Chilean president Michelle Bachelet promulgated this week a bill with sweeping changes in the Defence ministry and Armed Forces structure including the creation of a post equivalent to that of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The new post will be the strategic commander of all Chilean military operations and will depend from the President of the Republic through the Ministry of Defence”, said President Bachelet who added that the bill also eliminates the Deputy Offices for the Air Force, Navy and Defence and creates the Defence and Armed Forces Deputy Ministries.
The ceremony at Government House (Palacio de la Moneda) was headed by President Bachelet, Defence minister Francisco Vidal, members of congress and the top ranks of Chile’s four services.
“With the enactment of this bill Chile will have completed one of the most difficult and ambitious modernizing reforms sponsored by the successive administrations of the Concertación (ruling coalition), with the understanding that defence is a State policy which must be in line with the standards demanded by a modern democracy”, underlined Ms Bachelet.
“It will be up to the officials elected by the people to define the objectives and means for national defence, assess its enactment adapting it to changes if necessary”, said Ms Bachelet who recalled that “what begins today, is obvious, was not so in the long history of our country: as happened until 1990 and more precisely 1973, was exactly the contrary”.
President Bachelet was referring to the bloody military coup of 1973 headed by General Augusto Pinochet who only relinquished office in 1990, although he remained as Commander in Chief of the Army.
“Defence in Chile has been an area historically disregarded by political leaders and government officials, and most of its running was left almost exclusively to the commanders of the Armed Forces” pointed out the president who then referred to the consequences of such an attitude.
“The consequences of this government responsibility abdication during decades was not positive and contributed significantly to the gradual weakening of Chilean democracy, but that scenario begun changing in 1990”.
Under the new legislation the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be selected by the President among the three-star generals and will be responsible for crisis situations ensuring the Chilean forces are fully trained, prepared and ready for deployment. Whoever holds the post will have the rank of Division General, Rear Admiral of Air General.
Defence minister Vidal said that the reform contemplates four basic pillars: doctrine, sustained Armed Forces budget, plus Armed Forces and Defence ministry structures. He also praised the continued effort of the successive democratic governments in modernizing and updating Chilean Armed Forces, a process begun two decades ago
Finally he addressed president elect Sebastian Piñera pointing out that the bill “is an opportunity to address the financing of defence, a state policy, which needs to garner the necessary consensus”.
In other words “the financing of the Chilean Armed Forces can not be dependent on the international price of a commodity such as copper”, said Vidal.
Under Chilean legislation, a percentage of the windfall earnings from copper exports by the country’s main government owned mining corporation is destined to the Armed Forces procurement.