In fragile territories, the COVID-19 pandemic has often worsened pre-existing forms
of vulnerability, especially socio-economic and institutional ones. Chile, a structurally
vulnerable country in many respects, is unfortunately a good example: its communities are exposed to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, as well as
to social imbalances. The latter is a result of high economic inequality emerging
from the country’s market-driven policies implemented under Pinochet’s dictatorship,
which remains mostly unaltered since the return of democracy in 1990.
In an environmentally and socially fragile context that has given way to the strong
protests that have paralysed Chile’s public life since October 2019, Chilean institutions
show additional elements of vulnerability. The centralist tradition of the Chilean state
gives a central role to national institutions, which nonetheless citizens do not trust,
while municipalities are closer to local communities. However, municipalities have to
manage a contradictory situation: past administrative reforms put municipalities in
charge of providing basic public services such as schools and healthcare, necessary
for citizens who cannot access private services, but local bodies are fiscally autonomous and receive a minor contribution from a national Municipal Common Fund
(Navarrete-Hernandez and Toro, 2019).