Civilian policies toward the military in the 1990s Chilean democracy

After Pinochet: Civilian policies toward the military in the 1990s Chilean democracy

Fuentes, Claudio A

It is a widely accepted notion that military intervention in politics depends on a complex interplay of historical. institutional social. and political factors (Lowenthal 1974; Fitch 1986; Loveman 1993; Aguero 1998). Scholars generally take one of two broad approaches to understanding and assessing this behavior. The first approach considers the military as a distinctive organization and evaluates to what extent military values, worldviews, and structures differ from the larger society. Adherents of this approach focus on the military’s independent influence in society and in politics; this influence is, for them, significant (for example, Stepan 1988). The second approach thinks of the military as a reflection of dominant societal values, and as an instrument that is entirely or partially dependent on the leadership of civilian decisionmakers.

While defenders of the first approach would prefer explaining military intervention in politics by considering aspects such as ideology and levels of corporatism in the armed forces, advocates of the second perspective would observe aspects such as the structure of class interests, the officers’ social origin, and the alliances that form between civilians and the military. As Charles Moskos suggests, “neither conception is wholly wrong nor wholly accurate” (Moskos 1974, 34). The conclusion that both views are complementary is particularly correct in Latin America, given the armed forces’ historical intervention in politics. Therefore, we may assume that the military influence in politics depends on both the actions of the armed forces and the actions-particularly in terms of policies and strategic alliances-of civilians in relation to the military.

Another widely accepted idea is that, in many newly democratized countries of Latin America, the armed forces still exert high levels of influence over the political process from both an institutional and a more informal standpoint (Linz and Stepan 1996; Aguero and Stark 1998). In this sense, several studies have addressed the need to diminish the legal and political status of the armed forces so as to deepen democratic regimes, such as Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela.

This article explores the civilian side of the civil-military equation by considering how different civilian policies affect the armed forces’ subordination to civilian rule. While it would be difficult to deny the independent influence of the armed forces on the political process, it is also important to study civilian policies and responses toward this type of military intervention.

This analysis considers the case of Chile, for theoretical as well as methodological reasons. Theoretically, the current literature has suggested mainly an institutional explanation to answer the question of why the military intervenes in politics. Given the high level of military prerogatives, several studies have concluded that the constitutional framework-and the political context inherited from the military regime-limit the options available for advancing civilian control over the armed forces (Rabkin 1992-93).

A well-accepted explanation of civil-military relations in posttransition Chile suggests that three factors elucidate the high level of military influence in politics: the institutional legacies that constrain the actions of the new democratic authorities; the enduring military hierarchy under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet; and a strong alliance between the military and right-wing parties (Linz and Stepan 1996; Garreton 1995). According to this argument, changing the patterns of civil-military relations in Chile will require a number of developments, including transformation of the institutional framework to delineate the military’s functional autonomy and its institutional involvement in domestic affairs; breakdown or transformation of the military-rightwing political alliance; a significant electoral defeat of right-wing parties in Congress; and reduction of Pinochet’s influence over the military.

Methodologically, Chile appears to be the best example of a Latin American nation with a high level of military autonomy. If there is a country in which it seems almost impossible to develop civilian policies on military affairs, given the legacy of inherited legal constraints, that country is Chile. Thus, Chile might seem the least likely place to discover a meaningful civilian influence in this area. Civilian policymaking faces an institutional framework that favors military involvement in politics, a strong right-wing sector in Congress that supports the military, and the military’s high levels of professional and financial autonomy, which allow it to plan its own activities.

This article does not dispute the argument that institutional legacies and political alliances enhance military involvement in politics; indeed, in some cases these factors have played a crucial role. What can be misleading in this approach, however, is the implicit idea that these institutional constraints may close any option for civilian action and that the only alternative is to wait until the institutional environment can be changed. This article will show that, despite institutional constraints, civilians have developed strategies for dealing with the armed forces using the few institutional and political tools at their disposal.

After the 1973 Chilean military coup, the military imposed a set of institutional rules favorable to itself, and those rules governed the later transition to democracy. But the military did not act alone; its autonomy was sustained because there were civilian sectors that supported the armed forces as a power independent of civilian control. Once democracy was reestablished, the new civilian authorities were unable to modify these institutional rules, partly because the political right wing supported this specific institutional framework, but also because of the independent effect of the formal rules, norms, and procedures that constrain political actors. In this sense, institutions are an independent variable, because they determine what room to maneuver political authorities will have left (Karl 1990).

While the military regime’s rules constrain democratic authorities’ actions, however, they do not completely determine them. Within the institutional framework, authorities can also develop new strategies. Civilians use institutions and rules according to their specific preferences, calculations, and opportunities. Thus, the strategic interactions between civilians and the armed forces during the democratization process provide a good opportunity to evaluate the decisions that shape the civilmilitary relationship-including strategic decisions that are not defined by the institutional framework. Institutions matter, but actors’ preferences and strategies in dealing with the military also play a key role.1

Moreover, the same legal framework that inhibits civilian control over military affairs also generates some opportunities for civilians to bargain with the military in specific but important cases, such as the promotion of officers and the allocation of the military budget. Thus, the key question is why, in some circumstances, civilian authorities have used these legal tools to bargain with the military, and in other cases they have not used them. The response to this question has important policy implications, because it examines the topic of civil-military relations not only in terms of institutional constraints or external political conditions, but also for the way politicians use their prerogatives to achieve certain political objectives. This question is all the more relevant today, when the same coalition that defeated General Pinochet has inaugurated, in March 2000, a new period in government under the leadership of President Ricardo Lagos.

This article argues that differences in civilian policies toward the military depend on three elements: actors’ preferences regarding the “best” way to achieve military subordination; the specific leadership exerted by key authorities (mainly the president but also some ministers) in civil-military relations; and strategic calculations. To illustrate this argument, it contrasts civilian policies toward the military during the first two governments after Pinochet’s regime, those of Patricio Aylwin (1990-94) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000). Although both democratic governments shared the goal of subordinating the military, they chose different political strategies to achieve it. Their different policies were a response not only to actual (and very similar) institutional constraints, as some authors have suggested, but also to the different ways political elites perceived the military’s role in domestic affairs. These disagreements divided Chilean leaders in determining the best strategies for dealing with the armed forces, and this, in turn, produced sometimes contradictory policies. This caught the political process in a cycle in which institutional rules installed the military as an actor capable of influencing politics, and civilians’ decisions tended to keep it there.


