Review some of the outstanding achievements of the government’s second year
MORE INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
President Michelle Bachelet ratified the government’s commitment to ensuring that “no one is denied access to education because they cannot afford it, at any level, from infant care to higher education”. These words translate into the beginning of free higher education for youth whose families are in the lowest 50% of income groups and who have applied to universities participating in this government policy. In addition, the School Inclusion Law allows families to choose the type of educational project they want for their children, which means the end of profits, co-payments, and selective admissions to private schools receiving public subsidies. Beginning in March, 240,000 boys and girls in 784 schools in Chile will no longer pay a monthly fee and all funds invested by the state will go to the classroom. Furthermore, the New Teaching Career Path improves conditions for educators and teachers.
NEW INTEGRITY AND TRANSPARENCY STANDARDS
During the past year, six laws were approved as part of the Agenda for Transparency and Integrity in Business and Politics. This is an historic milestone on the path towards a better democracy, combating corruption, eradicating poor practices, and restoring public trust in the country’s institutions. One of the reforms that moved forward grants constitutional autonomy to Chile’s electoral service (SERVEL), giving it complete independence from the current government to more effectively oversee electoral processes and the functioning of politics in general. Another new law establishes that members of Congress, mayors, regional councilors (CORES), and municipal council members who violate rules on transparency and electoral spending limits and oversight will be removed from their positions and disqualified from representative office in the two elections following the sanction. Furthermore, in the last year there were important initiatives aimed at strengthening public trust, such as the Political Parties Law, the Law on Integrity in Public Functions, and the Civic Education Law.
During 2015, measures were taken to strengthen surface public transportation, improving circulation conditions and travel times both in Santiago and elsewhere in the country. New “bus only” roadways and lanes were implemented in districts of the Metropolitan Region and other cities around the country (Concepción, Temuco, La Serena, and Talca). Progress also continues on construction of public transportation infrastructure such as bus corridors. In the southern part of the country, the imminent inauguration of subsidized maritime service from Puerto Yungay will connect all of Chile’s national territory.
Elimination of national long distance calling charges, which means that every call within the country is charged as a local call, has been a step forward in the process toward geographic portability.
In Valparaíso, fare payments for the metro, trolleys, and funicular railways have been integrated into a single card that provides discounts to users who combine two or more transportation methods.
NEW INSTITUTIONS AND PROTECTION OF RIGHTS
In 2015 the country made great progress in the area of human rights protection with the creation of a subsecretariat dedicated exclusively to this issue. There have also been important efforts to improve the criminal justice system. In that area, measures were added to strengthen criminal prosecution and investigation and institutional development initiatives were implemented. The number of prosecutors and professional, technical, and administrative personnel has been increased.
WORKER PROTECTION REGULATIONS
As part of the commitments made by President Michelle Bachelet, Law No. 20,786 went into effect, changing working and wage conditions for domestic workers. A law was also passed exempting retired persons over 65 years old from paying the 5% health care contribution, a measure that is expected to benefit 340,000 people. In addition, the Unemployment Insurance Law was amended, increasing the amount of monetary benefits.
A DIVERSE, EQUITABLE, AND PARTICIPATORY COUNTRY
One of the greatest achievements occurred on April 13, 2015, when President Michelle Bachelet signed the law creating civil unions in Chile. This new egalitarian family statute regulates civil unions for both heterosexual and homosexual couples. In addition, the President established the National Council on Citizen Participation and Strengthening of Civil Society, which is comprised of 24 council members charged with advising the government on efforts to institutionalize participation by all Chileans.
GREATER ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
In 2015, 101 projects related to the Health Care Investment Plan were initiated. There are currently 23 hospitals under construction and in the Primary Care area, 21 Family Health Centers are being developed and 12 have already been completed, while 56 Community Family Health Centers are under development and 35 High Effectiveness Services are being developed (two are already operating). In addition, the first Financial Protection System for High Cost Diagnoses and Treatments decree went into effect (Ricarte Soto Law), adding 11 new medical treatments; the Pharmacy Fund dispatched more than 16 million prescriptions; and efforts to improve dental health translated into 95,000 dental exams for women (“More Smiles for Chile”), 243,000 boys and girls were treated with preventive measures (“Planting Smiles”) and 33,000 young people in their last year of high school also received dental care.
