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Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile: An Analysis of the Student Movement of 2011 and the No+AFP Movement of 2016



Social movements have been studied for their possible influence within political systems. In the past 12 years, Chile has registered an increasing number of social movements that have played an important role in the political system. This article adopts a qualitative methodology with a comparative approach of a case, comparing the student movement of 2011 and the No+AFP movement of 2016 and the influence of each movement on the public policy process, their linkages with political parties and whether this connection contributes to the movement having a greater incidence in decision-making. For the development of the comparison, the responses of the political system to the movements will be used; the incidence of the social movements will be analyzed by the level of intervention in the stages of public policy; and finally, the influence of movements will be examined, distinguishing a reactive influence (refusing to accept any decision of the authority) from a proactive influence (participating in the decision-making process of policies).
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile:
An Analysis of the Student Movement of 2011
and the No+AFP Movement of 2016
(Temuco Catholic University)
(Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales)
Social movements have been studied for their possible influence within political systems. In the
past 12 years, Chile has registered an increasing number of social movements that have played an
important role in the political system. This article adopts a qualitative methodology with a
comparative approach of a case, comparing the student movement of 2011 and the No+AFP
movement of 2016 and the influence of each movement on the public policy process, their
linkages with political parties and whether this connection contributes to the movement having a
greater incidence in decision-making. For the development of the comparison, the responses of
the political system to the movements will be used; the incidence of the social movements will be
analyzed by the level of intervention in the stages of public policy; and finally, the influence of
movements will be examined, distinguishing a reactive influence (refusing to accept any decision
of the authority) from a proactive influence (participating in the decision-making process of
Keywords: social movements, public policy, students, pensions, Chile.
Social movements play a leading role in the policy process in Chile,
especially since the constitutional reforms of 2005 that began a new cycle in
national politics, and this article analyzes the policy influence two such
movements have had. The new post-transition political cycle brought changes in
certain political areas, one of which was Michelle Bachelet becoming the first
* Alejandro Olivares L is assistant professor at the Department of Sociology and Political
Science, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Catholic University, Temuco,
Chile (
** Camila Carrasco-Hidalgo is a Student of the Master of Research Public Policies, at the
Department of Public Affairs at Flacso Ecuador (
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
woman president in 2006.
In addition, political parties’ behavior was
revitalized, which was the case in the electoral pact between the center-left
Concertación coalition formed by the Christian Democratic Party, the Party for
Democracy, the Socialist Party and the Radical Social Democratic Party
which the Communist Party joined in 2009 to later form the New Majority
coalition in 2014. The right came to power in two terms (2010-2014 and 2018-
2022), which triggered changes in its structure. The right-wing coalition
traditionally formed by two parties Independent Democratic Union and
National Renewal received two new members Political Evolution and the
Independent Regionalist Party.
There are also elements of continuity in this new post-transition political
cycle known as transition enclaves.” These are the formal and informal
institutions inherited by political actors that practice patronage, control by the
elite to select candidates, electoral politics, the domination of the parties in
politics, the formulation of elitist and extra-institutional policies, and the
untouchability of the economic system, among others.
This reality is one of the
main unifying elements among social movements, mainly the disapproval of
how candidates are selected, the electoral system, the educational model, among
other topics.
The movements that have arisen since 2006 have influenced the political
agenda, achieving concrete policy changes in some cases, while in others they
only put certain topics on the agenda. When they understood that it is important
to have influence in the political system, various movements organized to run in
the elections, with the Democratic Revolution and the Autonomous Left
achieving congressional representation in 2010. They later went on to create an
electoral coalition with other parties and movements, forming the Broad Front
left-wing coalition that groups 14 parties and movements.
This article uses a comparative qualitative case study analysis based on
an analysis of secondary sources, media analysis and interviews with key
participants to collect information, taking a comparative approach within each
We talk about a new cycle because “in Chile, where institutions have been historically
stable, the ‘protected democracy’ of Pinochet was dismantled in 2005.” Steven Levitsky
and María V. Murillo “Construyendo instituciones sobre cimientos débiles: lecciones
desde América Latina,” Politai, 3, nº5 (2012): 17-44, 21.
Peter Siavelis, “Enclaves de la transición y democracia chilena,” Revista de Ciencia
Política (Santiago) 29, n.o1 (2009): 3-21.
Antoine Maillet and Adrián Albala, “Conflictos socioambientales en los proyectos
eléctricos en Chile (2005-2016): Un análisis configuracional,” América Latina Hoy, n.o 79
(2018): 125-49; Rodrigo Medel and Nicolás Somma, “¿Marchas, ocupaciones o
barricadas? Explorando los determinantes de las tácticas de la protesta en Chile,” Política
y Gobierno 23, n.o 1 (2016): 163-99; Tokichen Tricot, “Movimiento de estudiantes en
Chile: Repertorios de acción colectiva ¿algo nuevo?,” Revista F@ro, n.o 15 (2012),
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 205
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case. It is a small-N comparative analysis with similar cases, but different in its
results regarding political influence.
This article analyzes two movements with
different levels of influence in the public policy process: The student movement
in 2011 and the No+AFP movement in 2016.
These movements were chosen because their collective actions managed
the biggest capacity to convene mass participation since the return to democracy
and until Chile’s social outburst in October 2019.
Both managed to put pressure
on the political system with original repertoires of collective action that placed
their demands on the public agenda and forced governments to make public
policy proposals. However, only one managed to achieve structural changes in
its sector. As shall be shown, they are movements that obtained quite different
results, despite using quite similar strategies. This work assumes that both
movements had different impacts on public policy because they had different
strategies and interactions with state actors in the political system. While the
student movement took advantage of the political network it had been creating
to achieve public policies that were in line with their demands (including the
public policy on free tuition in Chilean higher education), the No+AFP
movement lost momentum and the capacity to influence due to the decision not
to relate with the political system’s actors and institutions, thus only managing
to put the situation of pensions on the agenda. To measure the impact, the
influence strategy of each movement is analyzed, distinguishing between
reactive influence that is, when one refuses to acknowledge or abide by a
given decision by the authority and proactive influence, or when one
participates in the policymaking decision process.
