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Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: the Chilean Post-27/F Reconstruction

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The criticism of the reconstruction process that followed the cataclysm that affected Chile in 2010 has centered on contingent factors, such as the performance of individual politicians. This paper differs from this type of criticism by examining how structural factors conditioned the governmental response to the 8.8 earthquake. It claims that the constitution created by the military regime shaped the reconstruction through provisions that limit vertical and horizontal accountability in intrastate and state-society relations. These provisions are the subsidiary state, the executive-legislative power relations, the binomial electoral system, and the method of selecting regional authorities. These provisions have contributed to a recovery effort that has been under-institutionalized, privatized, decentralized, inefficient, informationally opaque, with numerous irregularities and marginal participation of the victims. An analysis of governmental reports, media outlets, polls, and semi-structured interviews conducted with legislators, social leaders and scholars sheds light on the relation between the constitution and the recovery.
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LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue XXX, Vol. XX No. XXX, Month 201X, 1–19
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X16637145
© 2016 Latin American Perspectives
1
Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution
The Chilean Postearthquake Reconstruction
by
Ignacio Arana Araya
The criticism of the reconstruction that followed the cataclysm in Chile in 2010 has
centered on contingent factors including the performance of politicians. An examination
of the way structural factors conditioned the governmental response to the 8.8 earthquake
shows that the constitution created by the military regime shaped the reconstruction
through provisions that limited vertical and horizontal accountability in intrastate and
state-society relations. The subsidiary state, executive-legislative power relations, the
binomial electoral system, and the appointment rather than election of regional authorities
favored a recovery effort that has been underinstitutionalized, privatized, characterized by
scant participation of victims, and marred by irregularities. An analysis of governmental
reports, media outlets, polls, and semistructured interviews conducted with legislators,
social leaders, and scholars sheds light on the relation between the constitution and the
recovery.
La crítica a la reconstrucción que siguió el cataclismo de 2010 en Chile se ha centrado
en factores contingentes incluyendo el desempeño de los políticos. Un examen de la manera
en la cual los factores estructurales condicionaron la respuesta gubernamental al terre-
moto de 8.8 puntos demuestra que la Constitución creado por el régimen militar configuró
la reconstrucción a través de disposiciones que limitaron la responsabilidad vertical y
horizontal en las relaciones intraestatales y de estado-sociedad. El estado subsidiario, las
relaciones de poder ejecutivo-legislativo, el sistema electoral binomial, y el nombramiento
en lugar de la elección de autoridades regionales favoreció un esfuerzo de recuperación que
ha sido subinstitucionalizado, privatizado, caracterizado por escasa participación de las
víctimas, y empañado por irregularidades. Un análisis de los informes gubernamentales,
medios de comunicación, encuestas, y entrevistas semi-estructuradas con legisladores,
líderes sociales, y académicos ilumina la relación entre la Constitución y la recuperación.
Keywords: Constitution, Subsidiary state, Accountability, Reconstruction, Chile
The 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Chile on February 27, 2010, was the
sixth-most- powerful ever registered in the world. The earthquake and the sub-
sequent tsunami shocked (to varying degrees) 6 of the 15 Chilean regions,
where 75 percent of the population lived. In all, 551 people died and the eco-
nomic losses were equivalent to 18 percent of the gross domestic product.
Ignacio Arana Araya has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pittsburgh. His research
centers on Latin America, with an emphasis on presidential behavior. He is grateful to Hirokazu
Kikuchi, Susan Wiedel, Bill Campbell, and two reviewers for their comments and suggestions for
improving this manuscript.
637145LAPXXX10.1177/0094582X16637145Latin American PerspectivesChilean Postearthquake Reconstruction
research-article2016
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2 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
Postdisaster reconstruction became the main challenge for President Sebastián
Piñera, who had taken office just 12 days later. On April 16 he presented a
reconstruction plan that would cost the state US$8.431 billion, distributed
among the ministries of housing (US$2.3 billion), education (US$1.5 billion),
health (US$2.1 billion), and public works (US$1.2 billion) (Piñera, 2010).1On the
fourth anniversary of the earthquake, Piñera claimed that his term was ending
with the recovery effort almost complete (La Tercera, February 28, 2014).
However, in June 2014 the incoming administration of Michelle Bachelet
released a report written by the former director of the Servicio Nacional del
Adulto Mayor (National Services for Senior Citizens—SENAMA), Paula
Forttes (2014), that strongly questioned Piñera’s assertion. In line with a num-
ber of works produced by academics, think tanks, nongovernmental organiza-
tions (NGOs), and social leaders, Forttes (2014) demonstrated that the
reconstruction was still ongoing.
The Forttes report was categorical. In April 2014 the Housing Ministry
reported that 39,212 families that had received housing subsidies were still
waiting for the repair of damaged properties to be finished or even started. This
number represents 16 percent of all the subsidies granted by the state. Some
victims were still living in emergency dwellings in the villages of Meryland,
Fernando Paz, and San Juan, all located in the Bío Bío Region (Forttes, 2014: 97).
The Piñera administration also had not provided housing solutions for 35 per-
cent of the families that had lost part or all of their homes.2 The standards of the
housing solutions were also questionable. For instance, companies that pro-
vided mediaguas (small prefabricated cabins) were not legally required to con-
nect them to basic services such as light and potable water, as the dwellings in
the middle-sized city of San Javier (located in the Maule Region) illustrate
(Forttes, 2014: 104).
