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Long and narrow, Chile clings to the western edge of South America's South­ern Cone. Hugging - page 29 / 46

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Chile                                   465

and gave aid to the poor and dispossessed. Its political role has declined with redemocratization, dedicating itself mainly to assuring the defeat of abortion and divorce laws. Chile is one of the few countries of the world that forbids divorce. The student movement is not as active as it has been historically in Chile, but its organizations continue to produce future lead­ers of the major political parties. By contrast, intellectuals, especially those with advanced degrees from foreign universities (with a heavy concentra­tion in economics) have become very influential. They swell the ranks of the technocracy that advises all elected political leaders in and out of govern­ment. Lastly, the environmental, women's, and indigenous people's move­ments have also gained more recognition.

To a large extent, Chile's political stability after 1989 rested on antidemo­cratic institutions and a biased electoral system that were a legacy of a tran­sition to democracy in which the military government had the upper hand. Those institutions protected the chief interest of right-wing forces: the main­tenance of the extreme free-market socio-economic system installed during the military dictatorship. That system insured a good business climate at the expense of other social groups (middle class and, especially, urban and rural labor) whose interest in a more egalitarian order remained firmly subordi­nate to the inegalitarian orientation of propertied groups. Under these con­ditions, conservative socio-political forces did not need to resort to capital flight and mobilization (or the threat of such actions) to destabilize the eco­nomic and political system to defend themselves from their political ene­mies, a credible threat given the radicalization of right-wing political groups between 1970 and 1989. Upper class social groups— who were less tolerant of reforms than they were in the 1950s and 1960s—could stop unwanted change legally. Their extreme interpretation of property rights after 18 years of military rule led them to reject virtually all legislative proposals that di­minished their ability to use market power to dominate the rest of society. As will be seen, this occurred despite the fact that proposed reforms were well within the norm of democratic capitalism; they were not attempts to install socialism.

The moderation of center-Left socio-political forces also played a signifi­cant role in the stability of Chile's post authoritarian political system. The top leadership of the political parties in the Concertacion developed a re­markable consensus over free-market economic principles. The policy con­sensus was extraordinary because little over a decade and a half before, all preferred a mixed economy and a strong, nationalist industrial policy; the differences between them were only a matter of degree. Socialist ideals of nationalization and state planning were completely abandoned. As a result, serious challenges to conservatives on the issues that had torn Chile apart in the past—property, profits, and the social order—were no longer on the political agenda.

A number of international and domestic factors influenced this shift in the leadership of the center-Left. On the external front, the failure of alternative models to generate sustained economic growth was a powerful stimulant.

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