The historical context of Chile’s current civil-military relations is provided by the political culture, in which actors make decisions and institutional legacies condition actors’ options. Actors’ choices depend on social beliefs and preferences. Social beliefs are ideas and thoughts that govern interactions and that are common to several individuals. From a sociological point of view, cultural beliefs become identical and commonly known among individuals through the process of socialization (Greif 1994). Although in the long run, social beliefs condition actors’ options, beliefs do not always determine actors’ choices, because individuals can make decisions based on specific social and institutional contexts and particular interests. In this case, we are accepting the idea that

historically created structures may constitute “confining conditions” that restrict (or in some cases enhance) the choices available … they may determine the range of options available to decisionmakers and even predispose them to choose a specific option. (Karl and Schmitter 1991, 272)

Social beliefs can influence policy outcomes in three ways (Goldstein and Keohane 1993, 12-13). First, ideas provide a framework of available options or worldviews for actors. In this sense, once an idea is selected, a framework will limit the range of choices because it logically excludes other interpretations of reality. In the case of Chilean civil-military relations, civilians hold different worldviews about the role the military should perform in domestic affairs. Second, ideas contribute to outcomes in the absence of a unique solution or equilibrium. The issue of military subordination provides a perfect example: because there is no “best strategy” for subordinating the military, certain frameworks might serve as focal points that define the possible cooperative solutions. Extensive fragmentation among political and social groups inhibits the achievement of cooperative solutions, generating contradictory policy outcomes. Third, once some of these ideational frameworks become embedded in rules and norms, they constrain public policy. For instance, the military regime’s imposition of the 1980 Constitution certainly affected future actors’ decisions, reducing the scope of available institutional options.

In terms of actors’ preferences, Chilean society-and particularly the elite-is highly divided about what role the military should play.2 Studying the opinions of political, business, union, and church leaders, Aguero (1997a) concludes that the elite’s main concerns are the armed forces as an internal security power and, on the other hand, the military’s involvement in the nation’s socioeconomic development. Chile shows a deep cleavage between those who prefer the military as an independent security power (military autonomy) and those who believe that the military must be subordinated to civilian rule. While most leaders of the current opposition (right-wing parties) and the armed forces support military autonomy-and think of the military as an independent power–leaders of the governing coalition (center and leftist sectors) support the idea of military subordination. The elite is also divided over how much military involvement in socioeconomic development is desirable. Here, though, the divisions are not as clear. Actors from the right, center, and left of the political spectrum support either involvement or exclusion.

In his study, Aguero notes that the cleavage between sectors that consider (and desire to see) the military as an independent power and those that desire its subordination remains the same today as in the 1960s. Thus, today’s cleavages about the internal role of the armed forces can be considered a long-term tendency, and “it is possible to predict the continuity of this deep cleavage over time” (Aguero 1997a). The only public opinion survey on the topic shows that Chilean society in general is split along similar lines (see FLACSO 1992).

What this means, in essence, is that elites have historically had different perceptions about the role the military should play in society. While for some actors, the best way to deal with the armed forces is by incorporating them into a general strategy of socioeconomic development, for other actors the best strategy is to reduce the military’s prerogatives and limit it to exclusively professional activities.

It is not only a matter of actors’ preferences, however, but also of existing military and civilian prerogatives. Chile is probably one of the most extreme cases of political democracy combined with professional autonomy and military involvement in the institutional setting. The military regime established three dimensions of military prerogatives: political autonomy, professional and doctrinal autonomy, and institutional involvement. These were institutionalized by the Constitution of 1980, the organic law of the armed forces (1989), and specific laws about military justice privileges (for a complete legal analysis see Garcia and Montes 1994).

The military’s political autonomy limits civilian authorities in various ways. The president cannot directly remove the commander in chief of the armed forces. Before 1973, the president could remove any officer, including the head of the armed forces. The 1980 Constitution permits commanders in chief to stay in office for four years. The president can remove them only with the approval of the National Security Council, in which the armed forces hold half the votes., Furthermore, the president cannot promote or remove officers of the armed forces without the commander in chiefs approval.

The armed forces have a minimum budget established by constitutional law. In addition, the armed forces receive 10 percent of-the annual earnings from copper exports by the National Copper Corporation (Codelco). This special budget can be used only for military acquisitions. The armed forces also enjoy special pension and health insurance systems. The military justice system has considerable autonomy in relation to civilian courts, and the army auditor holds a seat on the Supreme Court of Justice. As for legal protections, the military regime established a decree law that grants amnesty to those who committed criminal actions between 1973 and 1978, or were accomplices to or covered up such actions, provided they were not already involved in a legal proceeding or already sentenced when the law took effect. Those whom military tribunals found guilty after 1973 also received amnesty (Comision Verdad y Reconciliacion 1993). This decree also covered “political crimes” by leftists committed during that period, although it excluded some “common” crimes.

The most important of these prerogatives are defined by constitutional laws, making them difficult to modify or even to discuss in Congress, given the right-wing opposition’s majority in the Senate. According to the 1980 Constitution, changes that refer to the basis of the institutions, the Constitutional Tribunal, and the armed forces require a favorable vote of two-thirds of all deputies and senators. President Aylwin in 1993 and President Frei in 1995 sent bills to Congress to modify some aspects related to the promotion and removal of officers; the Senate rejected both of the proposals.

Professional and doctrinal autonomy means that there is no civilian involvement in the armed forces’ training programs. Since 1990, the armed forces have created their own programs, changed their logistical structure, and bought new weapons with minimal civilian influence (Varas and Fuentes 1994). The outgoing military regime approved laws with constitutional rank, such as the Ley Organica de las Fuerzas Armadas (1989), reducing the scope of civilian interference in specific matters like these.

The 1980 Constitution redefined the military’s third form of autonomy, institutional involvement, changing the traditional arrangement from before 1973. First, the new constitution created the National Security Council (NSC), which advises the president on national security issues. The NSC has the right to designate four of the nine appointed senators every eight years. The NSC is composed of the president, the president of the Senate, the president of the Supreme Court, the national contralor, the three commanders in chief of the armed forces, and the director of the national police. In theory, the NSC should be the institution that provides the institutional “space” in which the armed forces can advise the president. Its composition (half military and half civilian) and responsibilities, however, have created tensions rather than civil-military harmony. The main problem is who decides what subjects are matters of national security. Meetings of the NSC can be called by any two of its members; thus, the president might be in the uncomfortable situation of attending a session against his will.

The designation of appointed senators is another mechanism for institutional involvement. Besides the NSC’s four, the president directly designates two senators and the Supreme Court selects three. The NSC’s four appointees must include only ex-commanders-in-chief, ex-subcommanders-in-chief, and former directors of the national police. The original idea in the 1980 Constitution was to include in the Senate representatives of “neutral” sectors of society, such as the armed forces or the Supreme Court; but the current designation process has greatly politicized these institutions. Authorities have appointed new commanders in chief with the idea that they will eventually become appointed senators, and this has opened a sometimes complex bargaining process between democratic authorities and the head of each military branch. Moreover, the constitutional status of the armed forces as guarantors of the nation provides legal justification for military to intervene in politics.

The 1980 Constitution also mandates that an ex-president (who governed more than six years) has the right to be appointed senator for life. General Pinochet exercised this right in March 1998 and President Eduardo Frei in March 2000. Table 1 summarizes these major military prerogatives.

