The leaders of the army, navy, air force and police constitute the National Security Council, a body that has met only five times since Chile’s return to Parliamentary rule in 1990.
It is widely believed the Council assembled after the Spanish magistrate Garzon stated his intention to extradite and interrogate 30 alleged human rights abusers who served under General Augusto Pinochet during his years of power in Chile between 1973 and 1990.
Using Pinochet’s indictment and arrest as a precedent, the army are concerned Garzon’s investigation may be expanded to try their entire institution for the 94 Spanish nationals killed under military rule, most notably the Spanish diplomat, Carmelo Soria.
The head of Chile’s armed forces, Ricardo Izurieta – appointed in March following Pinochet’s retirement and subsequent self-appointment of senator for life – has proclaimed the General’s prolonged stay in London as ‘unacceptable’.
Izurieta later held a conference with 23 Generals to consider their response to the Pinochet dilemma which has until now been only muted grumblings within their constitutional limits.
The very existence of the National Security Council – which operates irrespective of the parliament – is a major bone of contention for the Chilean left and is seen by the right as ensuring a measure of continuity with the army involvement in the past.
The Council certainly possesses wide reaching powers and illustrates the army’s considerable presence in Chile’s power structure. It can arbitrarily declare a state of emergency which thus allows for the suspension of the 1980 constitution and the immediate imposition of martial law.
Chile has the highest level of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on the army anywhere in Latin America which at 3.5 per cent cannot be reduced due to legislation introduced by Pinochet that will remain on the statute books indefinitely.
A similar law states that 10 per cent of the revenue from the national copper firm CODELCO be spent on arms purchases which currently stands at around $400m US annually.
Unlike neighbouring post-junta Argentina – which has drastically reduced its army to around 30,000 – Chile’s combined force of professional and conscript soldiers currently stands at 120,000.
The historical rivalry between Chile and Argentina stems from a series of territorial disputes involving the remote region of Patagonia and Islands of the Beagle Channel on the southern most points of the continent. The latter issue almost led to war in the early 1980’s until it was peacefully resolved after the direct mediation of the current Pope-Jean Paul II.
The vital part of the military elite ideology in both countries is their perception of geo-politics: namely the occupation, inhabitation and expansion of what they view as national territory. None other than General Pinochet himself wrote a book on geo-politics which, if nothing else, gives a valuable insight into his philosophical outlook alongside the more violent aspects of his views.
Perhaps in order to put into practice his ideas of occupying all of Chile’s territory, Pinochet spent $300 million on a vast road stretching across a virtually uninhabited swathe in the marshy southeast of Chile. This was seen as an unmitigated disaster. Not only did few people use the road, as it led to nowhere, but it was regularly prone to flooding and disintegration. Pinochet seemed to have a dedication to building rather aimless roads, going so far as to construct a personal motorway that linked his Presidential residence to the country’s capital-Santiago.
The multi-million dollar residence itself caused such controversy on its completion 12 years ago that Pinochet and his wife Lucia had to delay their moving in.
The palace came complete with its own anti-aircraft gun emplacements, a fairly stark reminder that Pinochet came to power after he ordered planes to attack the Moneda palace on the morning of the coup on the 11th September 1973.