Chile: House of deputies passes military spending reform
House of Deputies passes reform to decades-old “Copper Law”; Chile and Perú resolve customs dispute; Govt announces plan for impoverished Arauco province.
Chamber of Deputies votes to reform military spending scheme
The lower house of the Chilean legislature unanimously approved a bill to replace Chile’s Ley Reservada del Cobre (Copper Law), a law tying the military budget to copper revenues.
Under the Copper Law, which has been in effect since 1958, Chile’s military has been partly funded each year by an automatic 10 percent of the revenue from the state-owned copper firm, CODELCO. The Copper Law has been criticized for undermining civilian control of the military and for permitting secrecy over military plans and projects.
Reforming the Copper Law has long been a rallying cry on the left, so it surprised some when conservative President Piñera began taking steps toward reform in 2011.
Defense Minister Allamand was on hand on Wednesday to argue for the bill, which has been a pet project of his. Under the bill, the military budget would be approved by Congress every four years, and would have to equal at least 70 percent of the average of the previous ten years’ military budgets.
Some representatives from Chile’s centre-left, while welcoming the change to the military spending scheme, have questioned the constitutionality of a four-year budgeting plan and have criticized the 70-percent spending floor. The Senate will take up the bill on Tuesday, 19 June.
Compromise on the Peruvian border after 14-hour strike by truckers
On Monday, members of the Arica truckers’ union blockaded the highway linking Chile and Perú in protest against fines imposed by Peruvian customs agents and what union members called a policy of harassment against Chilean freight trucks. Chilean taxi drivers who work the border crossing joined the protest, calling for an end to the long wait times that have hurt their business.
In response to the protests representatives from Chile and Perú came together at the Santa Rosa border security complex to discuss the fines and wait times. They established a bi-national working group that will meet monthly to resolve disputes and facilitate transport across the border.
Peruvian officials agreed not to requisition the trucks of Chilean drivers who had not paid their fines, and will not discuss the possibility of new fines until representatives from both countries meet again on 21 June at the Seventh Annual Bilateral Customs and Transport meeting in Lima. The head of the Arica truckers’ union approved the provisional agreement and ended the blockade.
Chile’s Undersecretary for Foreign Relations, Fernando Schmidt, said the conflict resolution was a reflection of two countries “coming together to resolve complex themes.” He added that although the dispute is not completely resolved, negotiators can now “see a path to a solution.” Chile and Perú joined in the Pacific Alliance free trade bloc last week, lending new urgency to the resolution of the transportation dispute.
Government to increase funds for Arauco region
On Monday President Piñera announced the “Plan Arauco Avanza” (the “Arauco Advances” Plan) to carry out US$600 million worth of public works projects in the Arauco province of the Bío Bío region, in the south of Chile. Arauco province has 170,000 inhabitants and high rates of poverty and unemployment. The new plan comes on the heels of a similar initiative in Arauco carried out from 2007 to 2010.
“Plan Arauco Avanza” will last until 2014 and will include investments in education, health, employment, and communications. One key project is the renovation of Cañete Hospital, which was rendered unusable in the 2010 earthquake and has yet to be repaired.
In his speech announcing the plan Piñera said his government wants people born in Arauco to have “the same opportunities for quality of life as those who are born in any other part of the country.”