September 11, 1973: as Colonel Guillard announced on the radio, the Chilean Armed Forces and the Carabineros "begin the historic and responsible mission of fighting for the independence of the homeland", inaugurating a political period of military rule in Chile that would not end until 1989. Among the determinants of the Golpe was the specific Chilean geopolitical narrative that justified the military intervention against the government of Salvador Allende as the only solution to "restore peace and freedom".

Given the importance of geopolitics throughout the military regime, this article reflects on its features and impact during the Pinochet government. It briefly analyses the historical dissemination of this discipline in the country, the main theories developed by Pinochet himself and his contemporaries, as well as the principles and projects implemented during the "Gobierno de la Junta Militar".

Geopolitics before Pinochet and the role of the Armed Forces

As in the rest of South America, the geopolitical tradition in Chile has developed through the dissemination of works by the first European geographers and geo-politicians. Crucial is the role played by Jorge Boonen Rivera (Onetto, 2019) – army general, director of the Military Academy, and professor of geography and military history – who wrote Ensayo sobre la Geografia militar de Chile (1905), consolidating the spread in the country of the works by Ratzel, Kjellen and Haushofer (Garay Vera 2021).

Apart from Boonen Rivera, the first indigenous doctrines - published from 1943 onwards - were the result of the publications of Ramon Cañas Montalva, Humberto Medina Parker, and Romeo Barrientos Rosas. For instance, the theory of Cañas Montalva, who applied the Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans (Haushofer 1925) to Chile, gave rise to the theories of Augusto Pinochet and Julio Von Chrismar (Garay Vera 2021), to whom we will soon turn.

A key role in the dissemination of geopolitics in Chile was played by the Armed Forces. This is a link between the army and the geopolitics that is not unique to Chile. The same can be found both in the case of Jorge Atencio (Argentina) and in the case of Golbery do Couto e Silva (Brazil) (Garay Vera 2021). 

Armed forces use geopolitics as an auxiliary tool to influence civilian decision-making through concepts such as development, sovereignty and military participation (Garay Vera 2021). Indeed, the development of doctrines that unify and objectify the perception of reality to make it manageable through discipline and hierarchy is crucial (Chateau 1978, 24-33). In this way, geopolitics is permanently incorporated into the military, as it is included in the curricula of the military academies and it is not perceived as a reflexive discipline, but as a perspective related to the political “que hacer”: a generator of guidelines (Chateau 1978, 24-33).

Therefore, it is not difficult to explain the strong link between geopolitics and the military career featured in Augusto Pinochet’s biography. Lieutenant colonel, an expert in military geography and geopolitics and then director of the Chilean Military Academy, member of the Sociedad Geografica de Chile and of the Sociedad Chilena de Historia y Geografia, he renamed the class of “Military Geography” in “Military Geography and Geopolitics” and was the author of several academic programmes and textbooks on this discipline (BCN 2023).

Pinochet and his contemporaries' geopolitical thinking

Pinochet’s geopolitical works – Geografía Militar (1957), Ensayo de un estudio preliminar de una geopolítica de Chile (1965), Geopolítica (1968) – certainly lack originality, but they are a good example of how this discipline was conceptualized in the military academies. This is shown by their similarities with works such as Geopolítica, leyes que se deducen de la expansión de los Estados (Julio Von Chrismar, 1968) or Qué es la geopolítica? (Jorge Atencio 1975) (Chateau 1978, 37).

In terms of the object and goal of geopolitics, Kjellen's tradition figures prominently (cited by both Pinochet and Atencio) (Tunander 2001). Geopolitics was understood as closely linked to the discipline of political science. (Although it is important to emphasise that political science in Chile today remains at an embryonic level, without a proper institutionalisation of the discipline, which began to spread just at the end of the 1960s (Altman, 2005) and only reached its “boom” in the 2000s; Fuentes and Santana, 2005) Pinochet speaks of geopolitics as a "branch of political science" that "studies in a complex way the life and development of a human agglomeration in a geographical space, analysing its reciprocal influences (blood, territory) in order to deduce its objectives and study its projections" (Pinochet 1968, 37). He also stresses the non-contemplative character of this discipline, defining it as "an advisor to the realism taken into account by the political actor" (Pinochet 1968, 19). At the same time, he highlights its scientific nature and the crucial role that it “must occupy among the sciences that study the development of the State” (Pinochet 1968, 19). From the point of view of political philosophy, this appeal to technical-scientific knowledge is diametrically opposed to the theory of classical democracy, according to which it is “the people” that determines the scope of political action (Chateau 1978, 41).

Furthermore, following Kjellen, the true protagonist of geopolitical analysis is the State, seen through an organic conceptualisation. The state is conceived as an entity that develops through the union of blood-and-soil (that is people-and-territory), created by a "spiritual force" – sovereignty – that unites these two elements and has an "absorbing and dominating effect on inferior societies and individuals themselves" (Pinochet 1968, 67). As a “biological” organism the State’s main concern is its survival, and this is therefore the focus of political action. Von Chrismar, Pinochet’s contemporary, believed that geopolitics must define the “circumstances related to the health of the state, the process of preventive detection of its diseases and the treatments to be carried out" (Von Chrismar 1968, 35-36). Citizenship is the protagonist, and therefore power must present itself as a "social factor capable of influencing the feelings, thoughts and will of the population" (Pinochet 1968, 26) through stability and internal organisation. In fact, the decadence of the state can be linked to internal struggles rather than international causes and the population is therefore a key factor in the survival of the state (Von Chrismar 1968, 236).