Besides housing solutions, other areas of the reconstruction suffered lags and
inadequacies. By June 2014 some hospitals and other health centers in the cities
of Melipilla in the Metropolitan Region, Villarrica and Carahue in the Araucanía
Region, and Chimbarongo in the O’Higgins Region had not yet received any
type of restoration (Forttes, 2014: 137–139). Similarly, of the 4,249 hospital beds
lost during the earthquake, by June 2014 only 1,091 had been replaced. Similar
delays could be observed in the work on roads, bridges, ports, artisanal fisher-
ies, schools, heritage buildings, town halls, municipal offices, police stations,
prisons, and military buildings (Forttes, 2014: 181, 221, 222, and 262).
Some fundamental questions about the reconstruction also remained unan-
swered. First, it was still unclear how many people were affected by the earth-
quake and to what demographic groups (e.g., gender, socioeconomic group, age)
they belonged. Forttes (2014: 27) argued that “for measuring and identifying the
affected population, during the last four years the government has used different
instruments whose figures and results do not match at all.” Second, the number
of housing subsidies that the government provided was unclear. It offered four
different numbers a year after the earthquake (Rodríguez and Rodríguez, 2011:
130–131), and Forttes (2014: 91–92) challenged its final numbers.3
Studies of the performance of the Piñera administration have been useful for
monitoring the recovery effort (e.g., Chamorro etal., 2011; CIPER, 2010; 2011),
but they do not examine the long-term forces that framed the postearthquake
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 3
recovery. Analyzing the governmental response in terms of contingent factors
and short-term causes risks not seeing the forest for the trees. This paper avoids
focusing exclusively on the contingencies of the reconstruction by examining
how structural factors conditioned the government’s response. It claims that
the 1980 constitution created by the military shaped the reconstruction effort
through rules that limit horizontal accountability in executive-legislative rela-
tions and restrict vertical accountability in state-society relations.
The constitution conditioned the reconstruction through four provisions.
First, it promotes a subsidiary state that severely limits the role of the state in
society and in the economy. This helps us to understand why the recovery
effort was underinstitutionalized, privatized, and without much citizen par-
ticipation. Second, the executive-legislative relationship is strongly biased
toward the executive. This bias limits Congress’s capacity to monitor and over-
see the executive, which sheds light on the irregularities observed during the
reconstruction. Third, the binomial (two-member district) electoral system
minimizes the incentives that lawmakers have to represent their constituencies,
since their futures depend more on intracoalitional and intraparty negotiations.
The inability of voters to put pressure on Congress led to marginal citizen par-
ticipation and also favored the irregularities that took place during the recov-
ery. Finally, because the main regional authorities (intendants and governors)
are appointed rather than elected, they represent the executive’s preferences
more than the interests of voters. This helps explain the scant participation of
victims in the earthquake recovery.
Tracing the relationship between the constitutional provisions and the recon-
struction unearths important insights. First, the emphasis on long-term causes
sheds light on stable patterns of intrastate and state-society relations, revealing
power relations that are normally overlooked. Second, the structural approach
suggests that the reconstruction would not have been much different had other
authorities been in power. The constitution would have favored an underinsti-
tutionalized and privatized reconstruction, characterized by marginal citizen
participation and irregularities. Third, the analysis allows a deeper under-
standing of current political events, complementing the information that ema-
nates from the media and from research focused on the contingencies of the
reconstruction.
Despite its insights, this structural analysis has some limits. Notably, there
are many intervening variables that mediate the relationship between the con-
stitution and the design and implementation of the reconstruction. Factors such
as the decisions made by powerful politicians and civil servants, the outcomes
of public policies, media coverage, and scandals influenced various aspects of
the reconstruction. Therefore, this paper cannot claim that constitutional provi-
sions explain the specific outcomes of the reconstruction. It can (and does),
however, argue that the aforementioned constitutional provisions favored
observable aspects of the reconstruction.
To examine the relationship between the constitutional provisions and the
reconstruction, this paper reviews official reports from the Piñera (2010–2014)
and Bachelet (2014–2018) administrations. President Bachelet permitted Forttes
unlimited access to information from public offices, allowing her to write the
most extensive examination of the performance of the Piñera government after
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4 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
the earthquake. Therefore, the 300-page Forttes report is central to the informa-
tion presented here. Since official reports may be biased because of vested
political interests in the information released, this study also builds on primary
and secondary nongovernmental sources. To obtain a firsthand version of the
reconstruction, semistructured interviews were conducted with two legisla-
tors, four social leaders, and four academics involved in the recovery effort.4
The interviewees were asked about their experience in the reconstruction and
their assessment of key political and private actors in the process.
The paper proceeds as follows: the next section discusses the role of vertical
and horizontal accountability in democracies and presents the argument that
ties the four constitutional provisions to observable outcomes in the recon-
struction. A third section presents evidence that supports the central argument.
The conclusion discusses the broader implications of this study for Chilean and
Latin American politics.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGACIES
Political accountability exists when politicians are forced to answer for their
decisions (Schedler, 1999). It occurs when officeholders report and explain
what they have done or plan to do and accounting organizations or individuals
are able to sanction politicians who do not perform their duties. In sum,
accountability implies controlling those in power through the threat of sanc-
tions, forcing them to justify their acts and to behave with transparency
(Schedler, 1999: 14).
Political accountability is vertical when it runs “upward” from civil society
to politicians (Diamond and Morlino, 2004). It occurs when citizens, the media,
NGOs, think tanks, and other civil society groups are able to learn about politi-
cians’ actions and decide whether to punish or reward them. Civil society can
“punish” authorities through the judicial system or simply by generating pub-
lic disapproval, although the main instrument for imposing vertical account-
ability is the vote. When civil society cannot discipline politicians for their
behavior, the authorities can rule with little regard to the preferences of their
constituencies (O’Donnell, 1994).
While vertical accountability refers to relationships among superiors and infe-
riors, horizontal accountability refers to interactions among equals (Schedler,
1999). Horizontal accountability occurs when autonomous state powers control
other public agencies, such as when Congress or the judiciary oversees the exec-
utive. This accountability is quintessential to the system of checks and balances
and is based on the rule of law. According to O’Donnell (1994), in many develop-
ing countries weak checks among state powers lead to legal violations, less trans-
parency, corruption, and the underrepresentation of voters’ preferences.
