The Chilean Dream Becomes a Nightmare: Pinochet’s Legacy for Immigrants

The Chilean Dream Becomes a Nightmare: Pinochet’s Legacy for Immigrants

Augusto Pinochet at SI rally during plebiscite Yes/No vote campaign in September 1988. Source:

Augusto Pinochet at SI rally during plebiscite Yes/No vote campaign in September 1988. Source:

By Amaya Phillips

Over the past few years, the international community has become increasingly concerned with issues regarding Syrian refugee migrations, asking questions of who will take the refugees? How many are there? And, how will the mass exodus affect present demographics in a given country? In the United States, the 2016 presidential campaign has similarly explored the heated questions of immigration, with Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump espousing polarized views about the future of U.S immigration policies. Such high-profile debates, founded upon economical, social, and humanitarian premises have garnered the media’s attention, obscuring Western societies from acknowledging the occurrences and moreover the implications of other significant migration patterns, such as the Chilean migration boom.

In 2016, the Chilean population reached a historical high, totaling over eighteen million people and yielding a greater number of both Chilean born citizens and migrants than ever before. Within the last five years, migration rates have doubled to 500,000 per year. Alongside Argentina, Chile remains the main destination for migrants from Latin America who seek enhanced economical, social, and political conditions. Peruvian migrants comprise the largest group, at 32.8%. Immigrants from Colombia and Bolivia are the next largest groups, representing 15.4% and 11.0% of migrants, respectively.

As migration rates increase substantially, the government’s ability to adapt and implement appropriate infrastructure has been limited by the prolonged implementation of the Pinochet-enacted, migration laws. The Pinochet regime, infamous for dictatorial repression and violation of human rights, produced the 1975 Immigration Act, which sought to protect national security by banning “potential subversives, undesirables, and former exiles from entering the country.” The immigration law and the callousness of the regime heavily discouraged people from immigrating to Chile, producing the lowest rates of migration in the country’s history.

Upon conclusion of Pinochet’s reign in 1990, the economy developed and stabilized into one of the strongest markets in the world, the political system transitioned into a democracy, and the value of human life became more important within Chilean society. Such developments have contributed to the idealization of Chilean life, denoted by migrants as the Chilean dream. Yet the persistence of the 1975 Immigration Act within a 21st-century, modernized society has created a fundamental disconnect between the ideals and reality of the Chilean dream. While the dream is founded upon the ideals of hope, prosperity, and opportunity, the reality is starkly different.

The reality that many migrants confront is one of social exclusion, homelessness, and hostility. While escaping political repression and crossing the Chilean border may appear to be a fantasy ending for some individuals, the reality is that migrants are victims of the remnants of the dictatorial regime. Chile has since transformed into one of the most modernized countries in Latin America, a transformation that spans many spheres, but not immigration. The 1975 Immigration Act remains the oldest migration policy in place in Latin America today; other countries have revised their policies to reflect current trends of migration.  Chile has not.

Although some political parties have fought to amend the migration law, they have yet to succeed. The perpetuation of the 20th-century policy has resulted in significant repercussions for Chilean migrants. As of now, there exists no formal institution that can effectively receive migrants. Although many individuals have proper documentation, the absence of a formal institution has generated a massive housing crisis, in which cities lack the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the influx of migrants. Without accommodations or sufficient incomes, many migrants are forced to live in overcrowded apartments, slums, or the streets— all of which represent a violation of human rights.

 The slums have grown in prominence over the last five years, especially in the northern mining city of Antofagasta. Migrants who cross the border from Peru and Bolivia soon enter Antofagasta, a city in which they see the Chilean dream but have no way of obtaining it. Instead, they are forced to the outskirts of the city, to the slums, which have been described as human landfills, absent of electricity, water, and food. Over 25 different slums now border the city, and the number of migrants living there has practically doubled over the last five years, nearing 40,000 families in that area alone.

Jorge Sagastume, coordinator for the Chilean branch of the International Organization for Migration, publicly condemned the government’s negligence in addressing current infrastructural problems: “We are building ghettos… If those immigrants continue living that way, and their children continue living there, we’re going to have an explosion within a decade. Immigrants can send their children to school without proper documents, they can go to the doctor, and women can seek medical care for pregnancy. But there is virtually no established policy that addresses living conditions.”

However the government of Antofagasta, has recently proposed legislation that will seek to remove migrant camps from the city. A proposal that provokes serious questions regarding the fate of migrants, for where will they go? And who will take them? Such questions are demonstrative of the dilemmas that migrant face in Chile as well as throughout the rest of the world. The current political climate and governmental failure to adapt and create appropriate infrastructure has illuminated darker notions of the migration dream. Notions that exploit nightmares of inhumanity, confinement, and stagnancy.  Although many migrants dream of a better life, they are ultimately forced to confront the disconnect between their aspirations for a better life and the saddened reality that the questions of “who will take them?” still remains unanswered.

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