Sociologica. V.17 N.1 (2023), 105–117
ISSN 1971-8853

Legacies of Authoritarianism and Elite Responses to Social Unrest. The Estallidos Sociales in Peru and Chile

César Guzmán-ConchaDepartment of Political and Social Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence (Italy)

César Guzmán-Concha is an Assistant Professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence (Italy). Previously, he was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship (H2020-MSCA MOBILISE, project no. 839483), which he carried out at the University of Geneva (Institute of Citizenship Studies), and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals, edited volumes and other outlets on topics related to power, conflict, and social change, which he has studied both in European and Latin American countries.

Submitted: 2023-05-17 – Revised version: 2023-07-10 – Accepted: 2023-07-12 – Published: 2023-07-24


Massive social unrest broke out in Peru and Chile in recent years. In both countries, the constitutional issue was central in the articulation of protests. However, elite reactions to these movements were different. In Chile, political institutions sought to accommodate the popular demands, launching a process of constitutional reform that attempted to appease discontent redirecting it to institutional politics. Whereas in Peru, the political elite was unable to agree on a process of constitutional revision. The “estallido social” of 2020, which led to the ousting of President Merino, re-emerged two years later with more intensity in the aftermath of the failed coup d’état attempted by President Castillo. To understand these different responses to mass social unrest, this article proposes a theoretical framework grounded in historical institutionalism. The main argument is that authoritarian regimes are critical junctures that produce enduring legacies in the power configurations of the polity. Legacies will vary depending on two aspects: whether authoritarianism consolidates a power basis, and how these regimes end. Different socio-political legacies favored distinct elite reactions and approaches to the threats posed by popular movements. To illustrate this argument, the article draws on previous studies and provides preliminary evidence. Overall, the article contributes to political sociology by integrating critical junctures and outcomes of social movements literature.

Keywords: Peru; Chile; Estallidos Sociales; Mass unrest; historical legacies.


This article has been funded by the PNRR, project REVOLT.

1 Introduction

The wave of social unrest that has shaken various Latin American countries between 2018 and 2022 has brought about a new concept that adds to the repertoire of contention in the region: “estallidos sociales” (social blasts, or social outbreaks). This term outlines some distinctive features that distinguish these events and the period in which they took place, from previous waves of mass unrest. Examples include the Nicaraguan protests against Ortega’s pensions reform in 2018, which quickly evolved in large anti-governmental protests; the Peruvian revolts of 2020, which mobilized citizens against elites in Parliament and the Executive; and the Chilean and Colombian estallidos of 2019 and 2020, which showcase a vehement claim for social justice. There are at least three characteristics common to all these cases. First, the estallidos showed a magnitude, intensity, and duration that goes well beyond those of previous episodes. Second, these protests flared in spontaneous ways, escalating rapidly, surpassing the networks of the “usual suspects” in contentious politics (e.g., unions, indigenous organizations, students), and triggering shockwaves that shook governments and political elites in profound and unexpected manners. Third, the protest wave affected countries with very different backgrounds, including those traditionally dominated by conservative governments, and others where progressive forces have played significant roles. Similarly, these uprisings sprung in countries where social unrest is a regular feature of politics, as well as in those where such displays have been less common. For example, mass unrest spread to countries that did not experience the left-turn in the first decade of the 2000s (Peru and Colombia), but it also involved a country (Chile) that was lauded for being an island of stability in the region and an exceptional case of economic success.

