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#187349 - 01/16/06 09:48 AM Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Michelle Bachelet's path to Chile's presidency has taken her from a dictator's jail cell to exile in East Germany and back home as a respected defense minister.

Her rise to power stunned many Chileans who thought a socialist single mother jailed during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship stood little chance in this conservative Catholic country where divorce is a touchy issue.

Bachelet, the first woman to be elected president in Chile, won 53 percent of the vote in Sunday's runoff, compared with 46 percent for Sebastian Pinera, a conservative wealthy businessman, according to official results.

Her victory extended the rule of the market-friendly, center-left coalition that has governed since the end Pinochet's 1973-90 rule.

"Who would have said, 10, 15 years ago -- that a woman would be elected president!" Bachelet told thousands of supporters.

The elections underlined Latin America's tilt toward the left, though Bachelet has promised to maintain the free-market policies that have made Chile's economy one of the strongest in the region.

The 54-year-old pediatrician had expected resistance from Chile's conservative military establishment -- and not only because of her family background. "I was a woman, a divorcee, a socialist, an agnostic ... all possible sins together," she said recently.

Bachelet's father was an air force general who was arrested and tortured for opposing the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. Alberto Bachelet 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. They were blindfolded, beaten and denied food for five days while their cellmates were raped -- an ordeal she doesn't want to talk about except to say she and her mother were "physically mistreated." She insists she harbors no rancor because she has "a political understanding of why those things happened."

They were later forced into five years in exile, first in Australia, then communist East Germany, where Bachelet married a fellow Chilean exile. They later separated, and she had a third child from a new relationship.

Back in Chile, Bachelet worked underground with other leftist exiles, quietly advancing in the Socialist Party. She became a well-known figure in the center-left coalition that has ruled since 1990.

Current President Ricardo Lagos, who was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, 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 -- who was at the top of her class in a Chilean course on military studies -- became a popular figure among the admirals and generals. The air force presented her with a leather flight jacket with her name stamped on it, and as defense minister she would often respond to an officer's military salute with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

Lagos and Bachelet belong to the same Socialist Party as Salvador Allende, whose leftist policies prompted Pinochet's bloody coup. But the party allied with other major left-center parties in 1990 to oust the right wing, and their coalition has held while leading Chile into a free-trade pact with the United States, cutting inflation and fostering growth of about 6 percent a year.

In spite of their different political backgrounds and ideologies, both Bachelet and Pinera outlined similar goals. Both said they would fight to lower the 8 percent unemployment rate, improve public health, housing and education services and curb rising urban crime.

They also promised to reform Chile's 25-year-old private social security systems to ensure better pensions for retirees, though neither has given details of how.

Bachelet, the third woman in Latin America to be directly elected president, will be inaugurated March 11, joining the ranks of Latin American leaders including leftists such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and newly elected Evo Morales of Bolivia.

She indicated she would work with all the region's leaders. "Chavez, Morales, they are presidents elected by their peoples. Chile must have relationships with all of them."

The country for the most part accepted Bachelet's candidacy, although her gender prompted questions she didn't like.

"You wouldn't be asking that question if I was a man," she told a Chilean newspaper reporter who asked if she would marry again.

But she did answer: "The truth is that I haven't had the time to even think about that. My next four years will be dedicated to work."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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#187350 - 01/16/06 01:00 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Some countries are led by people who have been in prison, others are led by people who ought to be there.

#187351 - 01/16/06 02:10 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Otteralum Offline
Congratulations to Bachelet! Hope we have a woman president here soon.
I will have a Belikin -- put it on klcman's tab.

#187352 - 01/16/06 06:05 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
klcman Offline
Billary or Condy?
_ _ _ _ _ _ _________________ _ _ _ _ _ _
But then what do I know, I am but a mere caveman

#187353 - 01/16/06 07:00 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Otteralum Offline
Dr. Condi for sure. Too bad she says she isn't interested. No way in hell the carpetbagger will win. Best way to turn out the Republican base is to have Hillary run.
I will have a Belikin -- put it on klcman's tab.