In light of this pervasive military autonomy, how could civilians ever hope to exert control over the military? Civilians have four main prerogatives, as table 1 shows. The president has veto power over the promotion of military officers. In September 1990, after only six months in office, new democratic authorities defended the president’s right to veto promotions of public administrators, including military officers. After a legal battle between the government and the army, the Contraloria General de la Republica, the agency that oversees legal matters in the nation’s public administration, accepted the government’s interpretation.

Civilians also can have some control over the military’s budget. The law specifies that the armed forces must receive at least the same budget as they did in 1989, adjusted for the yearly rate of inflation. At the beginning of the transition, the military perceived this system as an important safeguard. But because the economy has grown (in real terms) more than the yearly inflation, the armed forces have received– in comparative terms-less money than in 1989-which has directly affected officers’ salaries.

The president has the right to approve military acquisitions, because the minister of defense (a civilian appointed by the president) must sign specific decrees related to personnel transfers, administrative resolutions, and the selling of weapons by military industries. Finally, the president can refuse to sign the National Defense Plan, which defines the nation’s main strategic guidelines and dictates spending priorities. The question is why and under what conditions civilians use their prerogatives over the military.


Civilian authorities in the first two democratic governments after Pinochet’s regime shared the goal of subordinating the military; and both governments had to deal with the same imposed institutional setting. These governments also faced the same political opposition, which defended the military’s autonomy. The Aylwin and Frei administrations, however, used different strategies to deal with the military.

Latin American countries have historically dealt in different ways with military affairs. Broadly speaking, we can identify at least three general types of strategies: division of spheres; noncooperation; and engagement. All three strategies can be used to achieve military subordination; they differ mainly in how much they exclude or include the military in the government’s decisionmaking process.

A strategy of division of spheres is probably the most common civilian policy in Latin America. It is based on the notion of a tacit agreement between civilians and the military on the roles each sector will perform, and the distinction is relatively clear. Typically, civilian authorities believe that the best way to achieve accommodation is by essentially leaving the military alone, while military officers consider any civilian intervention inappropriate. Some actors will favor a “do nothing” approach, in which having no initiatives is considered the best way to stabilize civil-military relations; others will prefer the “Toys ‘R’ Us” version, which says, “let the generals have their weapons so that they will stay out of domestic politics” (Cruz and Diamint 1998, 124). Chile between 1932 and 1973 is frequently considered a case in which politicians and officers accepted a division of spheres (for a contrasting view, see Loveman 1999).

A noncooperative strategy comprises policies that exclude the military from the decisionmaking process on issues related to defense policies and civil-military relations. In this case, authorities seek to achieve military subordination by not considering the military’s opinion. Civilians insist on reinforcing the military’s professional role and on civilian supremacy over the military. The objective is to restrict the military influence in civilian areas. In general, this strategy assumes that subordination is an ideal of complete military obedience to civilian policies.

A strategy of engagement, by contrast, attempts to include the military in decisionmaking. Civilian authorities seeking cooperation believe that the best way to achieve subordination is by generating civilian leadership or supremacy in strategic matters and incorporating the armed forces’ opinion in the process. Here, while some sectors favor assigning new roles to the military (a strategy of increasing participation), others prefer a higher professionalization of the military. In both cases, authorities seek to develop civilian capabilities to deal with strategic issues and defense policies.

These three strategies must be considered as ideal types that require further clarification. For instance, a government could have a mixed strategy that combines engagement in some areas and noncooperation in others. An analysis of the first two democratic governments suggests that while the Aylwin administration developed programmatic goals based on a noncooperative strategy attempting to achieve military subordination, the Frei government’s objectives have been based on a engagment strategy.


From the day he was inaugurated in March 1990, Aylwin attempted to address the issue of civilian supremacy over the military. But the new authorities had few institutional and political tools to achieve this goal. Indeed, the government did not have enough legal tools to reduce the military’s autonomy. Nor did it have the votes in Congress to introduce constitutional changes relating to military subordination, human rights, or the military budget. Any modification of the institutional setting required the support of at least some members of the opposition, and that could hardly ever be achieved. Thus, at the beginning of its mandate, the Aylwin government could anticipate a difficult road to achieving its objectives. In this context, the government developed a three-part strategy: the specification of presidential legal powers; a political agenda that stressed the symbolic representation of civilian supremacy; and a low profile on professional issues.

In terms of legal powers, the Aylwin administration aimed to reduce military institutional involvement and professional autonomy (see Concertacion 1989; Boeninger 1997). It hoped to reestablish a notion of the armed forces as an essentially obedient, nondeliberative, professional, hierarchical, and disciplined institution. This required constitutional reform to eliminate military privileges, such as institutional involvement; and changes in the laws that granted professional military autonomy. In relation to human rights, while the Concertacion’s program advocated the abrogation of the amnesty law, the government opted not to pursue this objective because “the political conditions of the transition made this proposal impossible” (Boeninger 1997, 400).

Lacking many direct legal powers, Aylwin attempted to use all the legal power generally available to reinforce civilian supremacy. The government and the military attempted to specify spheres of civilian influence in military affairs by adopting particular interpretations of the administrative structure. The army, for instance, refused to consider the civilian minister of defense a superior authority, arguing that its “relationship with the minister of defense is merely administrative” (Boeninger 1997, 394). The president responded to this challenge by reiterating his personal confidence in the defense minister throughout their four years in office. When the army, at moments of civil-military tension, would informally ask for the defense minister’s resignation, the president would reject the request (Otano 1995; Fuentes 1996). Defense Minister Patricio Rojas, for his part, pressured the army by postponing the signing of administrative decrees that regulated the internal affairs of each branch.

Another instance of legal confrontation was the promotion or firing of military officers. Having secured the president’s veto power over promotions, the government used this limited privilege to freeze the careers of military officers who had been involved in human rights violations. Indeed, during Aylwin’s administration, no officer involved in human rights abuses was promoted; and this meant rejecting several attempts by the army to promote those officers. Although President Aylwin did not have the legal ability to ask for the resignation of commanders in chief, his administration used the veto power as a tool of civilian supremacy.

The attempt to demonstrate civilian supremacy was even more evident in its daily political relations with the military. If subordination could not be achieved by reforming the law, the government’s only option was to demonstrate its control through specific gestures, norms of protocol, and symbols. The symbolic representation of power involved a set of public and private signals that demonstrated civilian control, for the government, and institutional autonomy, for the armed forces. On the day of his inauguration, President Aylwin refused to receive the symbolic presidential sash (banda presidencial) directly from General Pinochet, as democratic tradition specified. And in the first military parade of the new era of democracy, the officer in charge did not ask the president for authorization, breaking the tradition of subordination to the president. (Two months later, President Aylwin used the right of veto to “freeze” this officer’s career.) Aylwin was concerned about the formal manifestation of power. When the military staged independent troop movements and otherwise showed its autonomy during his administration, as it did several times in 1990 and later, Aylwin called General Pinochet to the presidential palace demanding explanations (see Otano 1995; Fuentes 1996; and Boeninger 1997).

