1988 Chilean national plebiscite

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The plebiscite was held to decide if Pinochet continued being President of Chile until 1997. Congress was planned to be reopened in both alternatives of the plebiscite.

The Chilean national plebiscite of 1988 was a national referendum held on October 5, 1988, on the issue of whether or not Augusto Pinochet, the president of Chile, could extend his presidency for another eight years. Augusto Pinochet's firm decision to hand over the presidential command was not broken either by his own will or by the terrorist actions that since 1983 had been accentuated, causing deaths and serious damage to public and private property. President Pinochet was nominated by the Military Government Junta as a candidate to continue as President of Chile for another few years, and a plebiscite was called for the people to accept or reject such nomination. Pinochet was defeated in the vote to decide the continuity of his government. On that occasion, the "Yes" option obtained 44.01% and the "No" 55.99%, so the President had to call elections for the following year.[1][2][3]

While the military government was in power, there was special concern for not confusing or mixing the role that legally corresponded to the Armed Forces with the work of leading the country carried out by some of its members, which prevented a process of politicization of these institutions and allowed a full and expeditious return to their usual functions.

The country's complete political liberalization came in 1988, when the Constitution established that Chilean citizens would ratify or not the continuity of the military government through a plebiscite. To organize opposition to Pinochet, who was chosen as the junta's candidate, 16 centrist and leftist parties formed the Command for No (Comando por el No). As the country prepared for its first free presidential and legislative elections since 1973, Command for No—renamed the Coalition of Parties for Democracy (Concertación de los Partidos por la Democracia; CPD)—and the government negotiated constitutional amendments that were approved in a national referendum in July 1989, among them the revocation of Article Eight, which banned Marxist parties. Two months later the leftist Chileans living abroad returned to the country. Presidential elections were held on December 11, 1989, in which the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin won and was sworn in on March 11, 1990.

The "Sí" option won in Los Lagos (which included Los Ríos at the time) and La Araucanía Regions, the last one is one of the regions that decades later has terrorism problems.

International interference

Main article: National Endowment for Democracy

The "No" Campaign and the Concertación were supported by George Soros[4] and the National Endowment for Democracy, which originated from the U.S. Congress resolution H.R. 2915, and helped the center-left with propaganda on television, newspapers, radio and magazines.[5][6] Soros is a friend of the Chilean politician Máximo Pacheco who thanked the him for "his contribution in the recovery of our democracy, and we do not forget that in Chile" and also said that Soros was crusial "in conducting studies and obtaining data that gave us information that had been hidden from us for 17 years." "What we learned there was crucial for the preparation of the famous television program of the No campaign and for the victory in the plebiscite".[7]

The "Sí" option would have probably won if the election was in 1987, but the majority verdict changed due to the enormous flow of money from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy and the millionaire European subsidies for a majority of anti-government print media that subsisted thanks to the prevailing freedom of the press (although each year the Inter-American Press Association maintained that there was none, which wasn't true due to the existing opposition magazines containing the worst criticisms to the military government).[8]

The NED financed numerous leftist entities like trade unions, academic and journalistic organizations. Pinochet knew this and described it as "an act of intervention that cannot be viewed with pleasure by the majority of Chileans, including broad sectors of the opposition". The US ambassador, Harry Barnes, who systematically contradicted the good omens that President Reagan expressed to the military government, pointed out that the aid to the opposition does not imply an intervention in Chile's internal affairs, but rather "to promote participation and civic education, processes that correspond to any real democracy".[9]

The international organizations ignored the historical truth to the same degree as the majority of Chileans, who did not know, because of that deceitful propaganda, that democracy would return the same whether the "Sí" or "No" vote won, because there were going to be the same elections, the same institutions and the same individual guarantees for all, after 1990. Because the "Sí" government so provided in the Constitution, which improved the country for all, including those who voted "No".[6]

TV campaign

The basic argument of the "Sí" campaign was to evoke the danger of terrorism if Pinochet lost, as well as an economic crisis and the return to the disasters of the Popular Unity Regime of Salvador Allende, which, according to serious polls, was the worst ranked government by the Chilean public opinion at the time of the plebiscite. At first Pinochet didn't appeared, later on he appeared a lot.[10] The singer Patricia Maldonado, former congressman Hermógenes Pérez de Arce, young José Antonio Kast, the economist Hernán Büchi, football player Elías Figueroa, constitutionalist lawyer Jaime Guzmán as well as future politicians participated on the campaign.

The "No" propaganda was designed as a color revolution, sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros, in which Chilean most prominent artists and actors participated, and was intelligent, subtle and effective from the beginning. Without getting into disqualifications, the opposition publicists and communicators appealed to an emotional message of "hope", sprinkled from time to time with a lot of humor.

"No hatred. No violence. No fear. No more. Vote No", said one of their slogans. The campaign was memorable starting with its catchy song "Chile, la alegría ya viene" (Chile, the happiness is coming), created by Jaime De Aguirre and which spoke in its lyrics of the social and political rebirth that the "new democracy" would bring in case the "No" option won.

After a few days, nobody could ignore the evident technical and conceptual superiority of the "No" brand: better plot construction, better filming, better music. Its characteristic melody, based on the phrase "La alegría ya viene", was so catchy that many began to hum it.[11]

In 2012 the leftist film director, Pablo Larraín, made the movie "No" about the TV propaganda of the option. The movie was nominated to the Oscars but didn't win.


Option Votes  % Results
3,119,110 44.01
No 3,967,569 55.98 Proposal rejected
Valid vote 7,086,679 100.00
Invalid vote 94.594 1.30
Empty sound 70,660 0.97
Total votes 7,251,933 100.00
Registered Voters 7,435,913 97.52%
Population with voting age 8,193,683 90.75% registered

Source: Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones.

See also