The literature on the estallidos sociales so far, has concentrated on their causes, drivers, dynamics, and immediate implications. In explaining the events, scholars have pointed at the deficits and dysfunctionalities of Latin American democracies, deep socioeconomic inequalities, the detachment between politics and society, and lingering political instability (Murillo, 2021; Guzmán-Concha, 2022; Luna & Medel, 2023). Unlike previous scholarship, in this article I pay attention to the consequences of these revolts. As a matter of fact, the estallidos achieved very different outcomes in Chile and Peru. In both countries, the Constitutions established under authoritarian regimes were a significant cause of political strife, and the constitutional issue became a central one for protestors. But while in Chile, political elites agreed to initiate a process of constitutional revision, which contemplated the celebration of referendums and a constitutional convention, in contrast, in Peru elites did not give in to this demand and chose to face popular protests with widespread repression and alienation towards protestors. How can we account for these divergent outcomes?

The outcomes of mass contention are usually dependent on the reactions of elites to these challenges — and these reactions emerge out of the interplay between them and challengers. In this article, I am interested in the reactions of political elites to exceptional, sustained, and radical popular protests: How do elites react to mass protests? Do they attempt to meet the popular demands, integrating the issues raised by protestors in the political agenda, or creating channels to incorporate these demands in the policy and political processes? Under which circumstances elites give in to massive social unrest and search accommodation to the challenges they present?

Combining critical junctures and contentious politics literatures, I set out a framework to understand this puzzle. Elite reactions to mass unrest are shaped by the interplay of short-term calculations, institutional environments that set out incentives and restrictions, and long-term mentalities and political cultures. Focusing on the last aspects, I suggest that we should pay greater attention to the legacies of authoritarian periods, and how they structure the political field in these countries. The argument does not attempt to dismiss explanations centred on agency and/or the short term but rather it aims at complementing them. Legacies are the effects of past decisions and events on the future. They include aspects of institutional design, political cultures, and social norms, which configure the playing field in specific ways.

I argue that the legacy of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile shaped a very structured political field, with functioning political parties and a rather stable socio-political cleavage that gave birth to two political camps, which lasted for more than two decades. Such legacy was partly the consequence of political reforms — i.e., it was the intended effect of institutional design — and partly the unintended consequence of processes of political aggregation and learning among the forces that were opposed to Pinochet (Garretón, 1993). In Chile, governmentality was considerable, despite underlying legitimacy and participatory deficits. In Peru, the legacy of Fujimori’s regime was different, despite the similarities with Pinochet’s. Fujimori also carried out market reforms and promoted a new Constitution which, like the Chilean one, enshrined notions of subsidiarity and the pre-eminence of the private sector. Fujimori’s regime created the anti-fujimorista camp, which in part explains the inability of fujimorismo (Fuerza Popular) to win presidential elections ever since. But his regime did not provide structuration to the political field, did not supply lasting incentives in the anti-fujimorista camp to coordinate and join forces, and did not reverse processes already ongoing in the 1980s (before Fujimori’s regime), such as the collapse of the party system (Tanaka, 1998; 2005). Fujimori’s regime accelerated and amalgamated trends that produced a volatile and fragmented political field, where politics is incapable of delivering stability or governmentality.

The article introduces the argument, and provides an illustration that draws on previous studies and preliminary evidence. In section 2, I briefly describe the conceptual framework. In section 3, I describe the estallidos sociales in both countries and how the constitutional issue was relevant. In section 4, and drawing on scholarly publications and some preliminary evidence, I explain how dictatorships’ legacies impinge on the political processes in both countries and shape elite approaches to social unrest.

2 Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework combines critical junctures and contentious politics literatures. The two basic ideas are: (1) authoritarian periods can produce a substantial (re)configuration of the political field. To the extent that such reconfiguration endures over time, it can be regarded a legacy that conditions behaviours and decisions of actors in distant times (Collier, 2022; Collier & Munck, 2017); and (2) to understand why movements achieve their goals, we need to understand why elites concede, i.e., the circumstances that trigger responses from the targets of the protests (Luders, 2010; 2006). Drawing on these ideas, the theoretical argument that I develop in this short article is as follows: authoritarian periods produce legacies in institutions, legal frameworks, and in the political cultures and practices. These legacies can either reproduce stable configurations of power, with significant degrees of structuration of the political field, and stable political coalitions that alternate in power; or reproduce essentially unstable configurations of power, with lower degrees of structuration of the field, and unstable or volatile coalitions incapable of providing political stability, policy coherence and horizon. In a way, structuration can be alike to the foucauldian concept of governmentality — i.e., the capacity to produce an order (Burchell et al., 1991; Madsen, 2014). These legacies are not necessarily the result of the calculations of authoritarian leaders or parties, as they can emerge as unintended effects, or from external events.