This article will first review the scientific literature that investigates the
relationship between social movements and their development in the political
system and public policies. Secondly, it will analyze the social movements
chosen and compare them through two schemes that relate their influence on
sectoral policy processes (education and pensions). Finally, it concludes with
the effects of the two movements on the Chilean political system.
Social Movements and their Relationship to Public Policies
There is no consensus regarding social movements and their influence on
political systems. We know that at a structural level, movements’ potential political
Edwin Amenta et al., “The Political Consequences of Social Movements,” Annual Review
of Sociology 36, n.o 1 (2010): 287-307.
See Melany Barragán et al., «América Latina 2019: Vuelta a la inestabilidad»,
IBEROAMERICANA 20, n.o 73 (2020): 205-41.
Miguel López, “Los movimientos sociales y su influencia en el ciclo de las políticas
públicas,” Región y sociedad 24, n.o 55 (2012): 159-97.
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
consequences are the extension of democratic rights and practices and the formation
of new political parties.
This is possible because social movements represent an
alternative form of participation that defies the State, making issues that are not on
the political agenda a priority. They are usually nonpartisan organizations that try to
gain political influence to generate changes within society.
The influence of social organizations, and therefore of social movements,
may vary depending on the strategic options they focus their efforts on; that is,
on tactics, the relationships among organizations, the number of members, their
resources and their successes.
However, it should be considered that the impact
and influence of social movements decreases as the public policy process
In general, the literature recognizes the idea of influence as a
substitute for results, consequences, or impacts.
Social movements contribute to improving democracy, generating
opportunities for democratization of the political system.
means a broader space for the participation of political and social actors in the
democratic system, enhancing interaction between these actors and those in the
The government must adapt to this reality, since governing is not
a single-actor activity, but rather it is exercised through governance, which has a
more complex relational logic.
Social movements criticize the problems of
democracy, usually the lack of it or institutions’ insufficient capacity to solve
problems and address demands. To be heard, they seek to influence the public
policy process in some way,
whether through their protests or their political
action. They interact with public institutions to gain influence and raise
awareness, generating conflict to negotiate with those in power. Once they
make the problem visible, they can intervene in the political agenda.
Amenta et al., “The Political Consequences of Social Movements.”
Paul Burstein, “Interest Organizations, Political Parties and the Study Democratic
Politics,” in Social Movements and American Political Institutions, ed. Anne N. Costain
and Andrew S. McFarland (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998).
Sofia Donoso and Mauro Basaure, “La política contenciosa en el mundo de hoy.
Entrevista con Sidney Tarrow,” Serie Documentos de Trabajo, 2015.
Amenta et al., “The Political Consequences of Social Movements.”
López, “Los movimientos sociales.”
Edwin Cruz, “Movimientos sociales y democracia: una reflexión a propósito del caso
colombiano,” Diálogos de saberes: investigaciones y ciencias sociales, n.o 37 (2012):
Ricardo Uvalle, “Condiciones, procesos y horizontes en la transformación institucional y
organizacional del Estado contemporáneo,” Iztapalapa. Revista de Ciencias Sociales y
Humanidades 25, n.o 56 (2004): 19-37.
López, “Los movimientos sociales.”
Cruz, “Movimientos sociales y democracia.”
James Granada, “Acción colectiva y oportunidades políticas en escenarios de políticas
públicas: el caso del desplazamiento forzado en Medellín,” Estudios Políticos 40 (2012):
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 207
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
political agenda is a set of issues composed of events such as marches, crimes,
speeches, etc., all events in which a public decision-maker must respond.
this article, the political agenda includes the government agenda of state
decision-makers (bureaucrats or politicians).
Social movements interpret the reality where problems occur and build a
perception around them, generating a discourse that points to the cause of the
problem and the solution.
The problem must be controversial to be of a public
When it becomes a public problem, the solution involves the execution
of public policies. When studying public policies, it is necessary to consider that
context plays an important role, as problems do not occur in isolation, but
respond to a specific social, political, or economic process. Each context
provides a dynamic to the policies and the rules that define them.
policies are a state intervention that can reconcile positions on a problem. That
is, they solve problems. For this, they must always be quality policies to avoid
negative externalities for the population. A public policy must include
guidelines or content, but it must also have instruments or mechanisms to carry
out actions and include definitions that allow the prediction of its results.
Social movements have more influence on public policy when they are
strongly organized. If their power is weak, their chance of influence will be
lower. Following this logic, Giugni describes two paths of investigation.
is the concern about the policy impact of several organizational variables that
has led researchers to ask themselves whether social movements that are
strongly organized are more successful than movements with a weaker
organization. In the second, the literature observes violent and disruptive
behavior in protests, asking whether the use of disruptive tactics means more
chances to achieve a change in policy than a protest with moderate strategies.
Because of this, the relationship with public opinion is decisive.
This work
argues that social movements are stronger and more successful when they can
connect with political parties, since parties can offer more networks and
Mauricio Cortez and Antoine Maillet, “Trayectoria multinivel de una coalición promotora
e incidencia en la agenda política nacional. El caso del conflicto de Pascua Lama y la ley
de glaciares en Chile,” Colombia Internacional 94 (2018): 3-25.
Granada, “Acción colectiva.”
López, “Los movimientos sociales.”
Giovanna Valentini and Ulises Flores, “Ciencias sociales y políticas públicas,” Revista
Mexicana de Sociología 71, n.o num. esp. (2009): 167-91.
Eugenio Lahera, Introducción a las políticas públicas (Santiago: Fondo de Cultura
Económica, 2002).
Marco Giugni, “Was It Worth the Effort? The Outcomes and Consequences of Social
Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 371-93.
Rodolfo Disi, “The Nearness of Youth: Spatial and Temporal Effects of Student Protests
on Public Opinion in Chile,” Latin American Politics and Society, Forthcoming.
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
contacts beyond the logic of unity, allowing the movement to attain multisector
Considering that movements and parties can articulate about particular
issue, the pressure on the political system and the government increases.
