Chile to join anti-imperialist bloc?

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.

It will be interesting to watch how Bachelet will handle the growing Mapuche indigenous movement and Chile’s tensions with Peru and Bolivia.

  1. Chile: mine workers block roads
    Just a taste of the kind of contradictions Bachelet will face. From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 8:

    More than 3,000 Chilean copper mine workers began a strike on
    Dec. 29 around a demand for a 500,000 peso bonus (about $970) for
    each mine worker because of the high price of copper on
    international markets in 2005. The workers are employees of
    companies that contract with the state-owned copper mining
    enterprise, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Codelco); they
    are not covered by the same labor protections as Codelco’s own
    employees and make less than half as much in wages. The strike
    affected two of the company’s four divisions, Andina and El
    Teniente; the others are Codelco Norte and Ventanas.

    After the government refused to discuss the bonus, which would
    cost it some $27 million, the National Contract Workers
    Coordinating Committee started a nationwide open-ended strike of
    all 28,000 employees of CODELCO contractors on Jan. 4. Some 2,000
    workers blocked the Cobre highway, which provides access to the
    El Teniente division, about 80 km south of Santiago. In the city
    of Rancagua, 42 strikers were arrested and two police agents
    injured when some 200 strikers marched on a police station to
    demand the release of six workers arrested earlier. More than 12
    strikers were arrested in Rancagua on Jan. 5, and barricades were
    set up on several of the main avenues.

    On Jan. 5 both union leader Danilo Jorquera and government
    officials indicated they might be able to compromise on an
    agreement providing better pay and conditions for the contract
    workers. Complicating the situation is the Jan 15 runoff between
    rightwing presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera Echenique and
    Socialist Michelle Bachelet Jeria of the ruling Concertacion
    center-left alliance. The workers have traditionally supported
    the Concertacion ticket, but with the government opposing the
    strike, Pinera has come out in support of the strikers–as has
    the Communist Party (PC), which supports the Concertacion.
    [Prensa Latina 12/30/05, 1/4/06, 1/5/06, 1/6/06; El Diario-La
    Prensa (NY) 1/5/06 from EFE; Resumen Latinoamericano #685,