History of Chile POLITICS

From Portales to Guzmán: Architects of the Chilean Right

SANTIAGO – In the 200-plus years that Chile has been a republic, many have attempted to leave their mark. Only some have succeeded. Chile Today takes a look at the people who helped create the ideological base for Chile’s right wing.

Most of the local right-wing parties grew out of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Independent Democratic Union (UDI) even stated in its founding documents that it supported the ideas and actions behind the 1973 coup d’état. UDI changed the documents in 2016, but – just as other right-wing parties – remained committed to neoliberal ideology and a more authoritarian governing style.

Liberalism has left a mark still. For although the basic ideology of the Chilean right resembles that of its global peers, Chilean right-wingers acknowledge the need to address inequality, the importance of taxation, and they recognize climate change, which is why they push renewable energy. However, free market capitalism, Christian values as social ordering principles, and strong executive power are non-negotiable. These principles trace back to the early years of the Chilean Republic.

The President Who Never Was: Diego Portales

Diego Portales was never president, but he was a tactful politician who pulled the strings from his positions as minister of interior, foreign relations and war, becoming a mainstay in the government from 1830 until his death in 1837. During this time, he strongly influenced the 1833 constitution, which helped ensure that the conservatives would remain in power.

Born into a middle class family, Portales began his life as a scholar. He studied Latin, philosophy, case law, theology, and fine arts. He later became an assayer for the government before quitting and dedicating himself to commerce.  Just three years later, in 1824, he had a monopoly on tobacco and was expanding to Peru.

There, he began harboring an interest in politics. The times were politically unstable, which prevented smooth commerce. As result, when conservative general Joaquín Prieto approached Portales during the 1829 Chilean Civil War, Portales jumped at the chance and became his second in command.

When Prieto and Portales achieved victory in 1830, Portales began establishing a new governmental structure based on strong executive power, led by the conservative oligarchy, that could bring order to the country. During his tenure in multiple ministries, he focused on reorganizing the army and making sure that it was loyal to the civilian government by purging its ranks of those who were in disagreement with him, as well as getting rid of any opposition that was left after the civil war by exiling them outside the country.

He also overhauled the education and justice systems and helped the Catholic Church expand into Coquimbo and Chiloé. 

Portales is even responsible for declaring September 18 as the national holiday and declaring war against the Peru-Bolivia alliance in 1836, the latter over worries the alliance could grow into too strong an economic competitor.

His many reforms and restructuring of the military earned Portales some resentment. When he inspected troops in Quillota, Colonel José Antonio Vidaurre ordered him to be arrested. He was imprisoned for three days until July 6, 1837, when he was executed.

Although he held power for only a relatively short time, Portales’ reach impacts even contemporary politics. His personal philosophy became the base of the conservative government that ruled from 1830 until 1861, and heavily influenced current right-wing parties. They all support strong executive power that should control the public. That’s why many right-wing politicians and voters criticize President Sebastián Piñera for being soft – even though Piñera is working hard to uphold a strong government image.

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The Founder of the Carabineros: Carlos Ibáñez del Campo

Carlos Ibáñez del Campo was a soldier who later ventured into, and influenced, Chilean politics for decades – first as a member of the military committee that took power in 1925, followed by a time as minister of war before becoming president, and afterwards as parliamentarian, followed by another six years as president, again, before dying in 1960.

Born in Linares in 1877, Ibáñez del Campo joined the military academy at age 19, where he rose up in the ranks until he became major and was made director of the School of Cavalry in 1921. Three years later, he entered politics when he led the Ruido de Sables, a group of officers that barged into parliament and banged their swords against the tables to register their disapproval of the politicians’ inaction over the withering quality of life that existed back then.

When the military took power in 1924, Ibáñez del Campo was selected as member of the military junta, yet in 1925, he organized a coup d’état against the coup d’état and gave power back to the deposed president, Arturo Alessandri. He then served as his minister of war. Ibáñez del Campo held this position for two years before he forced the newly-elected president, Emiliano Figueroa, to resign, so that he could take power. 

Ibáñez del Campo’s first presidency lasted from 1927 to 1931, backed up by the military this term was “clearly authoritarian.” During this time he created the Carabineros de Chile, the militarized police force, and elevated public spending, with help of the booming nitrate industry. When the Great Depression hit, Chile accumulated a massive debt. Ibáñez del Campo attempted to fix it by creating a monopoly on nitrate, but he failed and was forced to resign and go into exile in 1931.

Former director of Carabineros arrested for torture during dictatorship

When Ibáñez del Campo returned in 1937, he allied with fascist groups and attempted to overthrow the government in 1938 and 1939. He later made an unsuccessful bid for office in 1942. He ran again in 1952, however, and won, serving from 1952 to 1958.

His second term was rather unremarkable compared to his first. He attempted unsuccessfully to halt inflation and faced constant issues with growing social instability which was his downfall, when he ordered the military to suppress a protest triggered by the high price of public transportation, resulting in 16 deaths and numerous casualties. Three years after leaving office, in 1960, he died of cancer.

Carlos Ibáñez del Campo also manifested strong executive power, but also managed to plant the seeds of neoliberalism by enlisting the help of the Klein-Saks commission, a group of US economists. Neoliberal economics still represents the cornerstone not just of right-wing parties, but of mainstream left-wing parties as well.

The Mastermind of the 1980 Constitution: Jaime Guzmán

Jaime Guzmán was a constitutional lawyer and professor who advised Pinochet on economic matters. He was also the founder of UDI and one of the drafters of the 1980 constitution. Guzmán also served as a senator before he was killed in 1991.

Born 1946 into a wealthy family, Guzmán received stellar education in the best Catholic schools in the country. Due to this religious upbringing, Guzmán became a devout man, even thinking about becoming a priest before deciding on studying law and was admitted to the Catholic University.

At university, he joined various conservative youth groups. By the time he graduated in 1968, Guzmán had founded the Guild Movement of the Chilean Catholic University (which would later become UDI) and had begun to promote his own political ideas which favored the so-called free market and authoritarianism. These ideas flowed from his idolization of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt, and British-Austrian economist F.A. Hayek.

From 1970 to 1973, he fought the government of Salvador Allende by going on political programs and by being a member of fascist terrorist group, Patria y Libertad (“Homeland and Freedom”). 

After the 1973 coup, Guzmán was invited to partake in the commission that had been created to write a new constitution. In this commission, he quickly became the main player, who injected his opinions about abortion, human rights, the death penalty, and the subsidiary state.

Once his work in the commission was done, Guzmán became adviser to Pinochet, influencing the dictatorship’s political actions. During this period, he became president of UDI party and established its bases, among them the idea of social conservatism, defending Pinochet, and neoliberalism.

When democracy returned to Chile, Guzmán ran for senator and won in 1989. In 1991, he was killed by members of left-wing terrorist group, Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (“Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front”).

Even though he only lived 44 years, Guzmán’s influence remains profound, with UDI being the biggest right-wing party. He also was the mastermind of the current constitution, and established guildism and neoliberalism, two ideologies that remain prevalent in Chilean society today – but are also highly contested.

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