According to Burstein,
this link can improve their political capacity, since
movements would upgrade their position in the public policy process. This
process is divided into six moments: (a) Access: Willingness of the authorities
to listen to a movement’s concerns and worries; (b) Agenda: The authority is
willing to put the social movement’s demands on the political agenda; (c)
Adaptation: The policy is coherent with the social movement’s demands; (d)
Results: The policy is implemented according to the movement's requirements;
(e) Impact: The degree in which the political system’s actions reduce a social
movement’s problems; (f) Structure: Political structures are transformed.
Ibarra, Gomá and Martí i Puig
argue that social movements can have an
impact on each stage of the public policy process. This complex relationship
between institutions and social movements can be described in the following
stages: (a) Appearance: The social movement makes demands visible (opening
impact); (b) Access: The authorities agree to meet with members of the social
movement (procedural impact); (c) Agenda: The social movement’s proposal is
administered by the State; (d) Formulation: Public policy is approved
(procedural impact); (e) Execution: Public policy is implemented (substantial
impact); (f) Impact: Consequences of the measures adopted (substantial
impact); (g) Structure: The system changes and improves the social
movement’s possibilities to influence(systemic impact).
Complementing the above-mentioned visions, López
argues that
influence can be reactive when the movement refuses to recognize or respect
any decision from the authority and chooses a path without interacting with it.
Conversely, influence can also be proactive by participating in the process of
policy decision making. A social movement can change its influence at any
time, from a proactive to a reactive influence and vice versa, depending on the
context in which it develops and the political decisions it makes to accomplish
the change. In addition to the different levels of influence a social movement
can attain in the public policy process, they must all overcome the opening
impact to become successful. Social movements, though similar in organization,
can have different effects on the system. To show this, the contexts of the two
movements in question and the demonstration of the generalized discontent
Burstein, “Interest Organizations.”
Pedro Ibarra, Ricard Gomá, and Salvador Martí i Puig, “Los nuevos movimientos
sociales. El estado de la cuestión,” in Movimientos sociales y derecho a la ciudad:
creadoras de democracia radical, ed. Pedro Ibarra, Salvador Martí i Puig and Ricard
Gomá, 9-22 (Barcelona: Icaria, 2002).
López, “Los movimientos sociales.”
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 209
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through their protests will be analyzed. The intention of these organized groups
was to move towards unconventional political participation and try to correct
For this, they developed various mechanisms of action that will be
analyzed in the following paragraphs.
The Student Movement of 2011
The student movement known in 2006 as the “penguin revolution”
set a precedent on how the political agenda can be influenced by citizens
through unconventional forms of participation. This movement managed to
make problems that had been ignored by the government visible and while the
main demands were not fulfilled, though much progress was made in terms of
the short-term agenda, and ending the system of for-profit education and
municipalization of educational institutions were left pending.”
The great
success of this movement was that it put educational issues on the political
agenda. Its legacy was to demonstrate that it was possible to develop
unconventional politics in Chile. Prior to this mobilization there had been
protests and marches between 2008 and 2010 that attempted to make various
issues visible, the most memorable being environmental and educational ones.
Those related to education did not have the necessary strength, since the
marches and protests did not obtain massive responses, students did not respond
to the calls of the leaders, there were no proposals and there was not a
consolidated relationship with the rest of the actors involved in education.
In contrast, 2009 was a key year for the student movement.
That year
the National Congress of Education was held, during which all levels of
education (secondary, university) and different actors (students, teachers,
education assistants, officials of the Ministry of Education, among others)
managed to converge. The objective was to generate a diagnosis and common
Germán Bidegain and Tokichen Tricot, “Political Opportunity Structure, Social
Movements, and Malaise in Representation in Uruguay, 1985–2014,” en Malaise in
Representation in Latin American Countries. Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, ed. Alfredo
Joignant, Mauricio Morales, and Claudio Fuentes (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
The penguin revolution is the name given to the secondary school students protests in
2006. They were the first massive protests that put a government under pressure since the
return to democracy. See: Bülow, Marisa von, and Germán Bidegain. “It Takes Two to
Tango: Students, Political Parties, and Protest in Chile (2005–2013)”. In Handbook of
Social Movements across Latin America, edited by Paul Almeida and Allen Cordero
Ulate, 179-94 (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2015).
Karina Delfino, personal communication, April 14, 2018.
Julio Sarmiento, personal communication, April 17, 2018.
Tricot, “Movimiento de estudiantes en Chile”.
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proposals, as they understood it could lead to demand the necessary
transformations in educational matters.
The right-wing candidate Sebastián
Piñera, who would later win the elections, disagreed with the proposed changes
for education. His campaign was focused mainly on economic growth, fighting
crime, and trying to charm an electorate that was disappointed in the previous
ruling coalition.
However, the earthquake in February 2010 changed priorities
for both Piñera and the student movement.
For its part, the student movement
had to postpone the strategy designed in the National Congress of Education, as
the actors agreed that, given the impact of the earthquake, a strategy to position
their demands would not be welcomed. According to the interviewees, going
out to protest and demand changes in education when there were more urgent
needs, such as rebuilding the homes of thousands of families, would be
nonsense and “at that immediate moment, the enthusiasm and motivations of
the students themselves were focused on going to the aid of those affected. The
entire first semester of 2010 involved in voluntary work processes.”
An unintended effect of volunteering was that the different student
federations managed to consolidate themselves. The saturation point quickly
identified by interviewees was that the emergence of the 2011 student movement
was, in part, a consequence of the role that the federations had played in helping the
earthquake victims, because an organizational structure was created that allowed the
students of different levels to participate. This gave federations the opportunity to
rebuild their convening capacity, to form local leaders and, therefore, to be in a
better position and disposition to convene and activate the student movement. For
example, Ballesteros points out that “the earthquake influenced both the
government's agenda and the strengthening of student federations. We mobilized
more than three thousand students for volunteer work; that was good for our
federation and the relationship with the students.”