The structuration of the political field is shaped by (at least) two aspects of the legacy of these regimes: (a) whether authoritarian leaders build an autonomous power base; and (b) how these regimes end. An autonomous power base sustained in socio-political organizations (e.g. political parties) sustains the regime after the departure of the leader, whereas personalistic rules undermine the durability of ideas and power structures over time. In turn, an orderly transition helps regime allies to preserve power in successive times, whereas an unruly transition or the crumbling of the regime can fragment its alliances.

Structuration produces continuity, which allows the transmission of political learnings and memories, thus producing levels of trust that are pre-conditions for significant political transactions. However, when the structuration of the political field is low or null, elites have little or no incentives to initiate political negotiations to pacify social conflict. With lower levels of structuration, elites do not see the need to cooperate in the face of intensified uncertainties, and social conflicts are not seen as significant threats, despite their intensity or duration. Therefore, legacies can be understood as shaping the political opportunity structure both for pro-regime and pro-democratic forces. But they also shape the mentalities of political actors, as learnings, memories or traumas that prompt certain behaviours. Significant levels of structuration of the political field result in political elites that are more prepared to deal with unexpected challenges or threats. When such events happen, elites are prepared to bargain because they have already negotiated in periods of polarization, conflict, and uncertainty in the past.

3 Estallidos Sociales and the Constitutional Issue

In Chile, mass protests erupted on October 18, 2019, when thousands of citizens took to the streets to show their discontent with inequalities, a socioeconomic order perceived as leaning toward the interests of large corporations, and a political elite deemed unresponsive to social demands. The estallido was preceded by a series of protests led by secondary students against a hike in transportation fees, which developed since the beginning of that month. Social unrest escalated into massive demonstrations, which were followed by riots, looting, and violent police repression that lasted for several weeks. Researchers have shown that the magnitude, intensity, and duration of this uprising exceeded previous episodes of massive protest (Joignant et al., 2020; Caroca et al., 2020). Furthermore, previous significant massive protests in Chile (e.g., the 2011 student protests) showed rather homogenous social bases (e.g., the young) and sectoral protests (e.g., pensions, or gender equality). Instead, the 2019 estallido was cross-class and socially heterogeneous, involving a wide variety of groups carrying various grievances. Protestors expressed distress with various aspects of the socioeconomic order, rising issues of inequalities and social and political citizenship, but mobilizations progressed without a well-defined set of programmatic points and without actors, platforms or leaders steering the demonstrations or the course of the events. The government did not have a clearly identifiable counterpart with which to initiate negotiations. Rapidly, the constitutional issue took centrality in the political conversation.

The 1980 Constitution, drafted under Pinochet’s rule, has been a major source of political strife. For several actors from the Centre to the Left, the Constitution suffers from problems of legitimacy and is the source of various dysfunctions, including tilting the playing field towards conservative forces. The demand for a new Constitution is not new. Already in the 2009 election (won by Sebastián Piñera leading a right-wing coalition), the candidates of the centre to the left advocated for a new Constitution, including Concertación candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. Former President Bachelet (2014–2018) launched a process of revision that produced a Constitution draft, but the process was quickly dismissed by her successor, President Piñera. Civic campaigns were also initiated in 2013 by a platform of activists from various political backgrounds (e.g., the platform “marca AC,” “marca tu voto”).

