Republic of Chile
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Contributor: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Contact: Jean Bonnal

Republic of Chile

( The terms and data used in this publication are in no way an indication of the authors' position regarding the legal status of the countries, territories, cities or zones mentioned, or of their authorities or borders.

A. General Country Data

Surface Area756,626 sq. km
Population (millions)14.5
Population Growth1.6%
Urban Population84.7%
Density (1995)19 inh/sq. km
GDP (1996) Billions US $ 72.0
GDP per Capita US $ 4,966
Currency Chilean Peso
National Budget18% of GDP
Human Development Indicator0.891
HDI Ranking (out of 174 countries)30

Borders, Topography and Climate

Situated in the south-western part of South America, Chile stretches from north to south for some 4, 300 km, and has an average width of 200 km. Chile is bordered by Peru on the extreme north, Bolivia on the north-east, Argentina on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the south and west. The topography is characterized by the presence of the Andes mountain range, which runs down the whole length of the country. The country can be divided into three topographic zones : the high peaks of the Andean Cordilleras on the east, the small coastal mountains on the west, and the plateau region, across which runs the Central Valley. These three major geographic regions correspond respectively to the Northern, Central and Southern regions. The central region, the Central Valley, stretches for 4,000 km. It is a fertile region and the agricultural heartland of Chile.

Because it covers many latitudes, Chile has a great diversity of climate. Generally, the climate is temperate due to the influence of the sea. The northern region is entirely covered by desert and is one of the most arid zones in the world. The average annual temperature at Antofagasta, in northern Chile, is 17 degrees C. Rainfall is more abundant is the south, and the Central region has a Mediterranean climate. Winters are mild and summers are relatively cool : the average annual temperature at Santiago is 14 degrees C. The southern region is cooler and there is rainfall throughout the year. The average annual temperature in the extreme south is 6 degrees C.

Characteristics, and Recent Developments of the Political System

The political system is a presidential republic. The extant constitution dates back to 11 March 1981, but its principal clauses only came into effect in 1989. The most recent amendments to the constitution go back to November 1991. Executive power is vested in the president, who is elected by universal suffrage. The first presidential elections by universal suffrage after the coup of 1973 were held in 1989. This same year, a bicameral National Assembly was also elected. It is composed of a House of Deputies (120 elected members) and a Senate (46 elected members). In 1993 new elections brought F. FREI to power for a term of six years.

Chile is administratively divided into 13 regions, including the capital and seat of government, Santiago. The regions are divided into 40 provinces. The regions are governed by governors. The latter and provincial administrators are appointed by the president. The provinces are divided into municipalities headed by mayors, elected for four years by universal suffrage. Recent decentralization efforts transferred responsibilities to municipal governments. Municipalities are now responsible for primary health care services, and private and public primary schools.

Following the 1973 coup all political activity was suspended, and then banned in 1977. Political parties were legalized again in 1987. At the legislative elections of 1993, the center left parties (especially, the Christian Democratic Party, Socialist Party, and Party for Democracy) grouped under the Consultation for Democracy umbrella, were victorious. However, the Consultation, which has 70 of the 120 seats in the House of Deputies, has only 21 senators, leaving this body to be dominated by the center right party, the National Renewal, which thus has veto power over the reforms supported by the Consultation, especially institutional reform.

Agriculture in Chile

Agriculture contributes about 10.9% to the GDP (livestock rearing, fishing, and forestry, included). Nearly 18% of the work force are engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. In the Southern Cone, Chile is the largest exporter of fruits,and also has a major wine industry. Fishing is a highly productive sector : 7.5 million tons in 1994. The proportion of forest territory increased more than 1% per year, from 1980 to 1990. This was commercial replacement of depleted forests. Annual lumber production is 16.5 metric cubes. Lumber is both from broad-leaved trees like laurels, and softwood, pines, etc. It's mainly for framing wood, and for making pulp. Though its biodiversity is not as rich as those of other Latin American countries, Chile has a large proportion of endemic species, isolated by the Andean range. Forests cover nearly 12% of Chilean territory, and about 18% of the territory is protected.

Current Economic Situation

During the eighties and nineties Chile introduced an adjustment and stabilization policy of liberal inspiration, which led to the increase and diversification of exports, the predominance of the private sector in almost all areas of the economy including agriculture, a highly stable economy, and the decentralization of government action, to regional, provincial, and municipal levels.

B. On-going Decentralization Process

Background, Objectives, and Legal Framework

Economic stability was a favorable factor for the institutional innovations associated with the decentralization process that Chile launched in the 1980s. The decentralization process has its origins in the liberal policies put into effect during those years. In following the recommendations of international organizations, Chile decided to introduce regionalization at the same time with a major privatization package, as an impetus to the long term restructuring of the economy and also as a way of providing opportunities for political participation, especially at the municipal level.

Functions, Resources, and Autonomy of Decentralized Entities

The decentralization law assigned new functions to the regional and local entities concerning decision-making through consultation, but also with regard to project implementation and control. There are all the same, two major problems : the resources assigned to these entities to carry out their new functions were insufficient, and also the entities have limited autonomy in the use of these resources. The Ministry of Interior, through the General Secretariat of the government, has a supervisory role over the decentralized entities. Furthermore, the regional governments have relatively tremendous authority over the municipalities.

C. Decentralization and Rural Development

Forms of Decentralization, Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Formulation

The major forms of decentralization in the area of rural development were more like deconcentration and delegation rather than devolution, even if the government tried to effect some kind of devolution to civil society organizations. In this context, the Ministry of Agriculture established out-posts in each province to maintain greater presence in the population and to be closer to producer organizations. At the local level, decentralization has been more extensive in health and primary education, which have become the main responsibility of municipalities.

The modalities for rural development planning were hardly modified however, and are still national responsibility, with authority emanating from the central government. All the same, there is some modification of policy to take into account regional, and especially production characteristics. Also, simple forms of consultation have been arranged that would make possible some amount of coordination at regional level. For example, with regard to equipment and rural infrastructure, decision-making is at regional level, but financing, control, monitoring and evaluation are national level responsibility.

Decentralization and Agricultural Support Services

The decentralization of the major agricultural support services was more extensive than in many other Latin American countries. Thus policy determination for training and extension is the responsibility of the local level; the regional level is assigned research, inputs, and irrigation; and the national level provides credit. Nevertheless, for all of these services, the national level is solely responsible for financing, which in a way limits the options of the subnational levels at the time policy determination. The role of different actors in rural development in service delivery is greater also than it is in other countries in the region, with NGOs playing a dominant role in training and extension, while the public sector is especially present in research, credit, an irrigation. Finally, the private sector, like in almost all countries of Latin America, is dominant in the supply of inputs.

Support Policies, Constraints and Evaluation of the Decentralization Process

The support policies put into effect for decentralization cover the three key areas, which are : information dissemination on the decentralization process, training on the new responsibilities, and support for producer organizations. Training was particularly geared toward technical services (deconcentration) and the general population (devolution to civil society organizations), but there was almost none provided for subnational jurisdictions. In spite of efforts for training and organization, the major constraint of Chilean decentralization seems to be the weak capacity of civil society organizations and local governments, without forgetting the problems associated with the want of modalities for coordination between levels of government.

On the whole, it seems that the impact of the decentralization process has been positive, especially regarding anti-poverty measures, and social and production infrastructure. It has brought about increased citizen participation.


In order to consolidate and broaden the impact of decentralization, it will be necessary to increase the decision-making powers of the local level, and to assign it the necessary technical, human, and financial resources; to strengthen the participation of all classes of citizens, to ensure a real decentralization policy of rural development which is not merely a component of regionalisation.