Additionally, the earthquake gave student organizations the context to
add new demands. Now the government was asked for more resources for the
universities that had been affected by the catastrophe. This demand, like most of
the movement’s demands, came from the Chilean Student Confederation
(CONFECH). CONFECH acted as a space where the movement’s strategic
decisions were made and was composed of various social organizations and
university student federations.
The central role of this confederation can be
Pablo Moyano, personal communication, April 16, 2018.
Toro, Sergio and Juan Pablo Luna “The Chilean Elections of December 2009 and January
2010,” Electoral Studies 30, n° 30 (2011): 226-230.
Robert Funk and Pedro Figueroa, “Coyunturas críticas de un desastre: El caso del 27F.,”
Estado, Gobierno y Gestión Pública 15-16 (2010): 69-93.
Pablo Moyano, personal communication, April 16, 2018.
Personal communication, April 20, 2018.
Germán Bidegain, “Leading the Social Movement: Dilemmas, Internal Competition and
Strategy in the 2011 Chilean Student Movement,” Canadian Journal of Latin American
and Caribbean Studies (2020): 1 -22,
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 211
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interpreted as a consequence of the work to find common ground for the
unification of political positions in the mobilizing strategy that the federations
of the three most important universities in the Metropolitan Region had
developed over the previous two years.
Another important fact to consider is the relationship between the
federations and university presidents. The joint work was consolidated in 2011
and allowed students and their university authorities to make joint demands.
This was unprecedented since, until then, students had had a tense relationship
with university presidents, who were “an enemy to the student movement when
the proposals had to do with helping students internally. Thus, they understood
that they had a common enemy, which was the Ministry of Education and its
privatizing policy, allowing them to reconcile positions and question this
agenda, becoming much more transversal.”
A key date or the student movement was 26 April 2011, when the
CONFECH presented a petition in which it demanded recognition of the crisis that
the educational system was experiencing in Chile and then called a march, which
around eight thousand people participated in. The Minister of Education at the time,
Joaquín Lavín, had to face the start of the student movement in 2011 and, being
unable to lower the intensity of the protests, left the cabinet two months later. In the
company of the new minister, Felipe Bulnes, and at the inauguration of a new
headquarters for the DUOC-UC Technical Training Center, President Piñera
expressed one of his most popular phrases: “Education fulfills a dual purpose: it is a
good, it means knowing more, understanding better, and having more culture, but
education also has an investment component.”
Piñera’s statement prompted an immediate reaction from the student
movement. On the one hand, the students demanded a change in the educational
system, they wanted the state to guarantee that the access to education was
understood as a right, the President proposed the complete opposite. This
episode opened the way for a busy 2011, one of the years with the largest
number of marches and protests.
The student movement analyzed the
educational situation and presented a set of demands regarding access to quality
free higher education through marches, strikes and cultural interventions.
also used mechanisms to legitimize their interventions. Among them, the
National Plebiscite for Education stands out, which 1,480,119 people
Julio Sarmiento, personal communication, April 17, 2018.
“Presidente Piñera: La educación es un bien de consumo”, Radio Cooperativa, July 19,
For an analysis of the 2011 protests, see Segovia, Carolina, and Ricardo Gamboa. “Chile:
el año en que salimos a la calle,” Revista de Ciencia Política (Santiago) 32, n.º 1 (2012):
Carmen Silva et al., “Empoderamiento en el movimiento estudiantil durante 2011 y 2012
en Chile,” Universitas Psychologica, 14, n.o 4 (2015): 1299-1310.
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
participated in, and 2,896 polling stations were constituted. The results of this
plebiscite were remarkable: over 90% of those consulted were in favor of free
and quality education and of incorporating the binding plebiscite as a
mechanism for solving national problems.
Together with these actions and supported by public opinion, the movements
leaders developed ties with political parties. At the beginning of the movement, there was a
relationship between student leaders and some of the traditional parties on the left wing
(mainly the Communist Party and the Socialist Party), mostly since several student leaders
were already members of these parties. Other leaders also belonged to emerging political
movements, such as the New University Action (NAU), the Libertarian Student Front
(FEL) and the Autonomous Left.
According to the interviewees, two types of bonds were
visible. On the one hand, students and leaders were members of political parties (traditional
or emerging) and political movements, hence there was a relationship beyond investiture of
those who conducted the federations or were CONFECH spokespeople. Also, there was a
relationship with institutional actors from the political system (party leaders and legislators).
Two interviewees stated:
having a meeting with leaders of political parties and also with legislators at a time when
different topics were being discussed or voted, such as, for example, the Budget Law.
“at some point in 2011, during the most critical mobilizations, we understood that we
would not obtain much from Piñera and a right wing so tough that until then had not given
in. We knew that the little we could achieve through the institutional route would be
reached by having the opposition on our side.”
Nevertheless, there were some groups that rejected any sort of connection
with institutional actors opposition parties, legislators, party leaders and even
the government.
In mid-2011, the results of university federation elections
brought a change in leadership
where student leaders without relations to
Mesa Nacional por la Educación, “Plebiscito por la educación,” http://plebiscitoporla, 11 de octubre de 2011.
Marcelo Mella, Héctor Ríos and Ricardo Rivera, “Condiciones orgánicas y correlaciones
de fuerza del movimiento estudiantil chileno: Una aproximación desde la Confech (2011-
2015),” Izquierdas, n.o 27 (2016): 134-60.
Camilo Ballesteros, personal communication, April 20, 2018.
Laura Palma, personal communication, April 23, 2018.
The relation with political parties is a topic that usually confronts student movements in
Latin America to a strategic dilemma. See Germán Bidegain y Marisa von Bülow,
“Student Movements in Latin America,” en Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Latin
America, ed. Xóchitl Bada y Liliana Rivera Sánchez (published online: Oxford University
Press, 2020).; Rodolfo Disi, “Policies, Parties, and Protests: Explaining Student Protest
Events in Latin America,” Social Movement Studies 19, n.o 2 (2020): 183-200; Rodolfo
Disi, “Sentenced to Debt: Explaining Student Mobilization in Chile,” Latin American
Research Review 53, n.o 3 (2018): 448-465.