Vertical and horizontal accountability often reinforce each other. For instance,
corruption scandals in government are more likely to be sanctioned when there
is an active Congress that investigates abuses and when inquisitive media
reveal corrupt practices.
Although Chile is widely praised as one of the most consolidated democra-
cies in Latin America, the authoritarian 1980 constitution still shapes Chilean
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 5
society. It has been thoroughly amended, but its authoritarian essence has not
been eradicated. Four constitutional provisions that dampen accountability in
Chilean democracy and whose effect can be traced on the reconstruction are the
subsidiary state, executive-legislative power relations, the binomial electoral
system, and the appointment rather than election of regional authorities.
THE SUBSIDIARY STATE
The ideology underlying the constitution—neoliberalism—proposes that
unregulated capitalism leads to efficient economic transactions, economic
growth, and increased prosperity. The state is considered to limit individual
freedom and entrepreneurship. Therefore, it is expected to perform only func-
tions that the private sector cannot perform (Oppenheim, 2007).
The dictatorship introduced the neoliberal preference for a subsidiary state
into the constitution, leading to a radical departure from the socialist state that
President Allende had been installing until the 1973 coup.5 While the constitu-
tion does not explicitly mention the subsidiary role of the state, it is widely
considered implicit in its articles, especially Articles 1 and 19 (Aróstica, 1999;
Bauer, 1998; an exception is Loo, 2009).
Article 1 establishes that “intermediate groups” (i.e., intermediate between
the individual and the state) are the base of society and limits the role of the
state to guarantor of the rights of these groups. The concept of “intermediate
groups” is not neutral: it has its roots in conservative Catholic thought and was
historically used to promote antistatist ideas (Loo, 2009). The dominant view
among jurists (e.g., Aróstica, 1999) is that this article is intended to marginalize
the economic role of the state.
Article 19, numeral 21, establishes that “the State and its organisms can
develop entrepreneurial activities or participate in them only if a law of quali-
fied quorum authorizes it.” In practice, this article severely limits the state’s
ability to engage in entrepreneurial activities. First, besides complying with the
laws that any private corporation needs to follow to develop a business, the
government has to draft a bill, send it to Congress, wait until the legislature
agrees to discuss it, and get the approval of an absolute majority of the Senate
and the Chamber of Deputies. All this increases the cost of developing entre-
preneurial activities. Second, Congress can delay the discussion of the execu-
tive’s bill almost indefinitely. While the constitution grants more legislative
powers to presidents than to Congress, the legislature retains a strong capacity
to block the executive’s bills. As happens with most Latin American legisla-
tures, this reactive power allows Congress to constrain the legislative effective-
ness of presidents (Cox and Morgenstern, 2001). Third, presidents are unlikely
to enjoy a majority in Congress to get their bills approved because the electoral
system overrepresents the second-largest political coalition. In only one of the
six legislative elections held between 1990 and 2010 did one coalition win a
majority of seats (the Concertación in 2005). Therefore, during most of the last
democratic period Congress was able to block any government’s attempt to
develop entrepreneurial activities.6
The subsidiary state has important consequences. First, the state primarily
assumes functions that do not report economic benefits (e.g., the postal system
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6 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
in remote areas), while private organizations assume profitable activities.
Second, the state is not committed to providing basic social needs. Third, the
state protects neither the environment nor the cultural heritage. Fourth, the
state relinquishes its participation in key areas such as energy, transportation,
communications, and sanitary services.
The Chilean subsidiary state was apparent in the reconstruction. First, the
state lacked the institutional capacity to respond to cataclysms. The absence
of a central institution to confront the earthquake led to a disordered recon-
struction, with little coordination among state agencies. Second, since there
are no large state-owned companies in strategic areas, the earthquake forced
the state to outsource several aspects of the reconstruction, thus privatizing
the recovery effort. Third, given that one of the purposes of the subsidiary
state is to displace the potential causes of social conflict between citizens and
the state from the public to the private arena, the delegation of the execution
of the recovery effort to multiple companies discouraged the participation of
citizens.
EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATIVE RELATIONS: THE CHILEAN SUPER-PRESIDENT
The specialized literature measures presidential powers by comparing the
relative strength of heads of government to those of the legislative and judi-
cial branches and by assessing the ability of heads of government to make
appointments and important decisions within the executive.7 Studies that
have ranked presidential powers in Latin America (e.g., Tsebelis and Alemán,
2005) or the world (e.g., Shugart and Carey, 1992) have classified the Chilean
presidency as one of the four most powerful. These studies agree that the
1980 constitution concentrates extreme power “in the president’s hand, such
that the legislature is marginalized from policy making” (Shugart and
Mainwaring, 1997: 9).
The constitution allows a president to be the most powerful legislator, with
Congress playing a reactive role, mainly focused on accepting or rejecting pres-
idential proposals. Article 62 grants the president exclusive initiative in all mat-
ters related to taxation and the creation of new public agencies.8 Articles 62 and
64 allow presidents to declare urgent legislation in any phase of its consider-
ation and to call extraordinary sessions of Congress to discuss proposals ema-
nating from the executive branch.9 Moreover, the constitution formally
concentrates almost all of the budgetary process in the executive (Arana, 2013;
2015). Article 65 gives the president control over all tax and spending policies,
while Article 67 establishes that the executive is solely responsible for creating
a budget bill proposal that considers all fiscal expenditures.
