The Chilean presidential elections and foreign policy

Chile has been elected as one of the ten non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (2014-2015). What might the future mandate for foreign policy look like under Chile’s new president? This survey suggests some implications for the region as a whole. 

Augusto Varas
19 December 2013

The clear victory of Michelle Bachelet and the New Majority coalition in recent presidential and parliamentary elections in Chile gave her a solid mandate to move programmatically forward introducing important changes in national politics, economy and society.

In addition to the commitment to enforce fifty initiatives in her first hundred days, the main structural changes would be implemented in her 2014-2018 administration. A new and less discriminatory tax structure, a free public education system, a new industrial policy and a new constitution will be her main initiatives.

These new approaches to Chilean development and political relations also have their correlates in foreign policy. In this area, recognizing the institutional crisis of global governance, her government would aim to reinforce a constructive engagement in international organizations, contributing to their global legitimacy and power.

Chile has been elected as one of the ten non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (2014-2015), and would use this opportunity to decidedly contribute to peace and security, human rights and equity.

At the same time, her assessment of the inefficiency of global economic governance institutions and the irreversibility of the globalization process supports her willingness to participate into broader integration initiatives. Accordingly, Chile would favour its insertion into the South American economic-political space, promoting the convergence and coordination of diverse integration initiatives in the region.

Considering the special attention placed by Bachelet’s future administration to industrial development, relations with the European Union, as well as with the USA, would favor a new agenda focused on science and technology, research & development, and innovation to increase value added to Chilean exports.

In the commercial area, due to the growing importance of the Pacific area and thanks to existing free trade agreements, her government would work to make Chile a bridge between South and Latin American and Asian countries, providing ports, services and inter connectivity, thus favoring Latin American collective relationships with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

However, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) raises special concerns and reservations due to the danger of an indirect renegotiation of the free trade agreement (FTA) with the USA, the weakening of existing agreements on intellectual property, pharmaceutics, public purchases, services, finances and investments. The Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico) would be redefined as a non-exclusive initiative, able to interact with other regional initiatives like Mercosur, as a commercial platform to jointly work in the Asian region.

The New Majority coalition’s main criticism of President Piñera’s foreign policy has been the ideological and mercantile biases in his international relations policy, leading to a decline in Chile’s political presence and weight in the regional milieu, and an inability to solve an accumulation of troublesome neighboring relationships. Therefore, the new government would emphasize regional political unity, strengthening Chile’s participation in all the diverse integration mechanisms currently existing in Latin America, particularly in South America.

Closely working and progressing with Brazil, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) would be the political space for a South American regional convergence and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) would be highlighted as a political coordination mechanism. In this regard, the Organization of American States (OAS), currently chaired by a Chilean, and the Summits of the Americas, would lose their relative importance. Cuba’s participation in these summits would be a controversial issue between the new administration and the White House.

Bearing in mind that Bachelet - joining President Santos during the presentation of the National Public Policy on Gender Equity in Bogota, 2012 - called for the inclusion of women into the Colombian peace process and given the supporting role that Chile is playing in current peace negotiations, it is highly likely that her government will have few doubts about continuing to contribute to this process.

Considering the growing importance of international migration to Chile (an increase of 290,750 people between 1990-2013, the highest figure in South America), the new government would enforce a new migration policy in accordance with all main international human rights and international migration covenants signed by Chile, as well as migration policy principles signed at the South American Migration Conference. Particular attention would be given to Chilean emigrant’s political and participatory rights, especially voting rights abroad. Domestically, consultation mechanisms with the business sector, trade unions, Congress and civil society would be highlighted, providing a greater and deeper legitimacy to foreign policy.

Consistent with Bachelet’s foreign policy blueprint, in her presidential mandate a new defense policy would continue the modernization process observed during her previous administration. The main purpose would be to develop a South American Security Community able to eliminate the danger of war, warranting peace thanks to the strengthening of the UNASUR’s South American Defense Council. Regional confidence building measures and military expenditures and acquisitions transparency would be promoted.

Military cooperation, dialogue and integration with Argentina would be strengthened, with the intention of enforcing the same policy with Peru after the coming The Hague verdict of January 27. To the extent that these policy goals are accomplished, Chile would revise its defense and deterrence policy moving forward towards a new doctrine focused on cooperation, integration and dialogue.

As initiated in 1999, dialogue with Bolivia would be re-opened and a new climate of mutual confidence would be built as observed during 2006-2010. This means that no issue would be excluded from the dialogue as established in 2006 in the thirteen issues bilateral agenda agreed by Presidents Michelle Bachelet and Evo Morales. Bilateral relations normalization would favor new and better South American-South Pacific relations.

Military expenditures would be revised and contained thanks to a new quadrennial appropriation law discussed in Congress, making possible a better congressional discussion of these appropriations. Transparency of military purchases would be enforced.

To better respect international human rights covenants, military justice would be redefined and modernized, giving authority to civil courts to take criminal cases in peace time, equalizing civil and military rights. Gender diversity would be increased. In this regards, Chile would adopt the current standards of developed and democratic countries.

In view of the UN extension of MINUSTAH, until October 2014 and the temporary presence of Chile at the UN Security Council, Bachelet’s government aims to keep its previous commitment to this stabilization operation, even though it will have to accommodate its policy to the anticipated economic slowdown of the Chilean economy, and the reduction of military personnel and the relative increase in police forces stated by the UN.

Demonstrations against foreign troops, the letter of the Haitian Congress to the Chilean one demanding that it takes part in the Executive-Congress dispute, and the Uruguayan withdrawal from MINUSTAH arguing that it is not possible to contribute to public security while the Haitian government is conducting itself in an undemocratic manner, will make it more difficult to approve the bill for the maintenance of Chilean troops in Haiti at the same level as it is today.


This text was originally written for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, ( NOREF ).

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData