The party building process in Chile in the time of the “Jarpa Spring”

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Yesterday I was asked about the parties in Chile in the times of Pinochet. Trying to reply in a comment, I realized this is a topic large enough for an article. And this is it.
Reader of my blog askeda very interesting question about the Chilean Junta and the Pinochet era, which is more complex than it seems. It went as follows: By the way, I have a question for you regarding the parties in Chile. As far as I know, from 1973 to 1983 there were no political parties in the country at all, and then in 1983 the supporters of Pinochet formed «The Independent Democratic Union». In 1987 the «National Renewal» party was formed, and in the same year, the former socialists formed their movement. Is it true that from 1983 to 1987 there were no political parties in Chile aside from the UDI?

The situation was as follows. Before 1983 the Junta and the Chilean government (which are not the same thing, by the way) sympathized with the Gremialists — a group of figures, mostly from the Catholic University of Chile, who asserted that the public politics is an evil from which society must be protected. In exchange, the citizens should be granted the right to form independent economic entities, the guilds. (In fact, ‘gremio’ is Spanish for ‘guild’, so ‘Gremialism’ simply means ‘guildism’). The state should not interfere in the relations between these entities. Until 1983 the Gremialists had been in power, while Pinochet was writing the book «Politica, politiqueria y demagogia», in which he expressed the ideas similar to those of the Gremialists. However, in 1983 the government sympathies turned to a group of technocrats and pragmatics led by Sergio Jarpa, which carried out the liberalization of the social life and made the Junta to lift the prohibition on political parties and abolish the censorship in many spheres. This process is called the «Spring of Jarpa».

The Gremialists, seeing that their plans were endangered, promptly formed the UDI — a Centrist Right party that should have become the common ground for all the followers and the sympathizers of the regime, allowing them to crush their opponents. However, they failed to form a single united party. It is important to note that I highlight the Chilean Junta all others in Latin America. While in Paraguay Stroessner was crushing all the opponents, including even his own followers, and in Argentine and Uruguay the juntas were killing tens of thousands of their own citizens and increased the severity of censorship to the point of insanity (in Argentine they confiscated and destroyed the films of the ‘Argentinian Russ Meyer», Armando Bo, starring Isabel Sarli, calling his movies ‘dirty’ and ‘obscene’), the Chileans were trying to build a society based on the principles of the law.

In 1983 a massive party forming process started in the country. Political parties were appearing and disappearing, but the most interesting thing about this is that these parties formed wide coalitions and alliances – which probably explains why few have heard of single parties of those times. The reason for this is twofold: firstly, the government wasn’t in hurry to legalize any parties; secondly, the opposition to the politics of the generals united many people of different views.
These people would not be able to act as a single party, so forming a coalition was at least a viable alternative. Thus, for example, the widest opposition group was the ‘Alianza Democrática’, composed of a lot of people from the old Chilean parties, ranging from Socialist to Centrist-Right. The Democratic Alliance organized the first mass meeting (about half a million people) in Santiago, functioned actively and made its demands (mainly, concerning the democratic reforms and the resign of Pinochet). Such methods provoked considerate anxiety in the Junta: Jarpa was made to resign from the post of the Minister of Internal Affairs in 1985 and started his own party building process. Jarpa founded the ‘Frente Nacional del Trabajo’ and he also was one of the founders and the ‘creators of the discourse’ of another Right party — the ‘Renovacion Nacional’, whose leader, Sebastian Piniera, is the current Chilean President. Another founder of the RN was Andres Aleman, former leader of the ‘Movimiento de Unión Nacional’, founded in 1983. Aleman, by the way, held the post of the Minister of Defence in Piniera’s government and ran as the Renovacion Nacional candidate for the presidency in 2013.

Unfortunately, the government kept away from the dialogue with the opposition and preferred to follow the defective tactic of either ignoring it or trying to prohibit it by a court order. I will write about the first case of court injunction in more details later.