As social unrest did not recede and violent scenes became highly visible in the media, political parties in Congress started negotiations in a climate of uncertainty and social instability without precedents since the transition to democracy in 1990. On November 15, 2019, twenty-seven days after the beginning of the estallido, political parties from across the ideological spectrum, signed a pact that initiated a process of constitutional reform. It was a landmark political concession, as the Right had been traditionally averse to the idea of a constitutional change.

In Peru, the protests of December 2022 were triggered by the impeachment of President Castillo, after he announced plans to dissolve Congress and rule by decree (Coronel, 2023) and the Congress appointed his vice-president Dina Boluarte as the new President. Although Castillo was widely unpopular, his base of support (especially in the Southern Andean region) mobilized to express anger at his removal from office. Boluarte’s government attempted to hold on to power by allying with conservative forces, including Alberto Fujimori’s successors, which expanded protests from those sectors that mobilized to put Castillo back in power to others that demanded immediate presidential and congressional elections to end the crisis. Her refusal to give in radicalized these protests. The estallido social in this country extended throughout December and January, involving uprisings of entire towns and areas in the Andean highland, rallies from the provinces to the capital Lima, and the blocking of airports in Arequipa and Huancabamba. Dozens of protestors were killed and injured.

The 1993 Constitution, drafted under Fujimori’s rule, has remained a controversial issue. The Left and those actors in the opposition to Fujimori’s 10-years regime have been generally supportive of its change. During the 2022 estallido, the Constitution became a central demand for the actors that took to the streets. However, Boluarte successfully manoeuvred to stay in power without giving in to the popular demands: her government is committed to impede constitutional change and to exhaust the presidential period until 2024, while the main approach of her administration towards civil unrest is repression.

It can be argued that Peru’s social unrest was even more intense and radical than Chile’s. The events of 2022 were preceded by another episode of mass unrest in 2020, after the impeachment of President Vizcarra (Coronel, 2020). Back then, the demand for constitutional change was also prominent, and protesters managed to oust Vizcarra’s successor, Manuel Merino, who stayed in power for only one week. Protests started to recede after Congress designated Francisco Sagasti, a moderate politician, as new President. The removal of Vizcarra was condemned by a heterogeneous array of personalities and political sectors, including right-wing intellectual and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. Presidential impeachment in Peru has been widely criticized and seen as an example of the dysfunctionality of political institutions in this country, fuelling to the demand of constitutional change.

4 Authoritarian Legacies and Political Elites

In this section, I describe the legacies of dictatorships in the political developments of both countries, and show the reactions of elites to massive episodes of social unrest. I show that while in both countries, authoritarian regimes undertook considerable reforms in politics, the economy and society, only in Chile a structured political field did consolidate. In this country, the regime built a considerable power base but also controlled all aspects of the transition. The opposite is true for Peru.

In Chile, the dictatorship embraced a truly foundational project, aimed at reshaping all areas of the political system, the economy and the relationship between society and public institutions (Moulian, 2002). In Pinochet’s own words, his was a government of goals, not deadlines. The Junta concentrated all powers, and the opposition was suppressed. Soon after the coup d’état, Pinochet established the Ortúzar Commission, commended with the drafting of a new Constitution (approved in a sham referendum in 1980). Furthermore, a group of technocrats later known as the Chicago Boys acquired centrality in all areas of economic and social policy (Silva, 1991), including industrial relations, social development, as well as the key finance and treasury ministries. The Constitution enshrined principles of subsidiarity and a very limited role of the state in the economy, as well as a political system that limited the capacity of electoral majorities to introduce changes that would alter these foundational principles: the electoral system, the constitutional court, and the high quorums for approval of laws in main policy sectors, functioned as elements that tilted the playing field in favour of the Right. Given these legal provisions, democratic governments would face enormous constraints to challenge the pillars of the authoritarian project (Guzmán-Concha, 2022).

