sector of the
army and possessed no record in relation to human rights abuses. During his first
public declarations, he made clear that he wanted the armed forces to pursue the
path of professionalism and modernisation, and to improve its public image.
Relations between the government and General Izurieta were clearly improving.
The spectacular arrest of General Pinochet on 16 October 1998, suddenly
changed the entire political environment in the country however.
One of the most critical questions emerging after General Pinochet's detention
concerned the reaction of the Chilean armed forces. Although the military
institutions expressed their total solidarity with their ex General-in-Chief and
were firmly critical, they maintained a calm and subordinate attitude with respect
to the government. In this way, the Chilean armed forces openly backed the legal
and diplomatic efforts to get Pinochet back to Chile, realising that if they
antagonised the Chilean government they would lose one of the General's only
defenders in Britain and Spain (see Silva, 2000). During Pinochet's arrest, many
high-ranking military officers, including General Izurieta visited London to
express solidarity and support.
During 1999 and 2000, the re-opening of several legal cases against former top
officers caused further tension. In an earlier bid to reduce such friction, the
Minister of Defence, Edmundo Perez Yoma, inaugurated the so-called `Mesa de
Dialogo' which was set up in August 1998. This roundtable included
representatives of the armed forces and civil society. For the very first time

24 A group of members of parliament (including members of the Socialist party, the

Party for Democracy, and even from Frei's own Christian Democratic Party)
constitutionally accused Pinochet of `having put the stability of democracy in danger
during the government of President Aylwin', by having instigating the `liaison
exercise' in December 1990 and the `boinazo' in May 1993, and the `peucazo' of June
1995. The explicit goal of this accusation was to prevent General Pinochet from being
sworn in as a senator for life, following his resignation as commander in chief of the
army. The government firmly lobbied among the Concertacion members of the
parliament for a rejection of the accusation as it was considered `inconvenient' for the
consolidation of democratic rule in the country. The constitutional accusation was
finally rejected by 62 against 55 votes, and one abstention (Rojas, 2001: 16162).
25 During the farewell ceremony as a commander-in-chief at the Bernardo O'Higgins
military academy, Pinochet was unexpectedly declared `commander-in-chief emerito'
by the army. This tailor-made title that was given to him to show the readiness of the
army to protect their former chief in the future. The Ministry of Defence was not
informed beforehand about this announcement.

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Patricio Silva

since the restoration of democratic rule in 1990, members of the armed forces,
legal representatives of human rights organisations, and a group of highly
respected `wise men' from different religious and social backgrounds, were
brought together. Its main objective was to find ways to reactivate the efforts for
national reconciliation, and particularly to expose the truth about the fate of the
desaparecidos (see Aguilar in this issue). For the first time in Chile's democratic
history, political parties did not play a direct role in an important national event,
as they were deliberately not invited to participate. The Mesa initiative was
strongly criticised in both Pinochetista circles and by sectors of the radical left.
While rightwing groups saw it as an act of treason on the part of the armed
forces, the radical left saw it as a strategy directed to obtain a `punto final' (a full
stop) for the human rights question in Chile. The Mesa initiative also produced a
painful schism within the human rights movement itself. While some
representatives accepted the invitation to participate at the Mesa, others strongly
rejected it. Contrary to what many had expected, the `Mesa de Dialogo' survived
its very difficult initiation, and continued its work despite the political
turbulences produced by Pinochet's detention in London.
Perhaps the most important consequence of Pinochet's detention then was the
reopening of the national debate on the issue of human rights. The radical left
and many human rights groups immediately organised large public campaigns
and demanded, through the mass media, the re-opening of legal cases against
military personnel. The Frei government sent some discrete signals to the
judiciary, urging it to show some real action to demonstrate its independence and
inclination to address this issue.