The president’s legislative powers allowed Piñera to enact the decrees and
the laws related to the reconstruction and to manage the recovery effort with
little legislative participation, monitoring, or oversight. When presidents enjoy
overwhelming powers, Congress cannot impose much horizontal accountabil-
ity on the executive and therefore fails to effectively represent voters’ prefer-
ences. The diminished capacity of Congress to monitor and oversee the
executive impeded it from preventing the irregularities that took place during
the recovery.
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 7
THE BINOMIAL SYSTEM: PARTY LEADERS VERSUS CITIZENS
The binomial system for electing senators and deputies was not directly rec-
ognized in the constitution, but Article 45 allowed its creation. This system
assigns each district two seats, and parties or coalitions can nominate up to two
candidates per district. Voters select one candidate, and the one with the most
votes is automatically elected. If the list of the winning candidate has double
the number of votes of all the other lists, the second seat goes to the second
candidate on that list. Otherwise, it goes to the candidate with the most votes
on the list with the second-largest number of votes. Given that a list needs to
add only a third of the votes to win a seat, this system tends to produce districts
with one pro-government legislator and one opposition legislator (Siavelis,
2005). Therefore, the electoral support that a party receives tends to differ from
the number of seats that it gets in Congress. This disproportionality has been
remarkably stable over time, producing a legislature that misrepresents voters’
preferences (PNUD, 2004). Given that each coalition can anticipate where it will
win a congressional seat, coalition leaders are able to negotiate the distribution
of seats and plan in advance with whom to fill them. In this system, party lead-
ers are very influential because they decide the names of the candidates that are
very likely to win or lose. The predictability of electoral results bolsters a
divorce between constituencies and legislators, because the reelection of repre-
sentatives depends more on being loyal to the party leadership than on repre-
senting voters’ preferences.
Research has shown that Chilean legislators have higher rates of reelection-
seeking than most others in the Americas and that they often succeed (Navia,
2008). Since the success of reelection seekers does not fully depend on the way
their constituencies evaluate their performances in office, legislators from the
disaster area made little effort to keep the executive accountable or to encour-
age citizen participation in the recovery.
MESSENGERS OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: INTENDANTS AND GOVERNORS
Chile is administratively divided into 15 regions consisting of 54 provinces.
Intendants head regional governments, while governors lead provinces. Since
the president appoints these subnational authorities with considerable leeway,
both intendants and governors can be considered more as presidential dele-
gates than as independent officeholders. Article 113 of the constitution states
that these authorities need only be citizens who have lived in the region for two
years before their appointment, while Article 31 allows the president to appoint
and dismiss them at will. Article 100 even describes the intendant as the “natu-
ral and immediate” representative of the president.
The president has a nationwide constituency and is subject to pressures from
his or her party coalition. Therefore, when making a decision that directly
affects a region, the president is motivated to pay more attention to the demands
of the national constituency and the parties that support him or her than to
local preferences. Presidents have incentives to appoint as regional authorities
politicians who will use their posts to support the central government. Thus,
intendants and governors do not need to have a detailed knowledge of the
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8 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
population and geographical areas under their authority; to keep their jobs,
they just need to follow orders from the government. The preferences of
regional constituencies may be incidental to them.
Since the government had appointed them, intendants and governors were
motivated to promote the idea that the reconstruction worked impeccably. Had
they been elected, they would have had strong motivation to voice local prefer-
ences and to demand a better governmental performance to increase their elec-
toral capital, especially had they belonged to the opposition coalition, the
Concertación.10 The fact that earthquake victims could not hold the regional
authorities accountable for their actions helps explain their limited participa-
tion in the reconstruction. Figure 1 summarizes the argument developed so far.
The next section primarily shows how the constitutional provisions favored an
underinstitutionalized and privatized reconstruction, characterized by limited
citizen participation and irregularities.
Accountability Deficit Type Constitutional Provision Observable Consequences on Recovery
Vertical/Horizontal Subsidiary state Underinstitutionalized
Horizontal Executive-legislative
relations
Privatized
Vertical Binomial electoral system Marginal citizen
participation
Vertical Unelected regional
authorities
Irregularities
Figure 1. The causal relation between the constitution and the reconstruction.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS
UNDERINSTITUTIONALIZED RECOVERY
Critics complained that the Piñera administration did not create a new insti-
tutional framework to centralize all or at least a substantial part of the recovery
effort under a single organizational umbrella (e.g., Chamorro etal., 2011).11
From a critical perspective, Piñera could have led a more efficient recovery by
organizing it under a single institutional framework, leaving a lasting institu-
tional legacy useful for dealing with future natural disasters. However,
although the constitution does not explicitly forbid the creation of new agen-
cies to deal with natural disasters, in practice any administration facing the
reconstruction was unlikely to create a new institutional framework. Research
that builds on path dependency theory has shown that the initial institutional
arrangements almost always affect subsequent decisions because the cost of
reversing established structures is often very high (e.g., Levi, 1997).12 This is
precisely what happened in the 2010 recovery effort.
The limited economic role of the state set a course of action, and Piñera
had reasons to follow it. It was difficult for him to create a new institutional
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 9
framework without building on a previous institutional setting. Despite the
frequency of earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, and wildfires, the Chilean state
does not have the institutional capacity to confront natural disasters.
Furthermore, Piñera assumed the leadership of a state that was not committed
to providing basic social needs and did not participate in strategic economic
areas. Therefore, directing recovery efforts to state institutions that were unfit
to cope with disasters implied assuming a significant risk. Centralizing recov-
ery efforts within a public framework would also have meant a drastic change
in the way the state had dealt with disasters since 1980, something likely to
spark opposition among the political elite.