The rules of the game profoundly shaped the political field. Pinochet controlled the transition in all aspects, from the timing of the process to the media landscape. The opposition learned that it needed to join forces if it had a chance to oust Pinochet from the presidency, yet he would keep significant influence as chief commander of the army in the forthcoming years. The largest political parties of the Center and Left formed the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, while the parties of the Right formed their own coalition. The 1988 referendum created a cleavage, that effectively shaped the dynamic of political competition for the decades to come. The institutional setting not only created incentives for coalitions formation, but it also created political cultures that favoured intra-bloc cooperation and stirred a dynamic of transactions between main blocs. The elites of the center-left amended neoliberalism with doses of limited reformism, which secured continuity of the main pillars of Pinochet’s project (Garretón, 2013). These institutional and cultural arrangements provided high levels of political stability, policy coherence within well-defined borders (Guzmán-Concha, 2017), and, while there was sustained economic growth, significant social stability.

The legacy of authoritarianism in Chile was a form of governmentality which was highly efficient in providing political stability, promoting elite consensus, and forming a culture of transaction within that elite. This form of governmentality showed signs of exhaustion during the decade of 2010, starting with the students’ revolt of 2011 (Guzmán-Concha, 2012; Bülow & Ponte, 2015). These emerging forms of social unrest revealed a radical decoupling between the actors that dominated Chilean politics in the last decades, and the social groups that started to become politically active in this period.

In Peru, Fujimori also attempted to restructure the country during his long decade in power. Fujimori was a political outsider who unexpectedly won the 1990 elections, amidst an unprecedented economic crisis, hyperinflation, the collapse of the party system, and a terrorist campaign from the Shining Path guerrilla (Maoist) that was already hitting the capital Lima. His campaign defeated the Right-wing candidate, former leftist, writer, and intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa. However, right after his victory, Fujimori approached the military, the Catholic Church, and a group of orthodox economists and technocrats previously related to right-wing and liberal groups, sealing a durable alliance between the three of them (Crabtree, 2010; Tanaka, 1998). This alliance signals the main pillars of his regime, and reveals his priorities: the war against the guerrilla groups (which the military conducted without ethical considerations nor proper control from political authorities), a profound economic liberalization and restructuring, and the search of sources of legitimacy (Faison, 2001). Fujimori’s regime has been described as a case of “electoral authoritarianism” (Carrión, 2006), or “competitive authoritarianism” (Carrión, 2006), or “competitive authoritarianism” (Levitsky & Way, 2002), combining high levels of personalism, anti-institutionalism, and heavy reliance on support from the marginalized masses. Despite his authoritarian behaviour and disregard for Human Rights, Fujimori was a popular politician among the urban poor. A distinctive feature of Fujimori’s power configuration, compared to other populist leaders of the twentieth century in Latin America, is that he did not seek to create organizations such as party platforms or civic organizations to sustain himself (Roberts, 2006). He rather cultivated personal ties with individual political figures that supported him in parliament, as well as with media tycoons and personalities, but did not attempt to structure a political base in traditional manners (Crabtree, 2001; Weyland, 2000).

Despite an apparent solid political and social basis, Fujimori’s regime collapsed in a matter of weeks, and he fled the country to avoid prosecution amidst accusations of electoral fraud and corruption. This signals a crucial difference with Pinochet’s, who left office preserving significant institutional, political, and symbolic influence. However, the 1993 Constitution as well as the neoliberal core in economic policy survived the demise of the regime, projecting themselves well into the following decades. The durability of these outcomes has called the attention of various analysts. Peru has witnessed the collapse of the party system along with mounting social unrest, reflecting the ineffectiveness of political parties to channel demands and mobilize interests, a disjunction between politics and society, and growing distrust of citizens towards institutions (Meléndez & León, 2010). These conditions were those that prompted the left-turn in other Latin American countries in the first decade of the 2000s. Yet no such turn ever happened in Peru (Avilés & Rosas, 2017). Furthermore, the fight against the Shining Path guerrilla harmed also the political Left in profound manners, hindering its chances of becoming a credible governing alternative.