#187354 - 01/16/06 07:36 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
klcman Offline
Mrs. B called her today to chat about it
_ _ _ _ _ _ _________________ _ _ _ _ _ _
But then what do I know, I am but a mere caveman

#187355 - 01/16/06 08:38 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
5th paragraph up from the bottom- very misleading- while she is a Socialist she represents nothing of what Chavez and Morales represents- do some homework SIN - then comment! "joining the ranks"? I think not! only as being newly elected.

#187356 - 01/16/06 08:41 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Watch the next 10 years: Chile will blossom whilst Venezuela and Bolivia will flounder!

#187357 - 01/16/06 08:48 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
If Hillary runs, even us hard-ass conservatives would vote for McCain, who we cant stand. You are right O, Hillary would turn out the Repub. base.Condi would be the best choice for conservatives with the best chance to win!

#187358 - 01/16/06 09:36 PM Re: Ex-political prisoner elected Chile's first female president
Sir Isaac Newton Offline
RENO--(Mineweb.com) As the second woman to be freely elected head of state in South American history assumes the presidency of Chile in March, democracy and U.S. policy appears to be losing favor in Latin American politics.

Meanwhile, foreign mining and exploration companies, who assume they can conduct business as usual in Central and South America, may need to examine their Latin American risks.

In a recent report issued prior to the Sunday election of Dr. Michelle Bahelet as President of Chile, Aon Corporation, the world's second largest insurance brokerage, declared "the emergence of more left-wing governments in Latin America is causing concern for foreign businesses. Companies doing business in Venezuela and Bolivia are facing higher taxes, revision of contracts and threatened expropriation of assets." Aon downgraded four other Latin American countries in terms of business risk, including Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Bryan Squibb, managing director of Aon Trade Credit, said, "Despite upgrades to Colombia and Brazil, political and economic risk is on the rise just as the region is becoming a more attractive trade and sourcing partner. Foreign investors and political risk insurers are also monitoring the presidential election in Mexico.

Mexico's Zapatista rebels are organizing a national social justice movement. Mario Alvarez, head of the Workers Central trade union, told the Associated Press Sunday that "a wind is blowing to the left across Latin America. Mexicans, with our tradition of revolution, will join this wave with a passion." Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Orador is ahead in many polls to win the Mexican Presidential election on July 2nd. Aon is afraid that Lopez Orador may generate a more hostile environment for foreign companies.

Evo Morales, the new President of Bolivia, campaigned on the restructuring of the country's oil and gas industry. While Bolivia has traditionally supported the natural resource-oriented agenda of the IMF and the World Bank, Bolivians now earn less than their grandparents did, which is increasing discontent.

Fortune magazine suggests that "with a growing indigenous-rights movement sweeping Latin America, the indigenous of Bolivia, who make up 65% of the population, are determined to take back the natural resources they see as rightfully theirs." Fortune notes that land ownership has become a divisive issue in the country. "Under Bolivian law, unproductive land can be expropriated and redistributed by the government, and Morales has pledged to enforce that. But how the government defines whether the land is meeting its `social and economic function' is controversial." Of course they did it before forty-odd years ago when the tin mines were nationalised, but that did nothing to lift poor Bolivians out of the misery of poverty.

Since his election, Morales has visited Cuba, China, France, South Africa and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Argentina is becoming more dependant on Bolivian gas.

In an article published in Monday's Financial Times, Marifeli Perez-Stable, Vice President for Democratic Governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., asserts that "disenchantment with democracy and market reforms is growing" in Latin America. "The region's bright future, which 15 years ago seemed to beckon has receded."

"Latin America's most daunting economic challenge is to grow robust and steadily while benefiting the poor," Perez-Stable suggested.

While Perez-Stable considers Chile "Latin America's success story"--with economic growth and social policies that cut the poverty rate in half--"the urgent challenge is to reduce inequality." Analysts suggest that Socialist Party member Bachelet's election will signal a fundamental political shift in one of the most conservative nations in Latin America. In a strongly Catholic nation, Bachelet has said she is an atheist. She is also a single mother, who was jailed and tortured during the Pinochet regime.