For their part, the armed forces, and particularly the army, wished to demonstrate their independence from civilian rule. For instance, during this entire period General Pinochet avoided looking to the minister of defense to resolve civil-military conflicts. Moreover, General Pinochet did not attend the yearly presidential speech before Congress, and he did not participate in official acts that involved showing protocol subordination to civilian rule.

Another manifestation of military autonomy was the armed forces’ response to the national report on human rights (the Rettig Report). The army’s response directly rejected “the wrong historical perspective of the Rettig Report” and noted its “fundamental disagreement” with the report’s concepts and topics. The army declared that there was no reason for any member of the military to seek a pardon, because the military action of 1973 was “a patriotic mission” (Ejercito de Chile 1991). This last statement was a direct response to President Aylwin, who had called on all responsible for the breakdown of democracy in Chile to ask for pardon before the country (Centro de Estudios Publicos 1991).

The government’s strategy of formal and informal reinforcement of civilian control collided with the armed forces’ interests. The first years of democracy thus were a process of accommodating expectations and learning other actors’ responses. The civilian government faced a dilemma between reinforcing civilian supremacy and providing political stability for the country.

To resolve this dilemma, political authorities developed informal networks among government, political, and military officials to resolve conflicts. The government did not want to use formal institutions to resolve conflicts because that would legitimate the conflicts. The Aylwin administration avoided convening the National Security Council to resolve civil-military tensions, for example, because this institution-in which the armed forces had equal representation with civilians–blurred the military’s subordinated position in relation to the president.

Instead, officials worked to build confidence among specific individuals. The ministers of communications (Enrique Correa), interior (Enrique Krauss), and the presidency (Edgardo Boeninger) were active in resolving tensions. Other politicians initiated the first informal contacts between the army and the government. Senators and deputies of the right wing, as well as the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, participated in these informal networks. Additionally, the army developed more confidence with some specific actors.4 The army itself, however, created an advisery committee in 1990 to handle its relations with the mass media and with political sectors. But this committee also linked the army with the government during the Aylwin administration.’

The two main government-army crises of this period illustrate some of these political aspects of the civil-military relationship. On December 19, 1990, the news media reported a strange movement of troops in garrisons throughout the country. The minister of defense, not knowing about the activity, had to ask the minister of the interior what was going on. After midnight, the defense minister officially announced that the situation was “normal.” The interior minister, however, said later that this information was only “formal,” because “neither public opinion nor the government knew what was going on in the country, and this situation is not reasonable in any democratic government” (Ministry of Interior 1991).

At 10 A.M. on December 20, the army’s department of public relations reported that the action was an “exercise of security and coordination” (ejercicio de seguridad y enlace), which had, moreover, achieved all its objectives. Attempting to restore the image of civilian control, President Aylwin immediately called General Pinochet to “obtain an explanation for the unusual measures of the army” (Hoy 1990).

Aside from the ongoing army-government tensions, this action was a response to more specific current events. A special congressional commission was investigating a case of corruption during the military government in which General Pinochet’s son had sold a defense company to the army under apparently irregular conditions. (The army paid Pinochet’s son by check; hence the incident’s popular name, the cheques case.) The antecedents of this transaction may have involved General Pinochet, two former subcommanders in chief of the army, four ex-generals, and one general in active service. One of the commission’s main objectives was to determine whether Pinochet had known about the transaction (see Otano 1995). If he had, deputies could ask for his prosecution.

In early December, the president, two cabinet ministers, and civilian and army leaders had informally talked about having Pinochet resign to avoid involvement in the case (Otano 1995). A few days before the military move, however, Aylwin decided that the minister of defense should guide all negotiations with the army, so as to reinforce the notion of hierarchical obedience. Defense Minister Rojas then told Army General Jorge Ballerino that the government wanted to establish a specific date for Pinochet’s resignation. The army interpreted that as undue pressure against Pinochet, and this generated the crisis (Otano 1995, 156).

Later, Rojas conceded that the army’s uprising had occurred because of “misunderstandings in the conversations [between the army and the government] about options of solution in several cases that involved military officers” (La Epoca 1990). But Aylwin, among others, recognized that the core of the action was not this misunderstanding but the army’s action “to intimidate and to threaten the government and those actors who were investigating the cheques case” (Chamber of Deputies 1998; see also Boeninger 1997, 409).

After the crisis, negotiations resumed to resolve the cheques case. The ultimate resolution, however, depended on the investigative commission. The final commission report in January 1991 omitted a direct reference to Pinochet. Commission president Jorge Schoulsohn later explained, “the report is very clear because it is possible to infer General Pinochet’s degree of knowledge in this case. However, the final report was edited in order to preserve a unanimous agreement” (Hoy 1991). The “consensual” report implied that, in the conclusion, deputies avoided involving General Pinochet in the case. According to Rafael Otano, the government and some deputies acted to reduce the report’s impact (Otano 1995, 159).

The second crisis-known as El Boinazo, for the officers’ beret occurred on May 28, 1993. The senior army officers (42 generals), all wearing their combat uniforms, met in protest in the armed forces building across from the presidential palace. After the meeting, the army declared a state of alert (estado de alerta), and for the next five days, all officers throughout the country stayed in their garrisons dressed for combat. President Aylwin was on an official visit to northern Europe; cabinet ministers Krauss and Correa met with General Pinochet and his advisers to resolve the crisis, informing the president daily (see Hoy 1993a, b; Otano (1995, 306-20).

The cheques case was again the cause. In 1991, the congressional commission’s report had been sent to the State Defense Council (equivalent to an attorney general). On April 24, 1993, the council decided to present the case to the judicial branch. The government and the army had agreed to reduce the level of publicity of this case, but on May 28 a government newspaper (La Nacion) published that decision as headline news. The army saw this as the beginning of a political campaign against Pinochet.

While the crisis was being resolved, the army issued new demands, including a lower profile for the cheques case, approval of more than one hundred administrative decrees pending in the Ministry of Defense, the resolution of conflicts in the army’s industrial corporation (Famae), the definitive closing of human rights cases pending in the courts, the postponement of a bill to reform the Constitution, and the resignation of the minister of defense.

The government accepted some of the demands, but flatly rejected others. The cheques case was transferred to another court to reduce publicity; the government approved pending administrative decrees and created a commission to resolve the specific problems of the army’s industrial corporation; the government sent a bill to Congress to resolve human rights cases (Congress later rejected it). But the government refused to ask for the defense minister’s resignation (although the undersecretary of the army was moved to another job).

Despite these and other confrontations, from a professional point of view, the Aylwin government developed some initiatives in terms of international relations and military acquisitions. Those policies, however, were restricted in scope and were developed without considering the army’s professional demands, because of the conflictual relationship between the minister of defense and General Pinochet (Varas and Fuentes 1994). Particularly interesting is the evolution of the military budget in this first government. The government believed that to increase social expenditures it had to reduce the military budget in absolute terms. But because the government lacked the required majority in Congress (two-thirds of the full membership in both chambers) to change the law that fixed the military budget, the government never proposed a change. Instead, the Aylwin administration gave the military just what the law specified-the equivalent of the 1989 military budget, adjusted for inflation, effectively converting that minimum into a maximum. Soon, the military realized the mistake of tying its budget to the inflation rate. While the inflation rate tended to decline, the nation’s economic growth tended to increase.