Piñera followed the recovery path favored by the constitution as the dicta-
torship had in response to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake of 1985, including the
provision of housing subsidies and the displacement of victims from urban
centers to city peripheries, freeing valuable land for construction companies
(Lawner, 2011). The 1985 and 2010 governmental responses contrasted with the
role of the state in the earthquakes that occurred between 1928 and 1971, when
governments created new institutions (Lawner, 2011: 140). For instance, the
existing Corporación de Fomento de la Producción de Chile (Production
Development Corporation—CORFO) was created after the 1939 earthquake in
Chillán, one of the largest cities in Bío Bío Region.13
Piñera opted to take advantage of the strong presidential legislative pow-
ers and organize the reconstruction mainly through the enactment of laws
and decrees and through administrative measures expanding the budget
and powers of some state agencies (INDH, 2012).14 The government enacted
decrees to grant prerogatives to the Chief of National Defense (Decree No.
861), to declare a state of exception for public catastrophe in the O’Higgins
Region (Supreme Decree No. 173), to create the Interministerial Committee
for Reconstruction (Supreme Decree No. 317) and the Emergency Committee
(Supreme Decree No. 350), to reallocate budgetary provisions (Decree No.
338), and to amend previous agreements for coordinating disasters (cancel-
ing Decree No. 760). Later on, the government adjusted specific taxes and
budgets to fund the reconstruction (Law No. 20.455).15 Finally, the govern-
ment created the National Reconstruction Fund to encourage donations
(Law No. 20.444).
These legal initiatives helped the government cover some social needs and
legal gaps but failed to address the recovery effort as a complex and multidi-
mensional process. The underinstitutionalized recovery effort led to excessive
decentralization in its planning and execution and ultimately to its failures. As
Forttes (2014: 29) stated: “The dispersion and disconnection between records
created for operational purposes fail to identify, measure, and establish the
population affected by natural disasters in terms of a common language
between the different levels of the state. Also, recording instruments differ
when the data are observed at central, regional, and local levels, and this
impairs or threatens the reliability of the information.” Since state agencies
used different instruments to identify victims and measure damage, the state
could not provide an answer to essential questions such as the number of vic-
tims, to what social groups they belonged, and the number of housing subsi-
dies provided (Rodríguez and Rodríguez, 2011: 130–131).
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10 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
The underinstitutionalized recovery also favored some of the inefficiencies
described earlier (e.g., 16 percent of families who received housing subsidies
still waiting for repairs, deficient housing solutions, delays in the restoration of
infrastructure). Since ministries were forced to act independently and uncoor-
dinatedly, their ability to cope with the reconstruction challenges was neither
predictable nor homogeneous.
PRIVATIZED RECONSTRUCTION
In line with the neoliberal ideology favored by the subsidiary state, the gov-
ernment responded to the 2010 earthquake by delegating most of the recovery
effort to the private sector. It followed the same logic applied to the 1985 earth-
quake: all implementation of housing and infrastructure solutions was placed
in the hands of private companies.
The initial governmental proposal, nevertheless, had been to organize the
recovery effort in terms of public-private partnerships. Through its reconstruc-
tion plan of 2010, the government proposed 137 “master plans” for rebuilding
the infrastructure of the affected communities.16 The Ministry of Housing and
Urban Development was assigned to serve as guarantor of public-private part-
nerships among municipalities, regional governments, businesses, and social
organizations. These agreements were going to be the mechanism for design-
ing and financing the master plans. A central component of the plans was the
direct participation of the affected residents, who would vote to select and pri-
oritize the projects to be developed in their areas.
In 2014 the Piñera administration announced that its recovery plan had been
fully accomplished. However, the facts suggest that the master plans were
more an instrument of political marketing than a real strategy for coping with
the challenges of reconstruction. Most of them, according to Forttes (2014: 60),
were “a paper phenomenon.” First, for 55 percent of the supposed master
plans, she was unable to find a single record. Second, there is simply no public
record of the investments derived from public-private associations: “It is evi-
dent that private actions run through paths parallel to the state” (67). Third, the
master plans that Forttes was able to assess had no management model, clear
leadership, institutional framework, committed resources, goals, or follow-up
mechanisms. “The master plans did not exist as plans, since they did not pres-
ent a sequential, coordinated, socialized, and legitimized logic with the differ-
ent local actors” (64). In sum, the master plans were a façade to give some sense
of state participation in projects that “were done with private funds by compa-
nies with interests in the territories and without processes of public control,
bids, or competitions” (Chamorro etal., 2011: 17).
The companies that participated in the reconstruction enjoyed multiple
opportunities to profit at the expense of victims. They were able to relocate up
to 28 percent of the affected families who received governmental subsidies
(Forttes, 2014: 104). This displacement benefited companies that bought cheap
land in the urban periphery and provided tract housing to maximize profits
(Rasse and Letelier, 2013). Companies also profited by purchasing damaged
ancient adobe dwellings in the historic centers of cities and homes and minor
buildings along the coast. All of these buildings were on highly valued lands,
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 11
although the majority of their owners were poor. Moreover, taking advantage
of the slow pace of the reconstruction, real-estate companies offered low prices
to desperate residents. Quite frequently, the impoverished property owners
accepted otherwise unattractive offers (CIPER, 2010).
The transactions between earthquake victims and real-estate companies left
clear winners and losers. Companies paid low prices for lands on which to
develop commercial buildings and projects for tourism and well-off citizens. At
the same time, fishermen, residents and owners of small businesses on the
coast, and residents of city downtowns were relocated to remote places, in inex-
pensive homes and lands far from their sociocultural context. Relocated resi-
dents became immersed in a cycle of reinforced poverty, overcrowding,
rootlessness, and isolation. The social leaders interviewed were categorical:
“The government gave the reconstruction to real-estate companies. It became
just a commercial transaction,” said Micaela Torres, president of the B. Seminario
Talca neighborhood council.
