Chillán cheers as Bachelet signs decree to create new Chilean region

Isabel Cocker/The Santiago Times Staff

SANTIAGO – This weekend, President Michelle Bachelet signed into being the new Chilean region of Ñuble, fulfilling a promise which she made three years ago to the people of Chillán – that their town would be converted into the capital city of the new 16th Chilean region.

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After almost 700 days of discussions in Congress during which the law also had to pass through the Constitutional Court, it was finally approved on August 2nd. Bachelet travelled to Chillán on August 20th to confirm the official decree, declaring that “a historic event such as this couldn’t be done in Santiago, it had to be done here, in the capital of Ñuble.”

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Ñuble is currently one of the four provinces that form part of the Bío Bío Region. Located in the northernmost part of that region, it has a surface area of 13,178.5 km2, includes 21 municipalities and has a population of 465,528.

According to La Discusión, the jubilation at the ceremony was evident. The crowd of Ñublensinos cheered and applauded the President for keeping her campaign promise, and for giving them their own power beyond that of the Biobío region to which it was previously linked.

The new region will be the smallest in the country, with an area 2000km2 less than the previous smallest: that of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago. Emol notes that in addition to the new capital, three new provinces have been created to make up the wider Ñuble region: Punilla, Itata and Diguillín, which will all require constitutionally elected councils.

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When Bachelet sent the bill to Congress in 2015, she promised that this would be one of the primary steps towards decentralizing the Chilean government, and giving more power and resources back to the people of Chile in outlying districts. The Chilean Government website highlights a speech that Bachelet made at the time, in which she noted the importance of regional participation in wider government affairs.

However, according to Emol, the bill has not been without opposition. Initially, there will be a cost of $2.065 million in addition to an annual bill of US$16.831 million, which some politicians say will not be recuperated in economic growth or other social benefits for the region. There have also been concerns that the removal of the Ñuble district from the Biobío region will weaken both areas, leaving them unable to act effectively on their own.

Nevertheless, a study published by the Universidad de Concepción in 2014 predicted that the creation of the new region will benefit the Ñublesinos both economically and socially. Emol expects that the new bureaucratic structures needed for governance will bring up to 1,700 jobs to the region. The additional government allowance to the region will also allow for more internal investment, leading to greater regional economic growth.