Octavio Avendaño, “Fracturas y representación política en el movimiento estudiantil:
Chile 2011.”, Última Década 41 (2014): 41-68.
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 213
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traditional political parties won, leading the movement, and deepening its
autonomization process. The movement started to lose their capacity to create
institutional bonds and, consequently, started losing influence in public opinion.
However, the effects of the student movement were far-reaching, as several of
its young leaders obtained seats in Congress: Karol Cariola and Camila Vallejo
(Communist Party); Giorgio Jackson (Democratic Revolution); and Gabriel
Boric (Autonomous Left)demonstrating the student movement’s influence on
the Chilean political system. These results contrast with the opinion of the
interviewees and the revised bibliography, in the case of Chile, but it opens an
interesting line for future research.
In addition to the above, Table 1 presents the main effects of the student
movement on public policy. The table considers the political system’s responses to
the student movement’s demands, beyond the repercussion of the different and
dynamic interventions in each of the stages of the cycle of public policies. In
general, it is argued that the student movement attained a significant impact on the
political system because of its strategy of internal organization and association with
external actors. This mobilization demonstrated that social movements are a
mechanism of strength to intervene in the public policy development process and
aim it in the opposite direction of what had been thought.
While students have not organized mobilizations in recent years, they
have in fact been crucial actors in other processes, such as the Feminist Strike in
2018 and the citizen protests in October 2019. In both cases, education is still a
pillar of the organization. In general, education has become an important issue
on the political agenda. Student leaders are important in the political system and
many of those who led the process in 2011 are in their second terms as deputies.
Either due to their action as politicians or their influence as students, this
movement has, over the course of time, managed to get public policies
implemented that are close to their initial demands. The most important of these
is Law No. 21,091 establishing higher education as a right that must be within
reach of all people. For this, a system has been developed that allows the
lowest-income sectors to study with free tuition. The concept of viewing
education as a right is the maximum expression of the student movement’s
structural influence.
No+AFP Social Movement
Until now, there is practically no research about this movement, except
for the study by Rozas & Maillet.
This movement came in a different context
from that of the student movement. First, the right was not in power; the
Joaquín Rozas and Antoine Maillet, “Entre marchas, plebiscitos e iniciativas de ley:
innovación en el repertorio de estrategias del movimiento No Más AFP en Chile (2014-
2018),” Izquierdas 48 (2019): 1-22.
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movement developed during Bachelet’s second term (2014-2018).
Second, the
movement developed two years after the start of the Bachelet administration,
when the political class in general and the government in particular were
increasingly delegitimized. For example, in 2016 the president received the
highest disapproval rating since the return of democracy.
This means that the
No+AFP Coordinating Board did not have the direct participation of the parties
that have traditionally defended this type of demands.
It is important to consider a long-term factor in the debate on the pension
system, as it is also a critical reflection on the economic model. The Chilean
economic system has been decisive in generating citizen discontent based on
low pensions, since there is, allegedly, “an oligopolistic market economy.”
The Chilean pension system was implemented in 1980, during the dictatorship,
under Legal Decree No. 3500, which established that in Chile there would be a
new individually funded pension system.
Since then, the pension system has
been privately administered through Pension Fund Administrators (AFP),
companies created to provide their affiliates with pensions and other benefits
that are stipulated by law, charging a variable commission that is a direct profit
for the AFP.
From a short-term perspective, a fact that prompted criticism and
increased discomfort with the pension system occurred in early 2016. The
National Audit Office published information according to which there were
former Gendarmerie (Chilean Prison Service) employees who received
exceedingly high pensions thanks to an unjustified increase in their salaries just
before they retired.
The discontent with the AFPs caused the No+AFP Coordinating Board to
join with professionals, academics, and foundations to investigate social rights.
Sergio Toro and Macarena Valenzuela, “Chile 2017: ambiciones, estrategias y
expectativas en el estreno de las nuevas reglas electorales,” Revista de Ciencia Política
(Santiago) 38, n.º 2 (2018): 207-232.
Ignacio Arana, “Chile 2016: ¿El nadir de la legitimidad democrática?,” Revista de Ciencia
Política (Santiago) 37, n.o 2 (2017): 305-33.
Andrés Solimano, “Llama la atención que habiendo un Ministerio del Trabajo y Previsión
el proyecto (de pensiones) se entregue a Hacienda,” El Pulso, 7 de junio de 2016,
Florencia Larraín, “El Sistema privado de pensiones en Chile y sus resguardos
constitucionales,” Revista chilena de Derecho 39, n.o 2 (2012): 541-51.
Tomás Bril-Mascarenhas and Antoine Maillet, “How to Build and Wield Business Power:
The Political Economy of Pension Regulation in Chile, 1990–2018.” Latin American
Politics and Society, 61, nº1 (2019): 101125.
EMOL, “El Mercedes Benz de José Piñera a la reforma del Gobierno,” El Mercurio (on
line), 24 de julio de 2017,
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 215
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
Most of these actors lacked ties to political parties. No+AFP defines itself as a
group of citizens united with the aim of expressing discontent with the
prevailing pension system in Chile, under the slogan “a system of solidarity,
tripartite distribution and administered by the State.”
As the organizers did not
belong to any political party, the movement always presented itself as a citizen
This allowed the development of links with other organizations in
various cities, mainly composed of workers, and with the aim of ending the
AFP system.
The first march was called on 24 July 2016 and it surprised with its
massiveness. According to analysts, the significant response to the march was
because “the funds are managed by private companies that are controlled by
large economic groups (...) that obtain very high returns from the administration
of funds that are equivalent to almost half of the country's GDP.”
On the
occasion, Luis Mesina, leader of the Coordinating Board, noted that “Chile
woke up, got tired of corruption, got tired of over 40 years of sustained,
systematic abuse. Chile no longer wants this shameful, unfair, immoral pension
The pillar of the movement was the proposal of a pension system that
was solidary, tripartite, and administered by the State. This mobilization had a
national character, thousands of people gathered throughout Chile, becoming a
starting point for the debate as it demonstrated the accumulated discontent with
the pensions that the system generates.
