Chileans elected a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress on December 14, 1989. Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate of a coalition of 17 political parties called the Concertación, received an absolute majority of votes (55%). President Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994, in what was considered a transition period. In February 1991 Aylwin created the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, which released in February 1991 the Rettig Report on human rights violations committed during the military rule. This report counted 2,279 cases of “disappearances” which could be proved and registered. Of course, the very nature of “disappearances” made such investigations very difficult. The same problem arose, several years later, with the Valech Report, released in 2004 and which counted almost 30,000 victims of torture, among testimonies from 35,000 persons.
In December 1993, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of previous president Eduardo Frei Montalva, led the Concertación coalition to victory with an absolute majority of votes (58%). Frei Ruiz-Tagle was succeeded in 2000 by Socialist Ricardo Lagos, who won the presidency in an unprecedented runoff election against Joaquín Lavín of the rightist Alliance for Chile, by a very tight score of less than 200,000 votes (51,32%).
In 1998, Augusto Pinochet traveled to London for back surgery. But under orders of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, he was arrested there, attracting worldwide attention, not only because of the past history of Chile and South America, but also because this was one of the first arrest of a former president based on the universal jurisdiction principle. Pinochet tried to defend himself by referring to the State Immunity Act of 1978, an argument rejected by the British justice. However, UK Home Secretary Jack Straw took the responsibility to release him on medical grounds, and refused to extradite him to Spain. Thereafter, Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000. Upon descending the plane on his wheelchair, he stood up and saluted the cheering crowd of supporters, including an army band playing his favorite military march tunes, which was awaiting him at the airport in Santiago. President Ricardo Lagos later commented that the retired general’s televised arrival had damaged the image of Chile, while thousands demonstrated against him.
The Concertación coalition has continued to dominate Chilean politics for last two decades. In January 2006 Chileans elected their first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, of the Socialist Party. She was sworn in on March 11, 2006, extending the Concertación coalition governance for another four years.
In 2002 Chile signed an association agreement with the European Union
(comprising FTA, political and cultural agreements), in 2003, an extensive free trade agreement with the United States, and in 2004 with South Korea, expecting a boom in import and export of local produce and becoming a regional trade-hub. Continuing the coalition’s free-trade strategy, in August 2006 President Bachelet promulgated a free trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China (signed under the previous administration of Ricardo Lagos), the first Chinese free-trade agreement with a Latin American nation; similar deals with Japan and India were promulgated in August 2007. In October 2006, Bachelet promulgated a multilateral trade deal with New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, also signed under Lagos’ presidency. Regionally, she has signed bilateral free-trade agreements with Panama, Peru and Colombia.