Besides the failed master plans, the government followed the subsidiary
logic reducing the size of the state via privatizations. It sold the state’s partici-
pation in the water supply and water treatment companies Aguas Andinas,
Esval, Essbio, and Essal for US$1.6 billion and US$1 billion in assets in other
companies. Although the justification for the privatizations was to fund the
reconstruction, there was no financial need for them (Pulgar, 2012). Moreover,
no official document has been released showing how the government used the
resources earned from these privatizations. Arguably, the government used the
disaster as an excuse to extend the privatizations in the water industry that had
their origins in the Frei administration (1994–2000). The earthquake provided
a window of opportunity for privatizing companies while the media and pub-
lic opinion were focused on the reconstruction effort. Thus, the government
was able to present the privatizations as necessary to fund the reconstruction.
LOW PARTICIPATION
This paper proposes that the subsidiary state, the binomial electoral system,
and the unelected regional authorities (i.e., intendants and governors) favored
the marginal citizen participation observed in the reconstruction.
By placing most of the recovery in private hands, the subsidiary state con-
tributed to marginalizing citizen participation. While the Piñera administration
formally promoted citizen participation through the master plans, these plans,
as described, were essentially a political marketing product. The master plans
that Forttes (2014) was able to audit revealed that the publicity on deliberative
instances was very poor. A survey conducted among residents of the four
municipalities in which master plans were developed revealed that few even
knew that they could participate (Forttes, 2014: 55). While in Constitución, in
the Maule Region, 97 of the 100 participants knew about the master plans and
30 had voted, in Talca, in the same region, only 13 of the 100 interviewed knew
about the plans and none of them had voted. Of the 150 participants from
Talcahuano, in the Bío Bío Region, only 2 knew about the plans, and they had
not voted. In the commune of San Vicente in the O’Higgins Region, none of the
100 residents interviewed knew anything about local master plans. In sum,
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12 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
some voting occurred in certain places, but deliberative instances were the
exception rather than the norm. Worse still, there is no official document that
describes these deliberative processes.
A national survey conducted by the NGO Voto Ciudadano (2012) showed
that most of the 12,062 respondents thought that the government had not taken
into account the opinions of the earthquake victims.17 Forty-five percent of the
interviewees claimed that they had not had opportunities to participate, while
27 percent stated that in the few opportunities they had to participate citizens
were not taken into account. Revealingly, after conducting case studies in the
cities of Constitución (Maule Region) and Arauco (Bío Bío Region) and in the
coastal fishing village of Llico (Bío Bío Region), Herrera (2014) found that fish-
ermen agreed that many of the problems they faced after the earthquake would
have been solved if they had provided the government some feedback on the
solutions. But that did not happen. Senator Ximena Rincón, one of the legisla-
tors who worked closely with the earthquake victims, underscored their sense
of powerlessness: “The reconstruction has not been carried out with the vic-
tims’ involvement. When you go to the affected communities, the people’s
anger is obvious.”
While the subsidiary state marginalized citizen participation by favoring a
privatized reconstruction, the binomial system discouraged legislators from
promoting citizen participation. Congressmen are more likely to achieve reelec-
tion by gaining the support of party bosses than by representing the prefer-
ences of their constituents. Therefore, legislators did not have strong incentives
to make the voices of the earthquake victims heard, and they were aware of this
fact. “The binomial system leads to the perpetuation in Congress, allowing
legislators to avoid direct contact with the citizenry and focus more on party
activities,” said Senator Alejandro Navarro.
The main action taken by Congress with regard to oversight of the recon-
struction was to create a special investigatory committee. This initiative
presented problems from the beginning. First, it came too late: the commit-
tee had its first meeting almost six months after the earthquake (on August
8). Second, the committee met only for approximately a year (until August
30, 2011), covering just a fraction of the official four-year timeline set for the
recovery effort (Cámara de Diputados, 2012). Third, the work of the com-
mittee was deficient. Chamorro etal. (2011: 36) claim that the committee
was initially more concerned with establishing responsibility for the
response of the Bachelet administration to the earthquake than with over-
seeing the reconstruction. For instance, according to Lorenna Arce, spokes-
woman for the Dichato Citizen Assembly Movement and the National
Movement for a Fair Reconstruction, the committee did not go to affected
areas despite having promised to do so. “We have seen our congressmen
only to take pictures [with us],” she complained (Observatorio Género y
Equidad, 2011).
Perhaps the most revealing fact of the role of Congress in the reconstruction
is that the main contribution of the committee was to produce a 333-page
report. However, Congress did not make constitutional charges or initiate liti-
gation based on its report, which did not even influence the public agenda
when it was released.
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 13
The unelected regional authorities seemed even more divorced from the
earthquake victims than Congress. In June 2011 the governor of the Bío Bío
region, Alejandro Reyes, accused the residents of damaged edifices of obstruct-
ing the demolition of those buildings (Leal, 2011). According to Reyes, the resi-
dents feared that by allowing the demolition they would lose the possibility of
suing the state for financial compensation. This statement was harshly criti-
cized by the buildings’ owners, who accused the regional authorities of
obstructing their case. This situation illustrates how a regional authority
worked to protect the interests of the central government (by trying to force the
victims to waive their right to sue the state) instead of representing the victims.
Similarly, the Linares governorate in the Maule Region unjustifiably
announced the end of the emergency phase a few months after the earthquake,
implying that there was no further need of emergency housing. The strong
opposition of residents who were in desperate need of emergency housing
caused the government to reverse that decision and accept that the emergency
phase was still ongoing (El Amaule, July 2, 2010). In another revealing case, the
former housing and urban planning minister, Magdalena Matte, was chal-
lenged in Congress because at the end of 2010 the intendants had used only 71
percent of the National Fund for Regional Development (Varas, 2011: 24).
Regional governments have the responsibility for this fund, a program of pub-
lic investment in regional social and economic infrastructure. Arguably, elected
intendants would have quickly spent all the resources in the devastated regions
to respond to the earthquake emergency, but unelected ones were able to delay
the allocation of these resources without expecting any sanctions.
Unfortunately, few surveys investigated the victims’ perception of the
regional authorities. The few that did captured a highly negative one, although
not strongly different from the perception of other authorities. Given the lim-
ited available data, the eight informants interviewed were asked to evaluate the
performance of deputies, senators, intendants, and governors. All of them
described the performance of regional politicians as “poor” or “very poor.” Six
of the eight also “tended to agree,” “agreed,” or “strongly agreed” that had
intendants and governors been elected they would have done a better job. “The
participation of these actors in the reconstruction has been diverse, but in gen-
eral officeholders have not generated effective processes,” said one academic
interviewed. The social leaders interviewed were more emphatic. “The recon-
struction process has been slow and has not included the participation of the
affected residents,” said Jaime Cortés. “We have been unable to represent our
demands. That is why our group has protested in the streets, to be listened to,”
said Micaela Torres.
IRREGULARITIES
Two constitutional provisions related to the legislature favored the occur-
rence of irregularities: executive-legislative relations and the binomial electoral
system. A Congress with little capacity to monitor and oversee the executive is
unable to prevent irregularities. The legislators interviewed confirmed that the
overwhelming powers of the president limited their oversight capacity during
the reconstruction. Senator Alejandro Navarro said: “We have a presidential
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14 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
monarchy. . . . To sanction the irregularities that we have detected, we need to
resort to the courts and the Office of the Comptroller General.” Senator Ximena
Rincón agreed: “Legislators do not have effective tools to monitor a reconstruc-
tion that has been carried out without considering the opinion of Congress.” As
argued in the previous section, the binomial electoral system helps us to under-
stand why the earthquake victims could not count on a Congress motivated to
oversee the executive.
The limitations on the accountability that Congress could exercise on the
executive and the marginal vertical accountability that citizens could impose
on legislators contributed to the occurrence of numerous irregularities. Since
many political authorities were not held accountable for their actions and had
little reason to fear punishment, they did not face much pressure to minimize
the waste of human, technical, and material resources in the reconstruction.
The irregularities were of three types. One was related to the government’s
consistent inflation of the reconstruction’s progress and the confusing informa-
tion that it released. The University of Chile’s Reconstruction Observatory
revealed that on the first anniversary of the earthquake the government
described bills and unexecuted laws as concrete achievements (Chamorro etal.,
2011). The government was so anxious to report advances that in February 2011
it had to apologize for showing pictures of damaged areas taken before the
earthquake as evidence of the reconstruction’s progress (Emol.cl, 2011). A year
later, the Reconstruction Observatory reported that the overall progress of
reconstruction in housing solutions was nearly 10 percent and not the official
47 percent (La Tercera, February 19, 2012). In the same vein, the government
claimed that 13 new bridges had been completed when the bridges had just
been replaced with temporary structures (La Tercera, February 22, 2012). Two
years after the earthquake, the Concertación released a report that set the over-
all reconstruction progress at 29 percent, contradicting the official 68 percent. It
argued that the government equated finished projects with works in progress,
emergency works with definite solutions, and minor repairs with major proj-
ects (Equipo Técnico Concertación, 2012: 2). Moreover, families unaffected by
the earthquake were counted as part of the reconstruction. For instance, 10
percent of the 55,250 families that were counted in the reconstruction registry
in the Maule Region were never registered as victims. Similarly, of the 1,668
subsidies assigned to programs that promoted increasing urban density, 89 per-
cent were cases unrelated to the earthquake but were counted as part of the
reconstruction (Forttes, 2014: 29).
A second type of irregularity involved numerous state agencies that were
unable to explain their expenses (CIPER, 2011). The Office of the Comptroller
General revealed in February 2011 that several state offices could not support
expenditures of nearly US$28 million. The National Council for School
Assistance could not justify nearly US$16 million spent on food rations, the
Ministry of the Interior could not support nearly US$11 million spent on medi-
aguas, the Ministry of Planning was unable to justify nearly US$750,000 spent
on the creation of the emergency registry in disaster areas, and the National
Office for Regional Development could not explain the nearly US$400,000
spent to clear debris in the coastal area of Maule. Among the main accusations
was that state agencies did not publish purchases or control expenses, made
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 15
improper payments and overpaid, and overlooked incomplete or defective
projects (CIPER, 2011).18
A third type of irregularity involved an improper relationship between the
state and private companies. One case in particular is illustrative: the minister
of defense, Jaime Ravinet, had to resign in January 2011 because of his role in
the acquisition of a bridge from the American Acrow Corporation for US$16
million. In January 2012, the State Defense Council sued Ravinet for fraud for
ordering the purchase of the bridge despite the existence of better offers (Clinic,
2015).19 Ravinet and some military officers are suspected of having received
financial incentives for purchasing the structure to replace the bridge over the
Bío Bío River—the second-largest river in Chile—that was destroyed during
the earthquake. By November 2015 the case was still unresolved.
CONCLUSION
The 1980 constitution inherited four provisions to the democratic system
that dampen horizontal and vertical accountability and that structurally condi-
tioned the reconstruction. The way the constitution shapes state-society and
intrastate relations puts a heavy burden on Chilean democracy. A more inclu-
sive and representative constitution would have favored a different role for the
state, legislators, regional authorities, and victims of the earthquake. If the 1980
constitution is not replaced or thoroughly amended to allow for increased hor-
izontal and vertical accountability, the Chilean democratic polity may gradu-
ally lose its legitimacy.