Important political figures spoke out in response to the people’s demands
and grievances. Although there were many more, we present two statements
that account for the political positions on the demands. On the one hand, after
the first march, President Bachelet stated that “we face a huge challenge; to
ensure that pensions are fair and recognize people’s dignity.”
On the other
hand, José Piñera, a former minister of Augusto Pinochet’s, creator of the AFP
system, and President Sebastián Piñera’s brother, spoke in defense of the
current system in several interviews. One of his controversial phrases was the
Recaredo Gálvez, personal communication, April 17, 2018.
Rozas and Maillet, “Entre marchas, plebiscitos e iniciativas.”
Recaredo Gálvez, personal communication, April 17, 2018.
Cristián Parker, “Chile: La sociedad civil en movimiento frente al modelo neoliberal,”
CETRI. El sur en movimiento., 27 de octubre de 2017,
EMOL, “El Mercedes Benz de José Piñera a la reforma del Gobierno.”
Arana, “Chile 2016: ¿El nadir de la legitimidad democrática?.”
“Presidenta Bachelet por AFP: La ciudadanía nos ha recordado que tenemos un desafío
enorme” (Santiago, 25 de julio de 2016),
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
comparison between the pension system and a Mercedes Benz: “The system is
like a Mercedes Benz; it is a sophisticated car, well made, full of security. But
even a Mercedes Benz needs gasoline to run. The Mercedes Benz that works
without gasoline has not been discovered yet. So, what is the gasoline here? The
monthly contribution.”
His comments were rejected by the NO+AFP
Coordinating Board, which criticized the statements by the creator of the
system, noting that “Piñera will continue to make a fanatical defense of his
failed model that has led hundreds of thousands of retirees to have miserable
pensions after paying into them for a lifetime.”
The second mobilization convened by the Coordinating Board sought to
question the AFPs, calling on contributors to switch their resources to a safer
fund, maintaining the position of changing the system from its base. However,
the day before this demonstration, the president revealed the government’s
proposal for a new pension system in a media simulcast, stating that this was a
challenge for everyone to face together. The government convened a
commission of experts with different visions to review the current system and
seek solutions for the short- and medium-term. This response served to aid in
the diagnosis:
“Probably the most concrete thing done by the Bachelet government was to increase the
basic solidarity pension payment. Regarding the pension advisory commission that that
government convened, we can say that it served as a contribution to diagnosing of the
situation, even though it did not really contribute to solving the conflict.”
Despite the No+AFP movement’s critical view of the government’s
responses, the Government made progress with the new Collective Savings
System. On 10 August 2017, Bachelet submitted three bills to the National
Congress to create this new mixed pension system. They aimed for a
constitutional reform to create an administratoran autonomous body called the
Collective Savings Counciland a new collective savings of 5% of the
contribution. It also sought to pass a law to modify and improve the regulatory
framework governing AFPs.
This movement generated significant public support during the Bachelet
administration. An important part of its legitimacy was that, in addition to using
José Piñera: "El sistema de pensiones es un Mercedes Benz, es un auto extraordinario"
(Santiago, 4 agosto de 2016),
Coordinadora NO+AFP, “José Piñera se burla de los chilenos que salieron a marchar
exigiendo No+AFP,” No más AFP, 23 de febrero de 2017,
Recaredo Gálvez, personal communication, April 17, 2018.
Subsecretaría de Previsión Social, “Ahorro colectivo,” Previsión social, 2017,
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 217
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
protest as a mobilization, it also called for pot-banging demonstrations and even
a plebiscite in order to demand a favorable response to its demands. The
No+AFP Coordinating Board, like the student movement, used the latter
recourse between 29 September and 1 October through in-person and electronic
voting. A total of 993,475 people participated and 96.76% of these votes were
in favor of ending the AFP.
Though the movement has not been able to materialize its initial
objectives, it has had an impact on the political agenda, as the government had
to prioritize this issue and come up with alternative solutions, submitting three
bills to try to respond to the demands. As the responses were not what the
movement expected, the organization remained active during the second Piñera
administration (2018-2022), although with less capacity for action. The
movement's ability to set the agenda was high during the second Bachelet
government, but it was drastically low during the second Piñera term. Despite
Piñera's antagonistic attitude toward the movement’s demands, it has not been
able to mobilize citizens again. The quality of the movement’s influence is
declining, and this can be partly explained by the unwillingness to articulate
with other actors beyond it.
The parties that supported Bachelet, despite now being in the opposition,
have not adhered to this movement and it started to lose visibility. This can be
explained by the fact that the movement is constantly reiterating its autonomy.
Mesina is decisive when expressing the movement’s position regarding
traditional political parties, accusing them of being discredited and detached
from the citizens.
It has yet to be determined whether the loss of influence is
momentary or whether political parties have prioritized the demands of other
social causes, such as the feminist movement or the struggle for constitutional
change that came out in the October 2019 protests.
Table 2 below summarizes
their influence.
The No+AFP movement managed to put the consequences of the pension
system on the public agenda and organized itself as a massive social movement,
obtaining the authorities’ acknowledgment as a counterpart. Nevertheless, we
argue that this type of position does not achieve a structural impact, since the
Bachelet government opted for public policies with a logic that differed from
the movement’s and the Piñera government seeks to improve the current
system. All in all, the movement is a topic for future investigations, like that of
Coordinadora NO+AFP, “Resultado Plebiscito No+AFP con 90% mesas escrutadas,” No
s AFP, 5 de octubre de 2017,
“Entrevista con el secretario general de la Confederación de Sindicato Bancarios de
Chile,” Resumen, 2016,
Melany Barragán et al., “América Latina 2019: Vuelta a la inestabilidad,” Iberoamericana
20, n.o 73 (2020): 205-41.
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
Rozas & Maillet
for example. Their work focuses on the structure of
opportunities and maintains that part of the new topics is linked to the political
context and their internal definitions, particularly the concern for movements’
autonomy from political parties.