STRENGTHENING CHILE’S NATURAL RESOURCES
With a significant stimulus for the country’s lithium policy and support for small mining enterprises, in 2015 the government aimed to strengthen the leading area of development for the economy. Chile is home to 57% of the known reserves of lithium in the world, and the country is the second-largest producer of this mineral. Given this situation, the President designated a high-level technical commission charged with “proposing how the country will take advantage of its lithium resources to benefit the public interest, particularly given its potential for the future”. This resulted in development of the Policy on Lithium and Governance of Salt Flats in January 2016.
FURTHERING THE COUNTRY’S INFRASTRUCTURE
In 2015 the government strengthened the development of infrastructure in rural areas, airports, ports, and to address drought. The Pavements and Basic Roads program began work on 2,974 of roadways throughout the country. For irrigation purposes, two reservoirs were developed: Valle Hermoso (Coquimbo) and Chironta (Arica). In addition to the new concession for Arturo Merino Benítez airport, improvements were made to airfields in Chillán, Angol, Osorno and Balmaceda, among other projects. During the year, the country faced six natural disasters, which required the deployment of a major infrastructure effort.
CULTURE ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE
Of the 28 presidential commitments made with regard to culture, 54% have been met. Among other milestones, under the current government six new cultural centers have been created in the districts of Constitución, Valdivia, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, La Cisterna, Paine, and Buin. Another cultural achievement was the approval of the National Policy on Books and Reading, which seeks to promote a country of readers from early childhood. The inauguration of the Violeta Parra Museum was another major step forward. The museum, which offers free admission, received 22,000 visitors in one month. In addition, on December 17, 2015 the President signed the substitute order for the bill to create the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, thus fulfilling one of the key government commitments regarding culture.
MORE WOMEN, MORE RIGHTS
On March 8, International Women’s Day, the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) announced a series of advances toward gender equality. The principal measure is the creation of the Women and Gender Equality Ministry, which will begin operation in 2016. To help women become more physically and economically autonomous, the number of Women’s Centers was expanded to 12 and the number of Women’s Shelters for women affected by domestic violence was increased to six. In addition, the government increased the coverage of training provided by the Female Heads of Household program and the rights and networks promoted by the Women, Associativity, and Entrepreneurship program. Measures were also implemented to stimulate greater participation by women in Congress and in the country’s political parties.
IMPROVING AIR QUALITY
One of the main areas of focus related to the environment has been concern about improving air quality in various cities around the country, in order to protect human health. The numbers are decisive: 14,000 enforcement actions were taken and 108 cases of critical episodes were avoided, preventing 500 cases of premature death and 19,000 hospital admissions. In addition, Chile substantially increased official protection of its maritime territory, which has now been expanded to 460,000 square kilometers, triple the 150,000 square kilometers protected until now. This is largely due to protection of the Motu Motiro Hiva park.
SPORTS FOR THE FUTURE
Promoting sports and better human health is a fundamental task for the government. In this area, over the last year programs were developed such as the Integral Sports Schools, as well as the Sports and Social Participation program. A key achievement was the creation of a New National Policy on Physical Activity and Sports, which seeks to strengthen sports institutions. In 2016, the goal is to develop a document that provides the guidelines for sports and physical activity for a 10-year horizon.
Other notable achievements included the construction of six professional soccer stadiums that enabled Chile to host the 2015 Copa America and the Under 17 World Cup.
CHILE ON THE REGIONAL AND WORLD STAGE
In 2015, Chile chaired the United Nations Security Council. This organism, one of the key UN entities, is fundamentally responsible for ensuring peace and international security.
Another significant achievement in the last year was the Our Ocean conference, which was held in the Valparaíso Region. The conference brought together more than 500 participants from 56 countries, and included heads of state, ministers, NGO representatives, academics, research institutes, foundations, and the private sector. The main objective of the conference was to promote voluntary government and institutional commitments to protect the ocean.
In 2015 Chile also hosted the first Indigenous People’s Games. The event, held from July 16 to 25, included eight teams from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. This championship was the first major event involving teams representing the continent’s indigenous peoples. The goals of the event were to create an athletic event that highlights the culture, values, and traditions of America’s indigenous peoples and to build fellowship and stronger ties of friendship through sports.
*Some of the initiatives published in this article are still awaiting legislative approval from Congress.