Chile Becomes Latest Latin American Nation to Enact FOIA Law

13 August 2008

Chile has become the latest country in Latin America and the world to promulgate a Freedom of Information Act law. Called the "Ley sobre Transparencia de la Función Pública y Acceso a la Información de los Órganos de la Administración del Estado" (Law on Transparency of Public Functions and Access to Information of the Agencies of State), the legislation was signed by President Michelle Bachelet on August 11. 

The signing of the law culminates a major campaign by Chilean freedom of information groups such as Pro-Acceso and Chile Transparente to bring about transparency in governance in Chile. The right-to-know movement received a major boost in October 2006, when the Inter-American Court ruled in a case, Claude Reyes and Others v. Chile, that the Chilean government had improperly withheld information from environmental groups on a deforestation project known as Rio Condor. The Court ordered the Chilean government to adopt legal measures "to guarantee the effectiveness of an adequate administrative process for dealing with requests for information, which sets deadlines for providing the information."

The new law signed by President Bachelet gives government agencies 20 days to respond to petitions for information; it also orders agencies to create permanent government Web sites and postings to facilitate public access to official records. The law establishes a unique "Council for Transparency" to oversee and arbitrate the release of government documentation. President Bachelet now has 60 days to name the four members of the council.

The new law was the subject of a July 28th conference, "Human Rights and Access to Information," at the University Alberto Hurtado in Santiago. Organized by Elizabeth Lira and the Ethics Center at the University, and co-sponsored by the National Security Archive and Pro-Acceso, the conference featured presentations and critiques by Juan Pablo Olmeda of Pro-Acceso, Senator Hernán Larraín, who co-authored the legislation, and Peter Kornbluh and Marian Schlotterbeck of the National Security Archive.

Critiques of the new law and an overview of the conference will be posted in this space in the coming days.

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