The Lagos government and the `Pinochet Affair'

When Pinochet returned to Chile on 3 March 2000 he faced a quite different

political scenario than the one he left behind. The presidential victory of the
Socialist Ricardo Lagos in January 2000 made Pinochet's political and legal
situation very uncertain.26 Lagos had been one of Pinochet's most fervent
opponents. As his plane landed at Santiago airport, the discussion immediately
turned to the possibilities of legally prosecuting the General in Chile. Three days
after his return to the country, judge Juan Guzman sent a request for the removal
(desafuero) of senator Pinochet's immunity to the Santiago Appeal Court.
Following his installation on 12 March 2000, President Lagos categorically
stated that he would not search for a political solution to the question of human
rights violations in the country (whether by a presidential decision or by holding
a referendum), and that the fate of senator Pinochet and all the military officers
possibly involved would be entirely in the hands of the Chilean judiciary. This
statement pursued two specific objectives. Firstly, to reject the suggestion made
by some right-wing political leaders concerning the possibility of achieving an

26 See `La agenda militar laguista', La Tercera, 18 January 2000.

388 2002 Society for Latin American Studies

The Concertacion Governments and the Military in Chile

agreement on constitutional reforms in exchange for respecting Pinochet's

parliamentary immunity. Secondly, the president wanted to send a strong signal
to his supporters, as well as the rightwing and the extra-parliamentary left that
exercising pressure on him would be fruitless. By adopting this position, Lagos
was able to maintain political stability and to gradually improve government-
military relations. However, the decision by the Santiago Appeal Court to
remove Pinochet's immunity on 8 August 2000, led to renewed calls from the
right for a political solution to the Pinochet affair.27
President Lagos made strong efforts to improve government-military relations
in various fields. He chose to cultivate a personal relationship with General
Ricardo Izurieta by organising regular meetings on a very informal basis.28 This
generated a constructive dialogue that permitted the discussion of a series of
sensitive issues. Partly due to improving relations, on 12 June 2000 an agreement
between civilian and military members of the Mesa de Dialogo was made
possible. In this historical agreement the Chilean armed forces, for the first time
since the 1973 coup, publicly recognised that human rights abuses were
committed during the military regime. They also promised to gather and to
provide within a period of six months (later extended for another month) all the
information available within the armed institutions about the location of the
bodies of the desaparecidos.
Improving relations were visibly strained by the unexpected decision taken by
judge Guzman on 1 December 2000 to prosecute General Pinochet. Some senior
officers declared to the press that this decision endanger the efforts of the armed
forces to gather information for the Mesa de Dialogo. General Izurieta was put
under severe pressure by his own institution to adopt a harder line. The decision
to prosecute General Pinochet represented a de facto invalidation of the 1978
amnesty law. Izurieta decided to maintain his cooperation in the preparation of
the report however.
On 6 January 2001 the armed forces handed President Lagos an extensive
report concerning the fate of the disappeared.29 It was expected that this
information would lead to the finding of the remains of about 200 desaparecidos.
Frustration and disappointment have emerged however as many locations were
found to be inaccurate. In addition, human rights activists and the extra-
parliamentary left decided to prosecute the commanders in chief of the the armed

27 Judge Guzman prudently decided to wait with the further prosecution of Pinochet
until October, as September is politically a very sensitive and tense month in Chile.
Conflictive dates are concentrated in this month: 4 September (commemoration of the
triumph of Salvador Allende in the presidential elections of 1970); 11 September
(commemoration/celebration of the 1973 coup de d'etat and the death of Allende);
and 19 September (the day of the armed forces).
28 See `Lagos: relaciones c vico militares estan muy bien'. La Tercera, 20 July 2000.
29 In the official statement made by the armed forces at the presentation of their report
they indicated that `the reinterpretation of the 1978 amnesty law, in terms which are
not related to the original purpose of providing political and social peace, has had a
negative impact on the efforts made by the armed institutions, but has also negatively
affected the basis for national reconciliation'. La Tercera, 21 January 2001.

