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The Carabineros

Two members of the Carabineros patrolling during the 19th of September Armed Forces Day parade in Santiago in 1985
Courtesy David Shelton

During the colonial period, there existed a fifty-man police unit known as the Queen's Dragoons, which was responsible for law enforcement in the Santiago area. This force changed its name to Dragons of Chile (Dragones de Chile) in the early years of the republic and, by 1850, had increased in strength to 300. It was subsequently incorporated into the army as a cavalry regiment. By that time, civil police forces had also been set up in the major population centers. In 1881 the Rural Police Law created a separate rural police force in each province, and six years later each municipality was authorized to set up its own local police force.

In 1902 four of the army's seven cavalry regiments were ordered to detach a squadron apiece to form a new entity to be known as the Border Police (Gendarmes de la Frontera) and to be engaged primarily in the suppression of banditry in the less developed regions of the country. Despite being administratively and operationally subordinate to the Ministry of Interior, this unit remained ultimately under the jurisdiction of the minister of war. Five years later, it acquired a larger establishment and changed its name to the Carabineros Regiment (Regimiento de Carabineros).

Although still lacking a formal permanent institutional existence, in 1909 the Carabineros established an Institute of Instruction and Education, which admitted its first class of police cadets in August of that year. Five years later, the responsibilities of the force were extended to railroad security. Finally, in 1919, the force acquired a formal independent existence under the Ministry of Interior, and its title was changed again to the Carabineros Corps (Cuerpo de Carabineros). Six years later, by which time the corps consisted of 204 officers and 3,760 enlisted personnel, the Carabineros acquired a new organization that combined their various independent squadrons into five Rural Service Regiments, together with a Railway Regiment, Training Regiment, and Customs Squadron, the latter based at Valparaíso.

The strength, resources, and qualities of the various municipal and rural police forces varied enormously. In 1924, in an effort to provide a degree of uniformity, the country was divided into five police zones, with their headquarters at Antofagasta, Valparaíso, Santiago, Talca, and Concepción. The same law divided the police functionally into three divisions: the Public Order Division, entrusted with general peacekeeping on a relatively passive level; the Security Division, with a role of active law enforcement; and the Identification Division, which embraced record keeping and general crime detection. This arrangement provided for the coordination of the activities of the various existing law enforcement agencies, on a zonal basis, with the General Directorate of Police (Dirección General de Policía) at the national level. At that time, in the mid-1920s, the various police forces numbered 728 officers and 8,628 enlisted personnel.

Although now downgraded in importance, the provinces and the municipalities continued to maintain their individual police forces. Only the municipal police of Santiago and Valparaíso seem to have been effective, however, and in 1927 all law enforcement agencies were incorporated in a single national force, the Carabineros of Chile. The force had a total strength of 1,123 officers and 15,420 enlisted personnel in 1929.

In 1993 the Carabineros numbered 31,000, including officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and a significant women's element. Although normally under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, the Carabineros were put under the Ministry of Defense during the period of national emergency following the overthrow of the Allende regime. Despite the return of civilian government in 1990, the Carabineros remain subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, but their operations are coordinated by the Ministry of Interior. The Aylwin administration authorized an increase in strength of 1,100 annually over the 1991-94 period.

Data as of March 1994

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