Thus, between 1989 and 1994, the defense share of the national budget fell from 15.60 percent to 10.52 percent, whereas social spending increased from 64.75 percent to 67.05 percent. Proportionally, the military budget decreased only slightly, in contrast to the jump in social spending in the same period (Ministry of Defense 1997; Hunter 1998, 308). 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 to show some civilian control over the military. In this case, Aylwin’s policy was to respect the law; but as the Chilean economy grew, the military’s share of the defense budget comparatively declined (see table 2).


The second administration of the Concertacion changed the objectives and strategies in the civil-military relationship. Whereas the Aylwin government had developed a noncooperative strategy, attempting to gain formal and symbolic civilian control, now the main objectives were to promote cooperation and to reinforce civilian leadership. New elected officials avoided confrontation so as to create a positive environment of dialogue with the armed forces. A comparison of the Aylwin and Frei programs (table 3) shows that the second Concertacion government had more restricted goals on issues related to the subordination of the military and a greater emphasis on defense matters.

Why did the same coalition of political parties change its goals and strategies on the same issue? A possible explanation might be the pace of the transition; the first four years of democracy could have reduced actors’ uncertainty about each other’s behavior. In this sense, the new government now knew how much (or how little) it could pressure the armed forces, and it chose to promote more modest objectives.

An alternative and arguably more accurate explanation can be found in the change of leadership in the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and changes in the strategic orientation of the Concertacion’s goals. President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle represented a new generation of Christian Democrats, less committed to the struggle against the military regime and more business-oriented. While Aylwin’s main advisers were traditional PDC political leaders before and during the military regime, Frei’s advisers were marginal to the traditional leadership of this party. The PDC actually had no continuity in top positions from one government to another.6

Learning from experience explains some of the policy changes during the second Concertacion government. Observing their predecessors’ unsuccessful attempts to transform the armed forces’ legal status, the new Concertacion leaders believed that the political context inhibited, at least in the short run, any constitutional reform, and that the government’s global strategy should emphasize issues such as the country’s modernization (education, health care, infrastructure, international relations) rather than the transformation of the political system. Nevertheless, the leadership change in the Concertacion brought more pragmatic leaders. Thus, the strategy was based on a hierarchy of issues (modernization over politics), and the constitutional reforms were delayed until after the 1998 Congressional elections took place and the nine appointed senators were replaced.

The policy shift also stemmed from a historical lack of confidence between the Christian Democrats and the military. The government of Frei’s father, Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-70), did not especially promote a defense policy and, moreover, provoked resentment in the military when it failed to improve military housing, equipment, and salaries. At the time of the military coup in 1973, the PDC leaders recognized that they had no channels of communication with the military and no knowledge of its attitudes. Now Frei Montalva’s son wanted to establish, in the words of one defense adviser, a “nontraumatic relationship between the armed forces and some parties of the Concertacion, and particularly, Christian Democracy” (Garcia 1998, 166).

The Frei administration’s strategy reconsidered the institutional, political, and professional policies applied during the first administration. From an institutional and legal point of view, the government paid less attention to the legal tools for showing some control over the military. Whereas the Aylwin administration had used the presidential veto to forestall promotion of officers involved in human rights violations, for example, Frei’s government was more flexible.’ The new government also turned to institutions the previous one had aooided, such as the National Security Council, to resolve civil-military conflicts.

Politically, the increased pragmatism showed in the government’s attempt to downplay more conflictive matters. Whereas Aylwin had made public symbolic gestures to reinforce his presidential authority, Frei and his advisers treated the symbols of power as less important. During the Frei administration, the political agenda of civil-military relations was sometimes more a product of some exogenous circumstance (a 1995 judicial finding against officers once close to Pinochet, Congress’s 1998 impeachment of Pinochet, Pinochet’s 1998 arrest in London on international charges of human rights abuses) than a government initiative. Issues such as constitutional reforms were also downplayed, as a way to guarantee the subordination of the military and the human rights agenda (see Concertacion 1993; Garreton 1995).

This new approach tended to concentrate resolutions of civilmilitary conflicts in the Ministry of Defense. During the Aylwin administration, the defense minister had the political (and symbolic) role of reinforcing civilian control over the military, but the contentious relationship between Pinochet and Rojas led authorities to resolve specific conflicts through other channels. The new administration decided to change this situation, designating a defense minister who would generate confidence within the armed forces. Edmundo PerezYoma was a close friend of the president; he developed a closer relationship with Pinochet than his predecessor had.8 Perez-Yoma also set up an informal top-level staff of civilian and ex-military advisers. After 1994, all civil-military decisions were centralized in the Ministry of Defense, diminishing the participation of other actors and agencies, such as the Ministries of Communication and the Presidency.

Perez-Yoma, furthermore, belonged to what was called Frei’s “iron circle” of advisers, which also included Minister of the Presidency Juan Villarzu and Interior Minister Carlos Figueroa (see Bano 1997). The concentration of military policymaking among particular Christian Democratic advisers close to the president became, for some PDC critics, another form of personalization.

These two elements-the change in programmatic priorities and the personalization of the military agenda among specific Christian Democratic advisers close to the president-provoked friction within the coalition. While government authorities were avoiding discussing controversial reforms, other leaders demanded them. The internal dispute led Frei, four months after his inauguration, to reformulate his original objectives, proclaiming a “second generation of programmatic goals.” He then announced a bill that included restricted constitutional reforms, such as the abolition of appointed senators and a proposal to speed up the approval of bills in Congress (Garreton 1995).

These partial innovations failed to ease the internal tensions. In September 1994, the government faced its first cabinet crisis when the moderate leftist Party for Democracy (PPD) and the Socialists objected to the administration’s programs. (These different “sensibilities” within the coalition have continued to increase; see Toloza and Lahera 1998, 708). As a result, the coalition had to establish more formal mechanisms of coordination between its political parties and the government. The ministers in charge of political decisions were closer to the president than to their own political party (Bano 1997).

Politicians in the Concertacion consequently assumed a more active role on civil-military issues such as human rights and institutional reforms, and civil society also became more actively involved than it had been during the previous administration. While the government appeared to emphasize issues associated with military modernization and defense policy, leftist parties demanded a more active human rights policy and institutional reforms.

The three incidents mentioned above illustrate all these tendencies. In May 1995, the Supreme Court sentenced General Manuel Contreras, former chief of the National Intelligence Service (Direction de Inteligencia National), and Colonel Pedro Espinoza, his second in command, to seven and six years in prison, respectively. The two army officers were allegedly the intellectual authors of the assassination of Orlando Letelier, Salvador Allende’s minister of foreign affairs, in 1976 in Washington, DC.

