Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


At the Summit of the Americas in December 1994, Canada, Mexico, and the United States formally invited Chile to join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Chile was selected as the first Latin American country to receive an invitation based upon its open market system, stable democratic government, and impressive decade-long economic growth. As the first Latin American country selected to join NAFTA, Chile has been viewed as a model for other developing nations to follow. However, while Chile's economic successes have been lauded as triumphs of the free market approach, little attention has focused on the severe environmental consequences caused by Chile's relentless push for economic growth, initiated in the 1970s by the nation's former military dictator. Because Chile's export-oriented system is based largely on the exploitation of the country's natural resources, the unregulated economic system has ravaged Chile's environment.

Chile's return to democracy in 1990 signalled the birth of a new environmental reform movement. By the end of 1991, the democratic government that replaced the military dictatorship turned its attention to the country's grave environmental issues. In addition to establishing several key environmental regulations, the government enacted the most comprehensive environmental law in Chile's history, the Environmental Framework Law of 1994.

This Note examines the environmental consequences of Chile's economic approach to determine whether Chile stands as a model for other developing Latin American countries to follow. In addition, the Note describes Chile's recent environmental reform movement to demonstrate that Chile's democratic government is now attempting to strike a balance between preserving its environment, sustaining its natural resources, and maintaining economic growth. The Note concludes that Chile, blessed with economic success and burdened by environmental tragedy, does not offer other countries a model for development, but rather stands as a valuable lesson in development.