Peru shows an endemic problem of decoupling between politics and society that precedes Fujimori (Cotler, 1993), and only in recent decades the country has embarked on processes of strengthening state capacities. However, as the episodes of social unrest of 2020 and 2022 reveal, there is a significant gap between the capital and the peripheries in the Andean highlands, and the Amazon area in northern Peru. This cleavage expresses in different political configurations between these provinces and the capital, social tensions, institutional racism, and the multiplication of local political entrepreneurs (Dargent et al., 2017), who prosper in civic platforms demanding further decentralization (which implies redistribution of state resources from the centre to the periphery) and social justice (which implies redistribution of wealth and income, especially in those areas where mining transnational corporations have opened extractive sites). The high levels of social unrest that have accompanied this country since the end of authoritarianism show features of the “protest state” (Moseley, 2018), a pervasive feature of the politics which stems from weak institutions and suboptimal representation. It is evident that while popular protests can open avenues of change and correct some of these deficits, the consolidation of unresponsive institutions and the insulation of elites from society can only worsen the situation.

The democracy without parties of the previous decades (Levitsky & Cameron, 2003) evolved in a democracy that is highly fragmented and without politicians (Barrenechea & Vergara, 2023), where the continuity of state policies rests on a network of bureaucrats and technocrats who gained centrality within the state administration in the aftermath of Fujimori’s demise (Vergara & Encinas, 2016). This form of governmentality has deprived the political elite of effective influence in public affairs, and the extreme fragmentation -­– both in the political and social spheres — impede cooperation, coordination and even the management of issues of everyday administration. These features produce a situation of democratic hollowing which turns politics into a short term game of grabbing power, with politicians and quasi-parties having incentives to engage in predatory and radical behaviour against their rivals (Barrenechea & Vergara, 2023). Overall, the de-structuration of the political field impedes pacts and transaction over long-term goals, blocking elites’ potential openings towards change.

The different approaches about the estallidos sociales by the elites in these countries, can be appraised by considering the editorials columns of the two main conservative newspapers in each country at the heyday of the protests. In Chile, conservative media showed an opening to major reforms that the elite had systematically rejected before 18 October 2019. As business leaders and major right-wing politicians admitted the need and urgency of socioeconomic reforms in pensions, healthcare and social protection,1 editorials showed an opening to major political reforms that included constitutional change. Nothing similar can be observed in Peru, where business leaders and conservative politicians did not express an analogous opening towards substantive socioeconomic or political reforms.

The major conservative newspaper in Peru, El Comercio, stated:

“From this newspaper, we have argued that a constituent assembly would be an error, not only because it would add uncertainty (because that is what it would involve to draft a new Constitution from scratch) to a situation already uncertain, but because those of us who believe that a Constitution exists, not only to mandate the state what to do, but to protect citizens from the arbitrariness of power, we see with concern the possibility that a new Constitution ended up putting at risk the guarantees that Peruvian citizens already enjoy from some time now” (18 January 2023).

A day earlier, the newspaper’s editorial quoted the statements of a high-level government official who explained why President Boluarte would not abdicate the presidency: “for historical responsibility, as the resignation of Mrs. Boluarte would mean opening the floodgates of anarchy, which is what this small organized group of violent activists wants.” The editorial then added that “such exemplary firmness hopefully will not falter in the face of the foreseeable new attacks from those who are determined to end our battered democracy” (El Comercio, 17 January 2023). The identification of protestors with anarchy and chaos is clear.