On June 13, just days before the Supreme Court issued the final arrest order, the army moved Contreras from his house in the south of Chile to the naval hospital in Talcahuano, surprising the unsuspecting government. The army explained that Contreras needed medical attention and that the navy, for “humanitarian reasons,” had agreed to admit him. Pinochet declared, however, that the main reason for this action was to postpone Contreras’s imprisonment because the army considered the verdict “unjust.” Additionally, the military wanted Contreras and Espinoza to stay in a “secure, honorable and peaceful place” (Pinochet, quoted in La Tercera 1995)meaning that it wanted special conditions for them.

Espinoza, meanwhile, entered the prison at Punta Peuco on June 19 without major problems. On July 22, however, more than three hundred officers paid him a visit, in a “peaceful” demonstration against the government. El Peucazo took place on a Sunday, and all the officers wore civilian clothes. Thus the action did not violate any norm, but it represented a warning to the government. Two factors had provoked it: the military’s continuing perception that some political parties were campaigning to discredit it, and the State Defense Council’s reactivation of the cheques case. Two days before the Peucazo, the council had decided to send new material about the cheques case to the judicial branch.

The army’s demands this time were a political solution to the cheques case, a definitive resolution of pending human rights trials, a presidential pardon of Contreras and Espinoza when they had served half their sentences, the creation of a special military unit to hold Contreras and Espinoza, and an increase in the military budget (El Mercurio 19956). The government’s response was to agree to let the army share custody of the prisoners with prison police officers. The government also raised armed forces salaries for the next year. Most significant, the president petitioned the State Defense Council to suspend actions in the cheques case for “reasons of state” (El Mercurio 1995a). Contreras finally went to jail on October 21, 1995.

In response to the army’s demand for closure on the human rights issues, the government’s strategy was to use this as a bargaining chip to reduce military prerogatives. President Frei proposed several bills to Congress that would, variously, expedite pending human rights trials, reform the armed forces law to permit the president to fire high-ranking officers, change the composition of the National Security Council to add the president of the Chamber of Deputies, abolish appointed senators, and reform the Constitutional Tribunal so that the National Security Council could no longer name some of its members. Congress, however, approved none of the proposals.

The decisionmaking process in this case was driven mainly by the Ministry of Defense. Negotiations between the army and the government were as elitist as during the Aylwin administration; the main difference was that the leftist sectors of the coalition had been less involved in policymaking during and after the crisis, leaving them with more decisions to contest. For instance, President Frei decided to ask for the closure of the cheques case without consulting leftist sectors. More important, the president’s initiative on human rights originated in consultation with liberal sectors of the right-wing party, Renovacion Nacional, but not with the Socialist Party?

A second example of the government’s new style was the impeachment of General Pinochet. In January 1998, the parties of the Concertacion debated how to face the next step of the transition in Chile; namely that in March 1998, when General Pinochet had to retire from the army, he would have the constitutional privilege of assuming the role of senator for life. In defining the best strategy for dealing with this issue. two factors were crucial: the need to make a significant political gesture attacking the “nondemocratic” aspects of the Constitution, and the need to respect the “rule of law,” avoiding any unconstitutional action. The Concertacion wanted to show that “we do not like appointed and life senators, or at least, to make a `political trial’ of General Pinochet’s behavior in the last years” (Christian Democratic President Enrique Krauss, quoted in La Epoca 1998a).

The Concertacion, however, was deeply divided about the potential consequences of any action against General Pinochet. The result was the first public split in the coalition on this subject. Just after General Pinochet assumed his new position, on March 11, 1998, a group of deputies, including Christian Democrats, PPD members, and Socialists, presented a petition to impeach Pinochet for his behavior during the democratic period (March 1990-March 1998). The main legal arguments were three: “he seriously affected the international image of the country, affecting severely the national honor”; “he was responsible for acts that attempted to disrupt the rule of law, affecting the national security”; and “he offended the memory of the victims of human rights violations, affecting the national honor” (Camara de Diputados 1998).

The petitioners knew their proposal had only a small chance of approval; its allegations of illegal actions would be difficult to prove, and the Senate had a right-wing majority. Thus, the objective of this action was mainly symbolic. As Socialist Party President Can ilo Escalona stressed, “we must assume our historical responsibility, rejecting General Pinochet in the Senate. There is an ethical and moral problem, and we [the Concertacion] cannot avoid this responsibility” (La Epoca 1998d). The Frei administration, however, considered the petition politically embarrassing. The government had accepted Pinochet’s nomination as senator for life as another step in the transition for both the army and the country. The government argued, “since 1990 all actors have acted with responsibility and prudence within the constitutional framework, and we do not observe a change in the circumstances that could justify a change in this prudent and responsible behavior” (Minister of Communications Jose Joaquin Brunner, quoted in La Epoca 1998b. Similar words came from President Frei; see La Epoca 1998c).

The decision to approve impeachment in the lower chamber depended on the Christian Democrats, and they were internally divided. While some progressive sectors defended the “idealist” posture of making a symbolic gesture, others, such as Minister of the Presidency Juan Villarzu, stressed more “pragmatic” arguments, such as the need to end this stage of the transition or risk losing the presidency of the senate, by losing cooperative right-wing votes (La Epoca 1998c). Villarzu also noted that accepting Pinochet as senator “was the price paid to open other spaces of participation” (Diario ABC 1998).

As the impeachment gained support among the deputies, the government lobbied Congress to reject the initiative (Que Paso 1998; La Epoca 1998e, f; Las Ultimas Noticias 1998). Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Miguel Insulza asserted that a constitutional impeachment would hinder the political transition (El Mercurio 1998a). The government’s stand was that a petition of impeachment against Pinochet was a petition against the transition itself. One day before the final decision, and partly as a result of the government lobby, ex-president Aylwin, contradicting earlier Congressional testimony, declared, “if I were a deputy, I would not approve the impeachment” (El Mercurio 1998b). This reduced the impeachment’s chances of approval, because most deputies’ arguments for it were based on Aylwin’s declaration.

Pinochet’s arrest in London in October 1998 is another example of the more pragmatic, personalized, and internally divided Concertacion. Spanish prosecutors asked Britain to extradite Pinochet to face charges that his regime had murdered Spanish citizens in Chile. A second Spanish investigation (in which Pinochet was not specifically charged) focused on Operation Condor, in which military regimes in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay had coordinated antileftist campaigns. Hundreds of Spanish citizens allegedly disappeared in Argentina during its 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Whereas in other Chilean civil-military conflicts, right-wing sectors arguably were indirectly defending their own interests by preventing constitutional reforms, here a more evident issue was that of loyalty to the “creator” of the model. Therefore the army, former generals, business sectors, and right-wing parties assumed a strong defense of General Pinochet, asserting legal reasons (immunity) as well as political reasons (the stability of the country). These sectors pressured the government to retaliate against Spain and England (see La Tercera 1998a).