2002 Society for Latin American Studies 389

Patricio Silva

forces for `obstructing the finding of the truth', through the non-provision of
information. Although this was not successful it seriously damaged government-
military relations and the armed institutions felt abandoned by the Lagos
administration. Some Military leaders expressed regret at having collaborated in
the Mesa de Dialogo initiative at all.
The `Pinochet affair' reached a climax on 9 July 2001, when an appeals court
declared General Pinochet to be mentally unfit to stand trial. Although the court
decision was qualified as `temporary' implying that he could face a trial again if
his health condition should improve in the future everyone understood that this
marked the end of the legal prosecution of Pinochet. It also meant the end of his
political role in the country. Since that time, Pinochet has rapidly disappeared
from national debates and from the attention of the mass media.30
With the disappearance of the General from public life government-military
relations have visibly improved. The `Pinochet factor' dominated the course of
these relations since the democratic restoration in 1990. Better relations have
been facilitated by the tactical decision made by the right wing political coalition
Alianza for Chile to distance itself from the figure of Pinochet, and his political
legacy, in order to expand its electoral appeal.31

Final remarks

The Concertacion governments have been unable so far to substantially reduce

the levels of institutional autonomy and prerogatives which the armed forces
assigned themselves previous to 1990. In my opinion, this situation has not been
primarily the result of direct and active military contestation but rather the
consequence of the specific legal framework in which Chilean democracy has had
to operate. The military institutions have not needed to put the Concertacion
governments under too much pressure, as they knew their autonomy and
prerogatives were safely protected by the 1980 constitution and the special
legislation created by the military regime for this purpose in the late 1980s. In this
manner, the inability of the Concertacion governments to reinstate civilian
control is linked to the inability of obtaining required majorities in both the
Senate and the Chamber of Deputies which would allow change or elimination of
the existing body of legislation. The relative strength of the Right in Chile and the
existence of a relatively large electorate which still venerates the Pinochet regime,
have so far frustrated all of the Concertacion's legislative initiatives.
30 This was evident during the December 2001 parliamentary elections in which the
`Pinochet issue' was completely absent in the political campaigns, as well as in the
debates between the Concertacion parties and the rightwing opposition.
31 A clear sign of the growing disconnection between Pinochet and the leaders the
Alianza por Chile was their notorious absence during the celebration of the General's
birthday on 25 November 2001, held at his Peuco hacienda. Since 1990, Pinochet's
birthday celebrations had constituted one of the most important gathering points for
rightwing political leaders, in which they openly expressed their support and loyalty
to the General.

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Notwithstanding, the fact the Chilean military institutions have defended the
existence of their prerogatives has not necessarily meant that they have made an
actual use of them. Thus, although the 1980 constitution theoretically permitted
the armed forces to play a tutelary role it can hardly been argued that this has
been the case since 1990. In the same way that the military have permanently
sought protection in the 1980 constitution, Aylwin, Frei and Lagos have also
made use of that same constitution to exert as much presidential authority upon
the military as possible. In this manner, the 1980 constitution has not only
impeded the realisation of profound legal changes, but it also has functioned as a
generally recognised and accepted marker of the institutional limitations of both
the government and armed forces.
Another critical factor in shaping government-military relations during the
last decade has been the legal resolutions adopted by the country's judicial
system. Although these have often produced severe tensions between the
Concertacion governments and the military, the verdicts have generally been
respected by both parties. So, despite the executive's limitations in forcing the
military to face justice, during the past decade Chilean courts have been able to
prosecute several former and active members of the armed forces, to eliminate
Pinochet's parliamentary immunity, to put him under house arrest, and to open a
legal case against him. All of this has happened despite the formal protests by the
military leadership against these decisions.
The legal factor has also been decisive in practically putting an end to the
`Pinochet affair' through the judge's decision of July 2001 to `temporarily' close
the case. This does not mean that the attempt to prosecute former and active
military men has also came to an end. Since July 2001 Judge Guzman and other
members of the judiciary have continued their investigations Hence, it is not
unthinkable that in the near future new prosecutions against (former) military
personnel will follow.
From the many events described in this article, an evolutionary pattern of
government-military relations can be identified which, in my view, is connected
with the different phases of democratic transition and consolidation in Chile. In
the period following democratic restoration, the country's specific political
conditions demanded that the first civilian President send strong signals of
authority, courage and independence to the military institutions. Failure to do
otherwise could have been interpreted by the military and the people as an
expression of presidential weakness and defeatism. Also a key issue in the first
period following democratic restoration was the need to deal with the recent
past, and particularly with the human rights question. This issue permeated the
entire political process and shaped the conflictive nature of government-military
relations. At the end of the Aylwin administration, many in Chile had wrongly
assumed (among them, Aylwin himself) that the transition process had
culminated. This explains the shift in priorities and goals characterising the
second Concertacion government. The human rights issue was no longer in the
official political agenda and Frei concentrated his attention on the general
modernisation of Chilean society. For this purpose, he required a deactivation of