Analysis and Discussion
Both movements have influence to put issues on the public agenda, albeit
at different levels. While the student movement managed to have a systemic
influence, the No+AFP movement lost power, its protests became less massive
and it has progressively disappeared from the agenda, probably due to its
repeated cycles of protest.
Both movements decided to get involved in institutional decision-making,
participating in meetings with the political authorities, including the president
and Congress, where their proposals were presented to both houses. The
strategic relationship with parties allows movements to obtain support at
different levels, without excluding actors that are part of their cause. In the case
of the student movement, this helped to materialize their main demand: free
education. On the other hand, the No+AFP movement differentiates the
citizenry from political parties, which made the movement inhibit the
possibilities of dialogue and consensus, losing part of its capacity to influence.
This shows that, in the absence of relationships or a roadmap, it is difficult for
any proposals to have a structural impact on the system or policies.
Both movements turned to traditional actions, but they were also
innovative in creating new forms of protest,
with both of them using direct
democracy legitimization strategies. These tools are not part of the institutional
repertoire in Chile and have become mobilizing events. These unconventional
forms may be the object of future analysis, since, in the context of the current
Chilean political system and its problems of legitimacy in institutional
representation, they could become a reliable alternative to improve institutional
performance. The set of repertoires and actions is helpful to increasing a
movement’s visibility.
Based on the proposal by López,
there is a distinction between reactive
influence, and when one fails to acknowledge or abide by a given decision by
the authorities, and proactive influence, which is when one participates in the
Rozas and Maillet, “Entre marchas, plebiscitos e iniciativas.
Maillet and Albala, “Conflictos socioambientales en los proyectos”; Cortez and Maillet,
“Trayectoria multinivel de una coalición”; Rozas and Maillet, “Entre marchas, plebiscitos
e iniciativas”; Tricot, “Movimiento de estudiantes en Chile”.
López, “Los movimientos sociales.”
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 219
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policy decision-making process. The influence of both movements is interpreted
as follows:
Reactive influence: Both movements rejected the proposals by the
political authorities. In the case of students, they scuttled the higher education
reform of Piñera’s first government. Then, during the second Bachelet
administration the student movement, with new leaders, they attempted to
influence legislative debate and achieved partial success: free tuition in higher
education and defining education as a social right. However, they did not
manage to eliminate the for-profit educational system. In the case of the
No+AFP movement, there was no influence on public policy, but it obtained
support in emerging sectors of the political system, as the Broad Front.
Proactive influence: The student movement had access to institutional
decision-making channels and influenced the political agenda, winning, for
example, free tuition in higher education. The movement rejected Piñera’s
public policies and only during Bachelet’s government did they see their
demands partially included in public policy. Some of the leaders of the
movement in 2011 are currently deputies (Cariola, Vallejo, Jackson and Boric),
which helped keep the topic alive in Congress, trying to work with the new
leaders. In the case of No+AFP, the movement also had access to institutional
decision-making channels, but despite holding dialogue with institutional
authorities, they rejected Bachelet’s proposal.
The problems in higher education and pensions would not be part of the
political agenda in Chile without these movements. The student movement
managed to get the presidential candidate Bachelet to include free education in
her program. In the following election, the No+AFP movement met with the
presidential candidates Alejandro Guillier (government) and Beatriz Sánchez
(Broad Front), though it was unable to agree with the former. On the other hand,
the candidate Sánchez took the movement’s pension proposal as a basis and
incorporated the end of individual capitalization and the return to a pay-as-you-
go system. Despite the fact that both movements had reactive stages in the
decision-making process, the one with the most proactive influence has been the
student movement because it managed to obtain support for its demands from
different actors in the political system. A possibility to consider is that the
movement had a previous story in 2006, another cycle in 2011 and a reform in
2015, involving three governments, unlike the No+AFP movement, which has
only acted during two.
To increase knowledge of social movements, it is necessary to study them
in depth, identifying their impact to determine to what extent the changes that
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occur in the political system are caused by their action. In other words, it is
necessary to demonstrate that the demands concerning the State would not have
reached the public policy agenda without the social movement. However, it is
already known that the increase in mobilizations has helped to bring changes in
the Chilean political system. Some examples between 2014 and 2018 are the
reform of the electoral system (to a proportional one), the change in the logic of
coalition-forming and the reordering of the party system, with new actors
grouped into new coalitions.
The context forces governments to change their political agendas, which
is not new for a case as stable as that of Chile. What is new for a country that is
unused to demonstrations is that the cause of the change comes from the
pressure of social movements (protest had been lost as a form of political action
under the dictatorship and for almost 15 years thereafter). In this sense, it is
necessary to further investigate these movements in aspects such as levels of
internal democracy, links with political parties and the ruling coalition, relations
between the movement and institutional actors, in addition to comparing
collective action mechanisms and satisfaction levels when a demand has been
The student movement partially managed to implement its demands
through public policy during Bachelet’s second term when a reform to the
educational system was proposed. In contrast, the No+AFP movement has not
yet managed to materialize a public policy in accordance with its demands, due
in great part to its refusal to participate in an institutional space to influence
policy decision-making processes.
Both movements had chances to influence the public policy process
through meetings with authorities. The proposals they presented originated from
the needs of the movements’ participants and both used direct democracy to
reaffirm citizen support. Regarding the relationship with political parties, the
student movement showed greater connection and dialogue with them, mainly
those belonging to the New Majority, unlike the No+AFP movement, which
defined itself as autonomous from political parties, despite the fact that they
were later related to emerging political parties and coalitions such as the Broad
Front. Dialoguing with parties endows a social movement’s cause with political
capacity and therefore enhances its possibilities of influencing the public
policymaking process.
Lastly, for future research, the effects of protest cycles on movement’s
social learning processes could be incorporated, as Maillet and Bidegain
already done. This is necessary to know how temporality influences the
Antoine Maillet and Germán Bidegain, “Movimientos sociales, instituciones políticas y
reforma educativa en Uruguay y Chile” (XXXVI International Congress of the Latin
American Studies Association, Barcelona, 2018).