The government and one faction of the PDC agreed, arguing that Pinochet held diplomatic immunity and adopting a moderate defense of Pinochet’s position. The government emphasized a legal argument, saying that it was defending the principle of national sovereignty rather than an ex-dictator. PDC President Enrique Krauss said it “must be accepted that a member of the Parliament is protected from prosecution, and General Pinochet is a senator” (El Mercurio 1998c; New York Times 1998). The government twice called meetings of the National Security Council and organized special meetings with the army to explain its strategies. The more leftist sectors of the coalition (parts of the PDC and the PPD-PS), by contrast, suggested that the government should keep a low profile, leaving the case to the courts. Moreover, they defended the idea that diplomatic immunity should not apply to persons charged with crimes against humanity.

The case also reopened the debate about constitutional reforms and human rights. With Pinochet now absent, the Socialist Party proposed a “re-pact” of the Chilean transition, suggesting an agenda of political reforms. The Catholic church suggested new initiatives of “truth, justice, and forgiveness” in human rights, and the Christian Democrats suggested a second Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All these initiatives, however, were rejected by the most conservative sectors of the Chilean political spectrum. As in the recent past, only the liberal factions of Renovacion Nacional accepted the idea of some constitutional reforms (La Tercera 1998b). This situation changed once the English courts decided a second time (in April 1999) to extradite Pinochet. Now rightwing parties recognized the need to find more than a thousand missing bodies and to support some symbols of reconciliation, but they avoided reference to military prerogatives.

These three examples illustrate the coalition’s lesser cohesion and greater contestation during the Frei administration, as well as the crucial importance of a political coalition supporting the military. Another change in the Frei administration’s strategy related to defense policy. The administration announced in May 1994 its decision to create a clear-cut defense policy designed through a public, informed process, which it hoped would strengthen long-term commitments to the state’s military policies.

The Ministry of Defense set four specific goals: to increase citizen commitment to defense issues, to treat defense policy as a state policy, to promote international peace, and to stimulate efficiency in the armed forces (see Mensaje presidencial 1994; Perez-Yoma 1995). To achieve these goals, the government developed policies in areas such as the modernization of the Defense Ministry’s administrative apparatus. For the military, it stressed the development of confidence-building measures at the international level, the development of a policy for peacekeeping operations, reform of the military conscription law, and the explicit statement of defense goals through the publication of a “national defense book.”10 This last initiative had two specific purposes: to develop a civil-military “community” capable of advising authorities on the elaboration of defense policies, and to make military issues more open to civilians, reducing the negative effect of a “culture of the military secret” (Garcia 1998, 175).

Finally, the government decided to change its policy toward the military budget, generating a specific program to increase officers’ salaries. The government approved specific decrees to improve salaries of military officers in 1995 and 1997 (see Mensaje presidencial 1996, 1997, 1998). As table 2 shows, the second Concertacion government did increase the military budget in proportionate terms between 1995 and 1997, breaking the previous government’s tendency to maintain it at the lowest level permitted by law. This increase was a result of both military pressures and the government’s commitment to respond to the military’s main concerns.


The contrast between the Aylwin and Frei administrations shows how two governments that shared the need to subordinate the military and provide stability to the country differed in their policies because of leader preferences, leadership styles, and strategic calculations (see table 4). Assuming that the subordination of the military is built from day to day, civilian leaders’ strategies and predispositions are central pieces of the structure. The characteristics of the Aylwin and Frei governments’ strategies were fairly distinctive. Whereas Aylwin’s government had informal channels to resolve civil-military conflicts, a relatively cohesive coalition in government, and less internal political contestation, Frei’s government had a greater personalization of the decisionmaking process, less cohesion within the coalition, and greater political contestation.

The Congressional elections in December 1997 reinforced these tendencies. The Christian Democrats, for the first time, lost their majority in relation to the leftist parties in the coalition, and more conservative sectors tended to dominate the right-wing parties. Thus, in 1998, the political polarization was more obvious in both the opposition and the government. The lack of elite unity inhibited any political debate in relation to the military.

Ten years of democratic experience in Chile also reveal the extreme personalization of civil-military relations and the importance of General Pinochet’s leadership to the right wing. The many public episodes involving the armed forces and right-wing sectors since 1990 have demonstrated those sectors’ continuing loyalty to Pinochet. All the crises related to the cheques case (1990, 1993, and 1995) arose in defense of Pinochet’s personal reputation and that of his family, rather than of the military institution itself. Pinochet’s mooted constitutional impeachment and his overseas arrest, moreover, clearly triggered the demonstrations highlighting the loyalty of these sectors.

In other words, Pinochet and the military’s interests are one and the same: political defense of the military regime’s legacy. Thus Pinochet’s warning of 1989 (“If some of my people are touched, forget the rule of law”) has actually worked in two directions. On the one hand, General Pinochet defended the legacy of the military regime, including the preservation of the 1980 Constitution, the amnesty law, military justice, and the military budget. On the other hand, right-wing parties have protected Pinochet against judicial accountability and extranational prosecution for human rights violations.

The first two months of the third Concertacion government showed the same trend: a distinct personalization of the civil-military conflicts related to Pinochet’s future. After he returned to Chile from London in March 2000, the Chilean courts were asked to decide whether they could or should judge Pinochet for crimes committed during his government. Right-wing parties conditioned the debate over constitutional reforms to Pinochet’s immunity for crimes committed during his regime (La Tercera 2000).

The debate over Pinochet’s status shows that civilian authorities seeking to increase the military’s subordination face the difficult choice between defending their principles and pragmatically resolving conflicts that might threaten national stability. Aylwin resolved this dilemma by developing a strategy of civilian control to reinforce subordination, accompanied by informal mechanisms of conflict resolution to provide stability. Frei’s government used a strategy of engagement, attempting to avoid the issue of formal subordination. Political conditions, the international context, and pressures within the coalition, however, have constantly revived the issue. What Aylwin achieved through symbols and the use of legal tools to subordinate the military, Frei partly achieved through defense policy-a pragmatic policy that deemphasized the formal aspects of civil-military interaction.


Few studies in the last decade have considered the “civil” dimension of civil-military relations, analyzing not only the way civilians think about military issues but also the strategies and constraints they face in daily interactions with military officers and the civilians who support those officers.” While a “pure” institutional approach focuses mainly on civilian attributions versus military privileges (for example, Stepan 1988), obscuring the analysis of actors’ strategies to deal with these institutions, a “pure” rational choice approach focuses primarily on strategic interactions, considering preferences as exogenous and institutions as formal. This study has considered both institutions and political culture as contextual or constraining conditions in civil-military interactions that affect how decisionmakers act on their choices and preferences.

A third factor is the main political discourses about the role the military should play in society. Chile is characterized by a long-term division on this topic, particularly among the elite; and elite fragmentation has affected specific actors’ policy options. In this sense, this article disagrees with the conclusion that a powerful and legitimate political system per se is capable of containing the military (Angell 1993, 572). Subordinating the military is no easy task, even without elite cleavage.