Marta Lagos of the public research firm MORI told Knight Ridder Sunday that Bachelet's election "will bring about enormous amounts of change that people aren't even aware of yet. This will be a government like her candidacy, more direct, more transparent, more people-oriented." Bachelet's victory is viewed by some as further consolidation of a shift to the left in Latin America. Leftists now run Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. Nevertheless, Bachelet, who is expected to be pragmatic, has promised to continue President Lagos' economic policies favoring foreign investment and trade agreements.

The bad news is that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Sunday that he is a "good friend" of Bachelet's, according to Reuters' reports.

Chavez is considered a polarizing force in Venezuela and the region by several Latin American leaders, as well as the U.S. Government. Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo made such an accusation during a recent interview with Radioprogramas in Lima. Toledo recalled his ambassador to Venezuela earlier this month, following in the footsteps of Mexican President Vincente Fox, who also pulled his ambassador to the country. Venezuela's Vice President responded with accusations that Toledo's presidency is "a failure."

Oil and natural gas supplies from Venezuela and other energy-rich Andean nations are considered less secure by Latin American analysts. While the Bush Administration brags about Latin America's success as a democracy, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua are considered questionable.

In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, Peter Hakim, President, Inter-American Dialogue, expressed concern for "the emergence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a vexing and politically dangerous adversary. ...Although the nature of Chavez's involvement remains murky, administration officials are convinced that he is provoking instability in some of the volatile states in the hemisphere, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, which may soon put failed Sandinista Daniel Ortega back in power. His alleged links to Columbia's leftist guerillas and the sanctuary they enjoy in Venezuela also worry U.S. officials." The guerilla/drug wars in Columbia show no sign of abatement. Meanwhile, the United Nations suggests that drug production is increasing in the Andes.

"He has made clear his intent to forge a wide anti-U.S. coalition in order to replace Washington's agenda with his own--one that rejects representative democracy and market economics," Hakim stated. "Despite his failure to export his Bolivarian Revolution thus far, Chavez, buoyed by enormous oil reserves and virtually unchecked power at home, is working to increase his influence on the region." He has also suggested forming a nuclear energy consortium with Brazil and Argentina and establishing a South American development bank.

Meanwhile, Venezuela recently helped Argentina pay off its $9.6 million debt to the IMF. Venezuela purchased $1.5 billion in Argentine bonds last year, making Venezuela the largest holder of Argentine debt. Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner said the move frees his country from conditions that come with IMF loans. Venezuela's Financial Minister has indicated that further bond purchases are possible. Latin governments are considering creating a "Bank of the South" that would serve as a Latin version of the IMF. Kirchner has also placed more leftists in his inner circle, who favor stronger alliances with Venezuela.

Some analysts suggest that Chavez has been using Citgo Petroleum, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), as a political tool. Chavez has replaced several top American executives and the entire Board of Directors with Venezuelans.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is also concerned about China's growing economic presence in Latin America. "They cite huge financial resources China is promising to bring to Latin America, its growing military-to-military relations in the region, and its clear political ambitions there all as potential threats to the long-standing pillar of U.S. policy in the hemisphere, the Monroe Doctrine," said Hakim. Meanwhile, analysts suggest that Latin American nations view China as an economic and political alternative to a United States, which has had no U.S. economic initiative in the region for the past decade.

South American nations are also troubled by U.S. immigration policy. In the meantime, anti-Americanism has increased in every country in Latin America, according to analysts. Meanwhile, U.S. budgets are stretched with the rebuilding post-Hurricane Katrina, tax cuts, and the Iraq War, which harms U.S. assistance to Latin American economic reform and social progress.

Despite the aforementioned concerns about a possible leftist tilt in Latin American politics, Bachelet's election may signify a change in traditional male control over political and economic power in Latin America. Argentina's First Lady, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is a popular senator, who appears to be more popular than her husband. In Peru, former congresswoman Lourdes Flores is viewed as the main challenge to Ollanta Humala for the Presidency. And, now the world's biggest copper mining nation will be managed by a woman president, who may be anticipated to have input into the running of one of the world's largest copper companies, state-owned Codelco.

Chile perhaps? Pakistan next? (after killing civilians - for what?) Can't be the champ forever.

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