Will Chile be the next to join South America’s growing anti-imperialist bloc? Michelle Bachelet will certainly not prove a radical populist like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Bolivia’s newly-elected Evo Morales. But she could prove a more moderate member of the bloc, like Brazil’s Lula de Silva, Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner or Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez. (Peru could be next, where candidate Ollanta Humala is cut from the more radical mold.) From the AP, Jan. 16:
Chile elects first female president
SANTIAGO, Chile – A socialist doctor and former political prisoner was elected as Chile’s first female president yesterday, with her conservative multimillionaire opponent conceding defeat in a race that reflected Latin America’s increasingly leftward tilt.
The victory of Michelle Bachelet, defense minister in the current administration, extends the rule of the market-friendly center-left coalition that has governed since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-90 dictatorship.
Bachelet won 53.5 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Sebastián Piñera, who congratulated her but vowed “to continue to fight for our principles, which do not die today.” The runoff was necessary after a Dec. 11 election involving four candidates failed to produce a winner with a majority.
Bachelet’s political success has baffled many Chileans who thought a left-leaning single mother jailed during the Pinochet years stood little chance in this socially conservative country.
President Ricardo Lagos made her his health minister, then in 2002 named her defense minister. She won praise for helping heal divisions between civilians and military left over from the dictatorship.
Bachelet had expected resistance from Chile’s military establishment when appointed. “I was a woman, separated, a socialist, an agnostic … all possible sins together,” said Bachelet, who nonetheless became a popular figure among the admirals and generals.
Bachelet, 54, will be only the third woman directly elected president of a Latin American country, following Violeta Chamorro, who governed Nicaragua from 1990 to 1997, and Mireya Moscoso, president of Panama from 1999 to 2004.
However, Bachelet, unlike those two women, did not follow a politically prominent husband into power.
Bachelet’s father was an air force general who was arrested and tortured for opposing the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. He died in prison of a heart attack, probably caused by the torture, Bachelet says.
A 22-year-old medical student at the time, Bachelet also was arrested along with her mother and later forced into five years of exile.
In spite of their different political backgrounds and ideologies, both Bachelet and Piñera outlined similar goals, promising to continue the two-decade-long free-market policies that have made Chile’s economy one of the region’s healthiest.