Within the coalition government, some actors support the idea of subordination through professionalization of the armed forces and excluding them from decisionmaking, while other actors support involving military institutions in socioeconomic development and inserting them into the decisionmaking process. (The opposition right-wing parties, furthermore, support the notion of the military as an independent power.) While the Aylwin administration was closer to the first notion, the Frei administration was closer to the second. Most significant is that two governments supported by the same political parties and facing the same great institutional constraints developed different policy options.

As many scholars have pointed out, institutions, rules, and norms have effectively limited the scope of alternatives for civilian authorities (Angell 1993; Loveman 1994; Linz and Stepan 1996; Aguero 1997b, 1998). What those analyses have considered less, however, is that subordination is a matter not only of prerogatives but also of political willingness, strategies, and actual use of legal tools. Chilean democratic authorities developed different strategies by using the same legal tools (and also symbols of power) in different ways. Different personal styles and leader preferences also shaped the outcome.

The resulting strategies had different and sometimes unexpected effects. In the case of the Aylwin administration, the informal resolution of military conflicts reinforced the idea of considering the military as a distinct actor requiring special consideration. Frei’s engaging strategy attempted to resolve this situation by personalizing decisionmaking in the Ministry of Defense. Critical circumstances, however, made both leaders resolve conflicts outside institutional channels. In this sense, this article reveals a vicious cycle, wherein institutional rules have installed the military as an actor capable of influencing politics, yet the deep cleavages in the elite political leaders’ strategic decisions tend to maintain military participation in politics.

The evidence also underscores the extreme personalization of civil-military relations in Chile. General Pinochet’s personal and family reputation was often more crucial to his supporters than the military institution itself. The personal relationship between the minister of defense and the armed forces during the Frei administration helped to reduce tensions, but this improvement did not mean that the Defense Ministry as an institution gained control over the armed forces.

The Chilean lesson is that even in an unfavorable institutional environment, government authorities can still develop strategies to generate some change. In Chile, the military and civilian sectors have constituted a cohesive coalition of interests and beliefs that supports constant military intervention in politics. In Argentina, by contrast, a cohesive civilian coalition was formed after 1983, supporting an important reorganization of the armed forces. In other cases, such as Chile before 1973 and Uruguay after 1983 (Diamint 1999), civilians did not develop specific policies to deal with the military, opting for a “division of spheres” strategy.

Recognizing the existence of many possible policy alternatives, democratic authorities in developing countries can (and must) develop strategies to deal with the armed forces. Indeed, defining objectives and mechanisms to achieve military subordination is the easier part of their task. What is more difficult is choosing between the long-term objective of military subordination and the short-term objective of political stability. By considering the balance of power among civilian actors and by focusing on the civilian strategies for dealing with the military, scholars will better understand the maintenance of military autonomy, and political actors will avoid undesired consequences in the future.

This article has underscored that civilian responses toward the military have important consequences for the stabilization of civil-military relationship. In this sense, the main policy implication of this research is that governments need to develop civilian capabilities in military issues. Recently, scholars have emphasized not only the need for an objective subordination of the military but also for the active presence of civilians in defense spheres (Kohn 1997). Civilians need to know about such matters as military budget management, administrative and logistical organization, military technology, and the improvement of Congressional powers and capabilities for demanding accountability from military institutions. Civilians can affect civil-military relations in different and unexpected ways, and by considering this “civil” dimension more seriously, scholars might contribute to the understanding of new and old patterns of civil-military relationships, as well as to the prevention of undesired outcomes.


This article is a modified version of the author’s master’s thesis, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1999. The author is grateful for the comments and suggestions made by Merike Blofield, Jonathan Hartlyn, Richard Kohn, Lars Schoultz, Brian Loveman, and four anonymous reviewers of this journal.

1. Bratton and van de Walle provide a good discussion of the agentstructure problem. They suggest a structured contingency approach that “is neither overly deterministic nor excessively voluntaristic” (1997, 45). This concept was previously developed in Karl 1990.

2. “Elite” is understood here as “the principal decisionmakers in the largest or most pivotally situated organizations in a society,” including political, governmental, economic, military, professional, communications, religious, and cultural organizations (Field et al. 1997; see also Etzioni-Halevy 1997).

3. For the commanders in chief in office in 1990, the law established an exception. General Pinochet in the army, General Fernando Matthei in the air force, and Chief of the Carabineros (uniformed police) Rodolfo Stange could stay in office for eight years. Only Pinochet exercised this privilege for the full eight years.

4. The press has cited, for example, Senators Sergio Onofre Jarpa (Renovaci6n National), Francisco Prat (Renovacion National), Arturo Frei (Christian Democrat), and Deputy Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo (Socialist); Ministers Correa (Socialist), Boeninger (Christian Democrat), Assistant to the Minister of the Interior Jorge Burgos (Christian Democrat), and Chairman of the Executive Division of the Presidency Isidro Solis (Radical). See Otano 1995; Fuentes 1996.

5. The Army Advisory Committee kept the same structure in the presidential secretariat that Pinochet had created during the military regime. See Otano 1995.

6. Aylwin’s close advisers (Interior Minister Krauss, Minister of the Presidency Boeninger, and Defense Minister Rojas) were active politicians before 1973 and during the military regime (see Aylwin 1998). In contrast, Frei’s advisers were less important in the PDC in the same period. Only one Christian Democratic minister, Justice Minister Soledad Alvear, remained from the Aylwin administration to that of Frei. The new team’s average age was 46 (much younger than before), and, for the first time in history, the cabinet included more engineers than lawyers (Otano 1995, 359). In 1999, moreover, only 3 of the 21 ministers had held their jobs since 1994.

7. Frei’s government accepted General Fernando Rojas Vender as commander in chief of the Air Force in 1994. Rojas had indirectly participated in the 1973 coup. In 1998, Frei promoted two officers whom Aylwin previously had vetoed (see Cosas 1998).

8. Minister Perez-Yoma’s first initiative, in 1994, was to visit army units around the country, accompanied by Pinochet, to evaluate military installations.

9. The human rights bill was called the Ley Frei-Otero for President Frei and Senator Miguel Otero (RN). In early 1996, the Socialist Party president protested his party’s exclusion from decisions that originated this bill (Bar*o 1997).

10. The creation of this book involved several workshops in 1997 with the participation of more than one hundred representatives of different ministries, the armed forces, deputies, senators, representatives of political parties, and civilian experts, including various state agencies, NGOs, and think tanks. See Ministry of Defense 1997; Garcia 1998.

11. A recent sophisticated analysis of the civilian thought on military issues in comparative perspective is Mares 1998. See also Hunter 1997, 1998.


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Claudio A. Fuentes is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; he holds a degree in history from the Universidad Cat6lica de Chile. He is also a research professor with FLACSOChile and past editor of the journal Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad. Sr. Fuentes is coauthor (with Augusto Varas) of Defense Nacional: Chile 1990-1994 (1994) and (with Francisco Rojas Aravena) “Civil-Military Relations in Chile’s Geopolitical Transition,” in Civil-Military Relations: Building Democracy and Regional Security in Latin America, Southern Asia, and Central Europe, ed. David R. Mares (1998).

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