Some events suggest that the political elite is likely to change the constitu-
tion. On October 13, 2015, President Bachelet announced a series of steps to
replace the constitution. However, Congress has the final word and will decide
in 2017 whether it will allow the next legislature to do so. Meanwhile, in April
2015 Congress approved Law 20.840, which replaced the binomial system with
a more proportional electoral formula. The new electoral system, which will
debut in the 2017 elections, is more representative (divisions in the electorate
will be reflected more proportionately in Congress), guarantees a larger num-
ber of female legislators, and promotes political competition by reducing the
barriers for independent candidates. Nonetheless, the reform will not signifi-
cantly change the role of party leaders that the binomial system promotes.
Party leaders will retain the privilege of deciding who becomes a candidate for
an electoral seat.
Currently, the limited institutional mechanisms for disciplining politicians’
behavior motivate Chileans to express their discontent through protests. In
fact, no other government since the reinstatement of democracy in 1990 suf-
fered as many protests as the Piñera administration. Given the little account-
ability that earthquake victims could exert on the political elite, many decided
to form movements to make their voices heard by demonstrating their strength
in the streets.20 Through direct actions such as protesting, citizens express their
demands in a healthy and democratic manner, but it needs to be complemented
by institutions able to channel social demands. Otherwise, citizens tend to trust
less in electoral outcomes and are tempted to resort to violence.
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16 LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES
The exercise of tracing how a structural factor such as the constitution shapes
current events in Chile can be fruitfully replicated in other nations of the region.
Institutions inherited from dictatorships are only one among many factors that
shape the power relations in Latin American countries. Hierarchical class, gen-
der, and ethnic relations, the blatantly unequal distribution of land and capital,
religious organizations, and legal systems are deep forces that have enduring
and relatively stable patterns of relations. While mainstream political science
research mainly focuses on short-term causal relations, more research is needed
to understand how the foundations of social systems still shape Latin
Americans’ daily lives.
NOTES
1. The education and health budgets included infrastructure expenses as well as the addi-
tional goods and services needed to cope with the reconstruction effort.
2. While 14 percent of the victims did not apply for benefits, the remaining 21 percent did not meet
the requirements to apply (Forttes, 2014: 28–29). There is little or no information about these victims.
3. The administration claimed that it provided 221,923 subsidies or other housing solutions,
of which 99.8 percent had already started and 90 percent were finished. Forttes revealed that the
real numbers were 240,657, 92.2 percent, and 82.7 percent, respectively.
4. The legislators interviewed were the senator for Bío Bío Region and from the leftist
Movimiento Amplio Social (Broad Social Movement), Alejandro Navarro (e-mail interview, May
18, 2012), and the senator from the centrist party Democracia Cristiana (Christian Democracy),
Ximena Rincón (e-mail interview, May 30, 2012). The two social leaders interviewed were Micaela
Torres (e-mail interview, May 3, 2012), president of the B. Seminario Talca neighborhood council,
and Jaime Cortés (e-mail interview, May 8, 2012), from the Maule Region. The other six interview-
ees also responded via e-mail but did not authorize my revealing their identities. These interview-
ees were two social leaders from the Valparaíso Region, two academics from the Auracanía
Region, and two scholars from Santiago.
5. The concept of the subsidiary state also departed from previous conceptions of the state
under capitalist governments. For a review of this topic, see Dávila (1998).
6. Private companies have used Article 19 to sue the government for developing economic
activities without congressional authorization (Oróstica, 2009).
7. This corpus of research implies that a president can be powerful despite being the head of
a state that has limited entrepreneurial capacity, as happens with subsidiary states.
8. The exclusive initiative also applies to bills that address other relevant topics, such as the
administrative division of the country and the financial administration of the state.
9. When a president declares legislation urgent, Congress must review it in a short period of
time (between 3 and 30 days, according to the type of urgency). These urgency powers are con-
tained in Article 71 of the constitution and Articles 26, 27, and 28 of the Organic Law of Congress.
In practice, Chilean presidents have not used this power much because it is seen as extreme
(Siavelis, 2002: 93).
10. The Concertación was founded in 1988 as an alliance of center-left political parties whose
goal was to recover democracy, which finally happened in 1990. The coalition won the four pres-
idential elections in the postdictatorship period until Piñera took office in 2010.
11. There are many definitions of “institutions” in the social sciences. This work describes the
lack of a new institutional framework as the absence of a public agency in charge of organizing a
substantial part of the recovery effort. The government enacted and created laws to deal with the
recovery but did not centralize a major part of the recovery in a single agency.
12. Path dependency theory proposes that present decisions are limited by decisions made in
the past.
13. President Pedro Aguirre Cerda created CORFO to promote economic growth through the
creation of basic industries after the 1939 disaster. Today it mainly promotes the competitiveness
of domestic companies (for more information, visit http://www.corfo.cl).
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Arana / CHILEAN POSTEARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION 17
14. Decrees are administrative acts signed by the president and are hierarchically inferior to
laws.
15. This law modified some specific taxes on mining activities, tobacco sales, and property and
the copper reserve law.
16. Of this number, 110 were urban regeneration plans, devoted to recovering the urban image of
small and medium-sized towns. These plans included 787 projects with an estimated cost of US$450
million. The other 27 plans were urban reconstruction plans, designed to reconstruct damaged sea-
shores and interior localities. These plans included 73 projects with a cost of US$260 million.
17. The participation was 59 percent online. Forty-six percent of the participants said that the
earthquake or the tsunami had directly affected them. The survey was conducted February 25–
March 4, 2011.
18. It was not possible to find documents revealing what happened after these objections. The
Office of the Comptroller General is unable to sanction state agents and is not required to initiate
litigation after revealing irregularities committed by civil servants.
19. The State Defense Council is an autonomous public organization that legally represents the state.
20. Such movements joined together in organizations such as the National Movement for a Fair
Reconstruction and the National Federation of Residents.
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