2002 Society for Latin American Studies 391

Patricio Silva

the tensions between government and the armed forces, choosing a more
technical approach to the military problem. This evolutionary pattern in
government-military relations became abruptly distorted as result of the
detention of Pinochet in London. This produced a rapid deterioration in the
quality of government-military relations, bringing them below the initial levels of
1990. The end of the `Pinochet factor' has led to the gradual re-establishment of
the previous evolutionary pattern of increased improvement in civil-military
relations. A clear example of this was the appointment in January 2002 of
Michelle Bachelet as Minister of Defence. She is not only the first woman to
reach this position in Latin America, but she is also a Socialist and the daughter
of Alberto Bachelet, an Air Force General who was imprisoned and assassinated
by the Pinochet regime in 1973. Her appointment has been interpreted by many
observers as a major effort by both the Lagos government and the armed forces
to revitalise the process of national reconciliation.
If we now look back to the three general types of strategies presented in the
first section, it becomes evident that the approach followed by President Aylwin
towards the military institutions comes quite close to what Fuentes has called a
`non co-operative strategy'. The choice of this strategy was in part determined by
President Aylwin's own political style and preferences. He showed from the very
beginning an unequivocal personal commitment to the question of human rights
and the need for reparation for victims.
The Frei government chose an approach that largely corresponds with the
`strategy of engagement' outlined by Fuentes. Frei's advisers had come to the
conclusion that the confrontational stance pursued by Aylwin could no longer be
maintained. The idea was to deactivate the tensions with the armed forces by a
closer cooperation between civilian experts and their military counterparts in the
formulation of new defence policy.
President Lagos has so far followed a strategy that represents a combination
of the two previous ones. Like Aylwin, he tried from the very beginning to make
it clear he was a strong President who would be indifferent to pressures coming
from the army. He has continuously stressed in public gatherings his
presidential authority upon the armed forces and has criticised military leaders
when they have made political remarks. At the same time, however, Lagos has
invested a lot of time and effort in establishing an excellent personal
relationship with General Izurieta. With respect to the question of human
rights, Lagos has followed a strategy that resembles what Fuentes calls a
strategy of `division of spheres'. By constantly stressing the autonomy of the
judiciary power from the government, Lagos drew the limits of political
influence. This also represented an implicit message to the armed forces to
recognise and accept the institutional competence of the courts of law.
Moreover, since the technical conclusion of the Pinochet case in July 2001, the
Lagos government seems to have expanded this strategy of division of spheres.
This became clear in crucial decisions on military acquisition plans adopted by
the Air Force and the Navy in January 2002, in which the government did not
intervene. Arguably, government-military relations are now reaching a higher

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The Concertacion Governments and the Military in Chile

degree of stability and normalisation. As was the case previous to the 1973 a
strategy of division of spheres could become the normal model.
The December 2001 parliamentary elections showed a marked strengthening
of the conservative parties and according to many observers the rightwing leader
Joaqu n Lav n has a good chance of becoming Chile's next president in 2005.32
This specific political scenario will certainly have negative effects on the
disposition of the Lagos government to risk further tensions with the armed
forces on issues related to human rights abuses. Given that it is in a position of
optimal electoral strength and close to achieving presidential power, the
rightwing opposition is less likely than ever to support constitutional reforms
directed at reducing or eliminating the military's autonomy and prerogatives. In
the coming years, the balance of power between reformist and conservative forces
will continue to play a decisive role on the nature of government-military
relations in Chile.

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