Chile: between centralism and regionalization

The Republic of Chile, in the south-westernmost tip of America, has traditionally always been unitary, presidentialist and centralised. For over 40 years, our country has been divided up into a total of 15 administrative units known as ‘regions’, plus an additional one, the Región Metropolitana (Metropolitan Region), that represents the central power and concentrates almost half of the country’s total population. These regions are subdivided into 54 provinces and 345 communes.

The communal administration is run by a Major and a Municipal Council, which are directly elected by the citizens. Provinces are run by a President-appointed Governor that reports to an Intendant who also represents the President on a regional level. The Intendant is assisted by the Regional Ministerial Secretaries, which are delegates of their respective national ministries, and by a Regional Council (CORE) formed by elected representatives. Finally, there is a two-chamber National Congress that is entirely elected by popular vote.

This vertical political and economic organization and management is unique in America and is bound by the centripetal force of the National Presidency. Chile is a presidentialist and centralist country. National and administrative uniqueness are taken for granted. However, the population has been brewing an idea that adds nuances to this centralism, in a search for alternatives that ensure harmonious and decentralized development that grants new opportunities to territories, especially those that are lagging behind.

Our traditionally centralist and compact administration clashes with the people’s needs for active participation in far-reaching definitions that regions wish to adopt, essentially in development-related issues. This popular need is the driving force behind a push for reforms in Chile towards decentralization, a push that is gaining momentum in the political arena. Therefore, three fundamental items are currently under discussion in the National Congress at the prompting of the Government:

1.- The direct election of the Intendants (Regional Government), added to the democratic generation of the Regional Councils (those with fiscal, regulatory and solving powers on government initiatives)

2.- The effective transfer of jurisdiction, mainly from the Ministries at the central level to the regional level, for matters such as production and financial incentives, infrastructures and social development, so that the priorities of these policies can be given a regional definition.

3.- A new regional funding structure, which involves more regional solving funds and some form of regional fiscal remuneration scheme for high-impact economic activities, such as mining, which is undoubtedly an important industry in our country.

At the moment, these discussions are being undertaken by the regionalists and all other national actors within Chile that are confident of the possibilities for the harmonious and inclusive development that we wish to see in our country. We are convinced that the shift from an ultracentralized Republic to one that frees up the decision-making process to the regions will not only ensure more accurate economic expenditure and address the truly pressing problems that the population faces, but will also breathe new air into a democracy that we will all be proud to support.


Fernando Verdugo

President of the O’Higgins region, Chile

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