Social Movements and Public Policy in Chile 221
Romanian Political Science Review vol. XX no. 2 2020
performance of movements, since it might be an element that, for example, goes
against the No+AFP movement, which is still in a first cycle of development,
unlike the student movement, which after three cycles of protests, has seen
solutions to its demands and has put the issue of education on the permanent
public agenda. Similarly, the new system of political parties should be analyzed
and how social movements develop their relationships with them. For example,
the Broad Front has been in tune with and supported the demands of the
No+AFP movement, making it possible for the relationship between this type of
social movement and political parties to change.
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Table 1: Responsiveness and intervention of the student social movement in 2011
SM makes the problems of higher education visible on the political agenda.
Formal meetings with public authorities take place.
Piñera proposes the Great National Agreement for Education (Gran Acuerdo
Nacional por Educación-GANE) and receives representatives of the SM
(students, teachers and university presidents)
SM presents Piñera a 12-pointproposal to reform Higher Education system.
Piñera does not adopt the SM proposal.
The second Bachelet government announces and implements public policies in
Higher Education.
Creation of several state universities outside of Santiago (2015); Access to free
education as part of the budget law (2016); Universal Free Tuition Law (2018)
Public policy sees no changes during Piñera’s term. Bachelet accepts main
demand: Free education (2016: 113,393 students; 2017: 143,637 students).
Change in the political system. New candidates and new topics. Society accepts
the public policies implemented.
Source: Elaborated by authors.
Table 2: Responsiveness and intervention of the No+AFP social movement
SM makes the problems of the pension system visible on the political agenda.
Political figures invite leaders to formal meetings.
Bachelet meets the No+AFP Coordinating Board and, afterwards, announces
three bills for a new Collective Savings System.
SM does not accept the proposed the New Collective Savings System.
SM wants to end the AFP system.
Bachelet sends the New Collective Savings bill to Congress.
The "New Collective Savings" bill is pending in the Congress. There is still no
public policy linked to the demands of the movement.
There are no policies in accordance with the No+AFP movement and the bills
do not meet its demands.
Low capacity for mobilization during Piñera’s second term of. No structural
Source: Elaborated by authors.
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What explains the remarkable resilience of pension regulation in postauthoritarian Chile, even after decades of majoritarian voter discontent and growing international and domestic criticism of Pinochet's pioneering private capitalization system? This puzzling outcome can be understood only by looking at the combined effect of the pension industry's long-term power-building investments and its short-term political actions to outmaneuver state and societal challengers. Engaging new theoretical developments in political economy and historical institutionalism, this study examines the long-term process by which the previously nonexistent Chilean pension industry expanded and leveraged its power during key episodes of open contestation. The analysis of pension regulation in Chile between the 1980s and the 2010s illustrates the importance of placing business power in time, motivating new rounds of theory building in the quest to address the perennial question of how business gets what it wants in the political arena.
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El año 2017 fue un año diferente para el gobierno chileno. En términos coyunturales, Chile vivió un duro golpe a su institucionalidad debido a la crisis desatada por los incendios forestales, los problemas de corrupción en carabineros y las denuncias de maltrato en dependencias del Servicio Nacional de Menores (SENAME). En lo político, el 2017 fue el estreno de la nueva regla electoral que reemplazó el sistema binominal. El presente artículo sostiene que este cambio de regla electoral provocó tres efectos principales en los actores políticos: a) cambio de ambiciones en medio de la incertidumbre de los agentes políticos b) nuevas estrategias territoriales para la campaña, y c) nuevas expectativas en actores tradicionalmente excluidos de la competencia electoral.
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This article argues that the legitimacy of the political system is currently at its lowest point since the return to democracy. Presidential approval ratings dipped to a record low in 2016. The year also saw the highest levels of electoral absenteeism and distrust in the three branches of government, and the lowest levels of identification with political parties. This low legitimacy of the political system can be attributed to cyclical —governmental mismanagement and corruption scandals— and underlying causes —interpersonal mistrust, detachment from the political activity and insulated elites—. If these trends continue, we may witness a transformation of the party system, the emergence of populist movements and leaders, and the erosion of the quality of Chilean democracy.
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The following article analyses the ideological and political differences emerging among the leaders of the university student movement during 2011. On the basis of the theory of cleavages, it is suggested that students' proposals and their representation built on a new social fracture, the latter being an outcome of their criticism of mercantilization of higher education. Throughout demonstrations, other differences among the student leaders from the most important student organizations and federations were made evident, especially concerning issues such as negotiations with the government, representation, participation, decision-making process and the movement's future.
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The paper goes about the origin of public policy as an area of study within the social sciences. It performs a study on the analytical nature of the social sciences, policy sciences and public policies regarding the problems of society, with regard to their degree of specialization and their differences in methodology and research goals. It also analyzes the development of the study of public policy in Latin America.
The aim of this paper is to show you the relationship between being young and social movements. For this, the notion and idea of youth is described from the biological, social and psychological point of view, as well as the importance of social movements during this stage of life, which will allow knowing the value they have in society.
Research on social movements has usually addressed issues of movement emergence and mobilization, yet has paid less attention to their outcomes and consequences. Although there exists a considerable amount of work on this aspect, little systematic research has been done so far. Most existing work focuses on political and policy outcomes of movements, whereas few studies address their broader cultural and institutional effects. Furthermore, we still know little about the indirect and unintended consequences produced by movements. Early studies have dealt with the effectiveness of disruptive and violent actions and with the role of several organizational variables for movement success. More recently, scholars have begun to analyze movement outcomes in their political context by looking at the role of public opinion, allies, and state structures. A comparative perspective promises to be a fruitful avenue of research in this regard.
The Nearness of Youth: Spatial and Temporal Effects of Student Protests on Public Opinion in Chile
  • Rodolfo Disi
Rodolfo Disi, "The Nearness of Youth: Spatial and Temporal Effects of Student Protests on Public Opinion in Chile," Latin American Politics and Society, Forthcoming.