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Long and narrow, Chile clings to the western edge of South America's South­ern Cone. Hugging - page 7 / 46





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Chile                                    443

caused even harsher exploitation of Indian labor than in other colonies. Na­tive people who wished to escape the worst conditions took on mestizo cul­ture in order to become tenant farmers or inquilinos.

This stratified and repressive social system was extremely rigid, a char­acteristic that still endures today. From colonial days until the present, elites have defended the exploitative underpinnings, of their wealth and privilege vigorously. For example, in colonial times landowners undermined and re­sisted periodic attempts by the Spanish colonial governments to ban the worst features of labor oppression. In the 1960s and 1970s they fought against land reform. In the 1990s they vehemently opposed peasant mobilization and unionization.

Chile secured its independence from Spain in 1818. Between then and 1830 family, personal, and ideological conflicts contributed to a period of politi­cal instability marked by a succession of government experiments. The last one, based on the liberal constitution of 1828, challenged some of the priv­ileges of the traditional patrician landowning and merchant oligarchy. Fol­lowing a period of chaotic public finances, the Conservative oligarchy de­feated the Liberals in the civil war of 1829-1930, paving the way for the autocratic republic (1831-1871).

Diego Portales was the behind-the-scenes architect of the conservative restoration, which became known as the Portilian state. He emphasized law and order and fiscal discipline. Rigged elections ensured the victory of the "right" presidential candidate; censorship and repression of the opposition was the rule. Conservatives then legitimated their rule by drafting the con­stitution of 1833, which established a centralized and authoritarian govern­ment. A successful war against the Peru-Bolivian confederation, the assas­sination ("martyrdom") of Portales in 1837, and, after a peaceful transfer of power, the state-crafting of second president Manuel Bulnes (1841-1851) con­solidated the autocratic republic. Bulnes' support for legislative and judicial branch institution-building—especially congressional coresponsibility for the national budget—solidified the remarkable stability of the autocratic re­public, a feature that set Chile apart from the rest of Latin America. Elec­toral fraud and other repressive measures, however, continued. A series of constitutional reforms eroded the autocratic republic between 1870 and 1875. Those reforms limited presidential terms from a total of ten years (two five-year terms) to one six-year term with no immediate reelection. Civil liber­ties and greater congressional power—control over government operations and the military—were also introduced.

President Jose Manuel Balmaceda challenged the considerable power of the legislature (which overrepresented the oligarchy) when legislators blocked his reform-minded economic and social policies. This challenge erupted in the civil war of 1891, ending fifty years of political stability and ushering in the parliamentary republic (1891-1924) after Balmaceda's defeat. The parliamentary republic simply reinterpreted the 1833 constitution to mean congressional dominance over the presidency. The political and fiscal disorder that reigned during this period sparked constitutional reform that

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