Geopolitical-strategic doctrines in the objectives and actions of the Gobierno de la Junta Militar

As Pinochet himself said in an article written for the Memorial del Ejercito in 1997, "one of the most important characteristics of the Gobierno was a clear vision in geopolitical matters" (Memorial del Ejército de Chile 1997, 119-140). This geopolitical influence can be seen in two main areas. On the one hand, the official documents and declarations issued during the years of the dictatorship. On the other, the main political decisions taken by the Gobierno itself.

The message read by Colonel Guillard immediately after the 11 September 1973 stated that one of the causes underpinning the golpe was the "inability of the government to prevent the development of chaos" (BNC 2013, 15). Similarly, in Bando no. 5, issued on the same day, "the breakdown of national unity” and "the danger for the […] independence of the country" (Junta de Gobierno de Chile 1980) were mentioned. In these documents, among the motives for the golpe, the prevention of the decadence of the Chilean state and the avoidance of those “diseases” mentioned in the work of Von Chrismar above featured prominently. In addition, the country’s current constitution, written in 1980 by the will of the Gobierno, states that "no sector of the population or individual can attribute to itself the exercise of sovereignty" (Gobierno de Chile, 1980), since it belongs to the nation. This principle was established in the context of the conatus of survival of the State, whose defence is attributed to political action. The complexity of the constitutional revision (Korstanje and Lopez, 2020) obeys to the political necessity to create a political order that cannot deviate from what a State is considered to be in a somewhat scientific perspective (Chateau 1978, 108). A political order built to avoid the decadence of the State as long as possible.

Pinochet himself, when asked to analyse the geopolitics of his presidency, mentions a few characteristic documents. These are: the Declaración de Principios del Gobierno de Chile (1974), Objetivo Nacional (1975), Objetivo Nacional y Políticas Generales del Gobierno de Chile (1981). In these documents, although the term “geopolitics” is never used, some essential geopolitical elements are present: among others, the establishment of the hinterlander of Chile’s growth, national security as the responsibility of each citizen, and the promotion of an even demographical distribution in order to secure and develop the nation (Memorial del Ejército de Chile 1997, 119-140).

Among the crucial political decisions taken, the administrative reorganisation played a key geopolitical role, allowing Chile, according to Pinochet, to "project and concretise an administrative process of decentralisation towards new regions of the country" (Memorial del Ejército de Chile 1997, 119-140). This meant imposing a deep regionalisation as a solution to the structural elongation of the country, towards the creation of more "vital nuclei" (Ratzel 1897) strongly linked to the heartland of the State (Chateau 1978, 189). Furthermore, the government promoted the development of Chile’s border regions, deemed crucial to the survival of the nation, with projects such as the Carretera Austral or the free zones of Iquique and Punta Arenas (Garay Vega 2021).


A prevailing spatial imaginary and key geo-strategic doctrines had an important influence on the decisions and projects of the regime during the dictatorship. A look into the spread and development of geopolitics in Chile is crucial to critically re-examine Pinochet’s actions and declarations during his twenty years as the head of the Chilean state. The regime’s conduct was informed by the conviction to act in the name of a political interest valued even higher than the consensus of the population. The Gobierno felt justified in neglecting the simplest principles of democracy. Furthermore, rooting its actions in an allegedly scientific discipline, like geopolitics, and its “objective” theoretical framework delegitimised the role and ideas of the opposition, which was disregarded and, when considered necessary, fought openly.


Altman, D. (2005). La institucionalización de la ciencia política en Chile y América Latina: una mirada desde el sur. Revista de ciencia política (Santiago)25(1), 3-15.

Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (BNC) (2013). 1 - 11 Septiembre 1973. Available at:

Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (BNC) (2023). Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Available at:

Chateau, J. (1978). Geopolítica y regionalización algunas relaciones. Documento del trabajo № 75/78, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO).

Fuentes, C. & Santana, G. (2005). El “boom” de la ciencia política en Chile: escuelas, mercado y tendencias. Revista de Ciencia Política, 25(1), 16-39.

Garay Vera, C. (2021). La geopolítica chilena y su desarrollo militar (1905-2018). Revista Cientifica General Jose Maria Cordova, 19(35), 817-835.

Gobierno de Chile (1981). Constitución de 1980. Santiago, Editorial Jurídica de Chile.

Junta de Gobierno de Chile (1980). Bando n. 5 de la Junta Militar. Ordenamiento Constitucional. Santiago: Editorial Jurídica de Chile, Junta Militar de Gobierno.

Korstanje, M. & López, F. T. (2021). Entre la restauración y la fundación: la democracia protegida de la Declaración de Principios del Gobierno de Chile (1973-1980). Tempo, 27(3), 650-667. Available at

Memorial del Ejército de Chile (1997). Visión geopolítica de Chile. Pensamiento y acción, discurso de Augusto Pinochet con motivo de las primeras jornadas académicas internacionales de geopolítica, ed. no. 454/1997, 119-140.

Onetto, R. (2019). Influjo del General Jorge Boonen Rivera en el pensamiento militar del siglo XX. Memorial del Ejército de Chile (503), 143-154.

Pinochet, A. (1968). Geopolitica. Instituto Geografico Militar, Santiago.

Ratzel, Friedrich, (1897). Politische Geographie, R. Oldenbourg, München und Leipzig 1897.

Tunander, O. (2001). Swedish-German Geopolitics for a New Century Rudolf Kjellén’s “The State as a Living Organism.” Review of International Studies, 27(3), 451–463.

Von Chrismar, J. (1968). Geopolítica, leyes que se deducen de la expansión de los Estados. Estado Mayor General del Ejército.

Cover photo: Department of Defense. American Forces Information Service. Defense Visual Information Center. (1994 - ) (Most Recent), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons