Conscientious objection and anti-militarism in Chile: Struggle to demilitarise a society


The disproportionate influence of militarism in Chile is not entirely due to Pinochet's military dictatorship (1973-90) but rather is a historical construction that has given character and form to the Chilean nation-state.

Since before even the Portaliano regime (1830 onwards), the influence of the military, and of military culture, manifested itself in a hierarchical society, controlled by the State that took over social functions from the community and civil society, urban and rural. A national policy was pursued that was at the same time expansionist and centralising, expanding northwards to the coasts of Bolivia and Peru, southwards to the coast of the Mapuche and Patagonian peoples and towards Polynesia. In this advance, society became militarily involved as part of the National Guard and in the colonisation of the territories gained. The army, the military, was presented as the acme of Chilenidad (being Chilean).

Such thinking permitted the denunciation of any pacifist or antimilitarist political or social opposition as "unChilean". Among this category were syndicalists, anarchists, socialists and communists who, since the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, were persecuted, marginalised, eliminated until a compromise aiming for a social consensus was reached that admitted them into institutionalised politics. This compromise excluded, ideologically, sectors of the Prussian-style military, who civil governments then preferred to place under influence of the military and security doctrines of the USA, especially after the Second World War. This influence would sharpen and would lead, together with nationalist thinking homegrown in the fascist-corporatist womb concentrated in the Chilean Armed Forces, to the military becoming the vanguard of the reactionary anti-Allende movement that took action even before the installation of the government of Unidad Popular (UP - Popular Unity) in 1970.

Having killed the head of state and defeated the UP, militarism embarked on a reconstruction of the country that, above all, was cultural and economic, involving giving the Armed Forces the position of moral and political administrators of the country. This took concrete form in the Constitution of 1980 that was imposed against all political opposition, being a militarist and authoritarian constitution that even today governs those who inhabit the Chilean state. This constitutions confers on the Armed Forces a decisive participation in the Senate (the stronger chamber in the two-tier Congress) through power to designate senators. The Armed Forces control their own economic affairs, as with retirement and other pensions, as well as various education and cultural institutions, and interfere in many areas of civil life. The democratic governments have not done much to eliminate this influence. The proof of this is the situation of Conscientious Objection in Chile.

CO in Chile emerged with the half-turn towards democracy in the 1990s, but it was not until the foundation of MOC (the Movement for CO) and NCNU (Ni Casco Ni Uniforme - Neither Helmet Nor Uniform) in 1996 that it had a noticeable social influence. As a result of MOC and NCNU's activity, CO has become a theme debated at the national level and a movement rooted in youth among the common people and marginalised groups because they are the ones who have least means to confront a conscript that, in practice, is only obligatory for the lower classes.

Year after year, more youth object to conscription and refuse to do militiary service, putting themselves in a situation that is legally indefensible because the Chilean State, namely the government, has bowed to military pressure and has not legalised CO even after recognising it through signing up to various international human rights conventions. The government is embarked in an escalation of spending on arms that creates frictions with neighbouring countries while at the same internally it entails the repression of the Mapuche movement and people's organisations, that can only be explained by the defence to the dictates of the Pentagon which treats Chile as one of its military hirelings needed for the military control of the region.

The work of MOC and NCNU is to agitate for CO and anti-militarism in Chile through nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to a form of legality as unjust as conscription. This is resistance - social, political and juridical - to obligatory military service; declaring oneself a CO in Chile means not registering for the draft, wjhich is actually a breach of national law, and hence all objectors are in conflict with the law. We also have our educational and research work, developed continuously through courses, workshops, seminar, national and international meetings, and the project for a Study Centre - Cenro de Estudios Sociales en OC y Antimilitarismo (CESOCAM).

P. Carvallo
Javier Gárate


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