Media Center

Press Release


  April 16, 2007

Representatives of member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) today examined the role the armed forces play in supporting the consolidation of democracy in the hemisphere, during the third OAS Policy Roundtable held at the regional organization’s headquarters.

The Director of the International Studies Center of the Catholic University of Chile and former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, Retired General Juan Emilio Cheyre, talked about “Democracy and the Army in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Chilean Experience.”

General Cheyre provided a detailed analysis of Chilean history in recent decades, beginning with the circumstances that contributed to “the loss of democracy and the armed forces’ acting outside the bounds of their role in a democratic context,” in the 1973 military coup. He talked about the “successful transition” and institutional strengthening the Chilean military has undergone since that time.

“In democracies, armies must assume their traditional role, be respectful of their own professional attributes, be disciplined and hierarchical, be removed from politics and close to each citizen, at the service of the entire community and respected by those who wield power,” said General Cheyre. Likewise, he added, the representatives of the powers of the state “need to give them the room they need to carry out their professional role, in subordination to the political authority—understood in its broadest sense, which rules out the improper use of the armed forces for any purpose.”

The retired military officer reiterated that these elements were what made possible the redefinition of the Chilean army as a respected actor within that democracy. Today, he said, the armed forces are among the institutions with the greatest support from society.

“That is vital for an army that finds in society’s support the formula that gives its actions legitimacy and guarantees adherence to an objective that belongs to all and not only to a few,” Cheyre said. “That sense is worth more than any sophisticated weapon. An army that does not reach to the heart of each citizen is not capable of fulfilling its mission,” he added.

At today’s meeting, which OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza attended, other participants included the OAS Under Secretary for Multidimensional Security, Alexandre Addor-Neto, and the Vice President for Policy of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter. The Director of the OAS Department of External Relations, Irene Klinger, explained that the OAS Policy Roundtable series is designed to link top policy analysts to the work of the 34 ambassadors to the OAS and the General Secretariat.

Reference: E-104/07