The Chilean El Mercurio, instead, was more cautious than its Peruvian counterpart at the heyday of the estallido social. In early November 2019, it published editorials that showed interest in the conversations between government and opposition in Congress, urging for more negotiations. When parliamentary political parties announced an agreement that inaugurated a process of constitutional change (15 November 2019), El Mercurio welcomed it.2 Its editorial stated:

“We must praise the ‘Agreement for social peace and a new Constitution,’ as it allows to channel in an institutional manner the severe social and political crisis that the country is undergoing. It would be naïve to ignore the multiple challenges, difficulties and uncertainties that the launching of a constitutional process such as this entails, but the agreement achieved is a signal that political actors are able to act with responsibility, find agreements and re-establish a civic friendship that seemed lost” (16 November 2019).

5 Conclusions

The most immediate outcome of radical protests is uncertainty. Facing an evolving situation of social conflict that politicians do not control at all, the unruly multitude emerge as a threat that poses problems of continuity and self-preservation. Faced with uncertainty, elites might choose to adapt or compromise, to preserve their power, or resist the challenge without giving in and using large scale repression as main or unique response. In this article, I have presented a theoretical approach and some preliminary evidence to explain different behaviors of elites. The argument is that whether mass unrests will achieve significant concessions from the political system, does not depend necessarily or exclusively on the intensity of the protests or the strength or determination of the demonstrators. A great deal of the explanation is related to the reactions of elites to the challenges that the multitudes present to them, and to the capacity of political systems to produce decisions. To understand these reactions, I have argued that we need to consider the legacies of authoritarianism. Historical legacies set out ways in which different actors see reality and define their priorities and goals, and shape the incentives that push them to follow certain pathways and discard others. Two components of legacies are important: whether or not authoritarian leaders build an autonomous power base (e.g., political parties), and whether these regimes leave power in orderly or unruly manners. When an authoritarian regime builds a strong and cohesive power base and manage to lead an orderly transition to democracy, the allies of the regime are more likely to exert significant power in successive periods. Additionally, robust pro-regime forces create a strong incentive in the opposition forces to unite and cooperate. Overall, such legacy impinges on the levels of structuration of the political field in the years to come. Therefore, historical configurations of power filter the potential impacts of highly disruptive waves of unrest. Legacies shape a structure of opportunities and constraints for pro-regime and pro-democratic forces. But legacies also impinge on political actors, as learnings, memories or traumas that shape their decisions.

Pinochet and Fujimori’s authoritarian periods were critical junctures, which produced highly consequential legacies in the economy, politics, and society. Both regimes enshrined neoliberalism, but their legacies differed in their capacity to produce order, i.e., political stability, structured patterns of political competition and cooperation between factions of the elite, and political cultures that favour or cement the formation of coalitions.

Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile shaped a very structured political field, with functioning political parties and a rather stable socio-political cleavage that organised political competition into blocs (coalitions), which lasted for more than two decades. Despite the presence of dissolving trends that have rapidly developed in the last decade, politics in Chile still conserve power and efficacy. In Peru, the legacy of Fujimori’s regime was very different, despite the similarities with the market reforms of Pinochet, and the new Peruvian Constitution of 1993, which, like the Chilean one, enshrined notions of subsidiarity and the pre-eminence of the private sector. Fujimori’s personalistic rule and the demise of his regime, failed to deliver a legacy comparable to Pinochet’s. Thus, Fujimori’s regime accelerated historical trends (ongoing before his period) leading to a volatile and fragmented political field where politics is incapable of delivering stability and governmentality.


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  1. Journalistic works have compiled the statements of business leaders and conservative politicians in which they showed sympathy with protesters and willingness for reforms that they had systematically rejected in previous years. For example, Matamala (2019), La ciudad de la furia; Contardo (2020), Antes de que fuera octubre.↩︎

  2. The second major printed newspaper in Chile, and also with strong ties with elites, La Tercera indicated that “The agreement reached at dawn on Friday in Congress by a wide range of political parties to initiate a constituent process has been a hopeful sign for our democracy,” adding that this agreement “delivered a powerful signal of unity and social peace just when the country most requires it” (M. Silva, 16 November 2019).↩︎