The radical Left, in their turn, formed several coalitions, such as Bloque Socialista and Movimiento Democrático Popular. The first one lasted only for two years, from 1983 to 1985. The MDP turned out to be more active and aggressive. Despite the fact that among the MDP members were Communists and MIR members, the Junta tried to abide by its own laws and did not prohibit the activity of the alliance, tolerating it. In order to understand the significance of this, it is important to remember that these were the military, not the civil politicians. It is very hard for the military to «permit» and that’s why I assert that the Chileans were much more liberal than their foreign ‘colleagues’, who, having been in power for more years than Pinochet, were much less permissive than him. It is equally important to remember that Pinochet was one of the few military leaders who resigned of his own will, following a referendum, i.e., in a democratic way, in spite of the fact that among his followers were those who thought he should have made the second putsch and take the power again.

The Left alliance was attacked by the Gremialists. A group of lawyers, among them the actual founder of the ‘Pinochetian Gremialism’ and a Right intellectual Jaime Gusman and an influential Chilean politician Pablo Longeira (who had run for presidency this year but then removed his candidature from the list because of his health problems) brought a lot of complaints into the Constitutional Court of Chile against the MDP, resulting in the MDP’s unconstitutional status. Longeira, by the way, was supported in the primaries by the most radical Right organization in Chile — the 9/11 Corporation that positions itself as a patriotic and a Pinochetian organization. Despite the unconstitutional status of the coalition, it continued to exist in the underground — Jarpa and the civil politicians heavily damaged the censorship mechanisms, and by 1983 the Junta itself had been too tired of constantly maintaining the warlike status and controlling everything.

Another clear example of a «Spring of Jarpa» party is the «Partido Humanista». I have recently made friends and had a nice talk with one of its founders, Florcita Motuda — who is an old oppositionist, an intellectual, a prominent Chilean musician and show man, and, in fact, a Chilean cultural icon.

Florcita Motuda & Kitty Sanders

Florcita Motuda & Kitty Sanders

The Humanistic Party held Left, Humanistic and Environmentalist views, and that was quite natural — there were serious environmental problems in Chile, as one can easily see by comparing the Mapuche River in 1975 to the small stream left of it today. The Humanistic Party was founded in 1984 and Florcita Motuda actively attacked the government from the TV screens. If I am not mistaken, the Humanistic Party was one of the first Left opposition parties that was fully recognized as legal by the military regime.

Thus the Junta was true to its word: the abolishment of the prohibition on the political parties was real and, despite the opposition from the Gremialists and the ‘cultural Conservatives», parties and coalitions began to form and act right from the beginning of the thaw.


The «Spring of Jarpa» played a very important role in the liberalization of the situation in Chile, and, without any doubt, gave added to the Junta’s legitimacy. The government’s mistake was to try and preserve the politics for «its own children» — for the various Right parties and organizations, that, being interconnected with each other, should have been become an alternative to the Gremialists’ experiments. However, the Junta was too narrow-minded to include the Left and the Centrists in the newly forming civil society.
The Junta had gradually removed the censorship: by 1986 one metal music fanzines became legal in Chile, the press printed caricatures and parodies on the generals, and so on. This, however, was not enough. The opposition, which had a lot of demands and questions, was sluggishly and unfairly isolated from politics, and as a result, the Junta could not get rid of ugly and offensive labels.

The lightening of the regime was in the air, the society wanted it, and many parties were ready for talks with the Junta, while the weary and aging generals were inclined to do so as well. Unfortunately, the governmental conservatives were too afraid that this would result in a general meltdown. Thus, we see some half-hearted measures: a slow-going liberalization and, at the same time, protection extended to a nepotistic political system (which is led even now by the same families).

Still, the Chilean Junta demonstrated clear progress, going from censorship and non-freedom to the abolishment of censorship and granting political freedom to the citizens. This is quite a rare thing, and very important to remember when talking about the Latin American politics in general, and the Chilean in particular.

Kitty Sanders, 2014

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