Borzutzky, Silvia, and Gregory B. Weeks, eds. The Bachelet Government: Conflict and Consensus in Post-Pinochet Chile.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Hartwig, Richard
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: The Bachelet Government: Conflict and Consensus in Post-Pinochet Chile (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Borzutzky, Silvia; Weeks, Gregory B.
Accession Number: 294895888
Full Text: Borzutzky, Silvia, and Gregory B. Weeks, eds. The Bachelet Government: Conflict and Consensus in Post-Pinochet Chile. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010. 240 pages. Cloth, $69.95.

Chile is generally seen as the most successful Latin American country today. It is a stable democracy; it has the highest per capita income in the region; and, it is perceived to have the lowest level of corruption in Latin America. Export-based economic growth averaged 5.5% between 1990 and 2007. By the end of 2008, Chile had free trade agreements with fifty countries. Inflation is low, as is the public debt. Inequality is the highest of OCED countries, but the poverty rate was reduced from 40% in 1990 to 14% in 2006.

In Germany, the background to all politics is the Nazi period. In a similar fashion, the background to all Chilean politics is the seventeen-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, from the bloody military coup against Marxist Salvador Allende in 1973 to its end in 1990. From 1990 to 2010, Chile was ruled by a remarkable coalition called the "Concertaci6n" between Christian Democrats, Socialists, and some smaller political parties. This book deals with the last four years of this era, when Michele Bachelet served as President of Chile. The book's importance is magnified by the fact that Bachelet remains popular and is expected to run for president again in 2014. Wealthy businessman Sebastian Pinera of the conservative "La Alianza" coalition was elected president in 2010.

The editors of The Bachelet Government are some of the best-known experts on Chile today: Silvia Borzutsky teaches political science and international relations at Carnegie Mellon University; Gregory Weeks is a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The book is blessedly free of social science jargon. The contributing authors evaluate the institutions and public policy accomplishments of the last Concertacion government from a generally "progressive" perspective. The essays are relevant to students of international development; only one is heavily ideological. Bachelet's government is evaluated within the context of what was then a remarkably conservative, consensus-based political system. Pinochet tore socialism out by the roots in Chile. He established an export-based,, free enterprise economy with weak labor unions and substantially privatized education. Pinochet's timing was impeccable, given the era of globalization and high demand for minerals such as copper which was to follow. The leftist Concertacion governments largely retained this system. They were initially constrained by Pinochet's constitution and by the fact that the General remained as Commander in Chief of the Army until 1998. The Concertacion depended upon consensus between the leaders of the Christian Democratic, Socialist, and other parties. It was further constrained by the need to attract support from conservative parties in order to get legislation passed in the context of a "binomial" electoral system created during Pinochet's dictatorship which over-represents the second largest political party or coalition. Finally, a 2005 constitutional amendment shortened the presidential term from six to four years but retained the prohibition against consecutive terms (non-consecutive presidential terms are allowed, however). Borzutzky and Weeks note that Chilean presidents now become lame ducks quickly and it is difficult to pass legislation (p. 8).

Bachelet became well-known in Chile when she was appointed Minister of Health and then Minister of Defense by President Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006). As an agnostic, divorced Socialist and mother of three children, she was an unusual candidate for President of Chile. Bachelet was the daughter of an Air Force general who had been arrested and tortured by the Pinochet regime and died in jail. She had also been arrested and tortured. Bachelet portrayed herself as a political outsider who could directly connect with the people. She was thus the ideal candidate for an aging, sclerotic ruling coalition which had lost the allegiance of young people who did not remember the dictatorship.

It might have been expected from the above that Bachelet's government would be at least mildly disappointing to her progressive followers. It could hardly have been otherwise, as described in the nine essays of this book. Events such as the failure of the Transantiago transportation project for the capital (designed under the previous administration), widespread student protests against private education, and the general decline of consensus challenged a president who was unable to muster a strong response. This is an inherent problem in a centralized political system with a politically and constitutionally weak leader. What is surprising is that Bachelet, like Lagos, regained popularity at the end of her term.

Based upon the material in this excellent book one might have expected that current President Sebastian Pinera would disappoint his conservative supporters. Like Bachelet, he has been confronted by massive demonstrations of students demanding free public education. Likewise, Pinera's popularity declined dramatically and he faced strong opposition in the legislature. In a final twist of irony, at the end of 2011 Pinera invited the four previous presidents of Chile to discuss major issues such as the abolition of the Pinochet-era binominal electoral system.

Richard Hartwig, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Kingsville, Texas
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