On Tuesday, March 11, in her first act as senate president, Senator Isabel Allende will place a red, white and blue sash over the shoulder of Michelle Bachelet, officially making her the first re-elected president of Chile’s modern era.
It will be a moment loaded with symbolism of the country’s struggle to break the shackles of a recent dictatorship and age-old traditions of patriarchy and machismo. Both Allende and Bachelet lost their fathers in the days following the country’s September 11, 1973 military coup
Salvador Allende, Senator Allende’s father, was the first democratically-elected Marxist head of state in Latin America. He took his own life in the presidential palace, rather than submit to the military forces that bombed La Moneda palace and maintained power for the next 17 years with a reign of terror and unimaginable atrocity. His daughter escaped with her life and was forced into exile for the duration of the dictatorship. She returned to pursue a long-standing and distinguished career as a parliamentarian and champion of progressive causes.
Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet died from torture at the hands of his former military colleagues for remaining loyal to President Allende. His daughter was captured and imprisoned before she, too, made it out of the country and lived in exile.
Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile to practice medicine and eventually went on to become health minister, then the first female defense minister in Latin America and, later, Chile’s first female president. She left office with an enviable 84 percent approval rating. During the Piñera years, she became the inaugural head of UN Women, earning the praise and esteem of world leaders. She returned, triumphant, to sweep first the primaries, followed by the first round of general elections and finally the runoff vote.
But these potent and evocative narratives obscure another reality—just how difficult this term will be for Bachelet.
At least seven military police were injured in a confrontation with Indigenous Mapuche in the Araucania region of Chile on Wednesday.
The clash began on Monday when 30 hooded individuals, presumed to be Mapuches took over the privately-owned El Canelo farm in an act to reclaim land they believed to be theirs by ancestral rights. After the perpetrators set fire to the land, military police intervened and were met with pellet guns, resulting in seven wounded officers, who are currently in stable condition at the Talcahuano Naval Hospital.
General Ivan Bezmalinovic, head of the police force in the eighth region of Chile where the conflict occurred, stated that a special operations group was sent in to prevent further fire outbreaks from land invaders. However, according to the Mapuche community, the fire at El Canelo was not an ambush, but rather an act of self-defense against new police assaults on land the group claims as their own.
The incident comes days after a Mapuche leader was sentenced to 18 years in prison for arson and the resulting deaths of the property owners. Conflicts between indigenous communities and private land holders and extractive corporations are ongoing, particularly in southern Chile where there is a population of nearly one million Mapuche. The International Labor Organization's Convention 169 went into full effect in Chile on September 15, 2009, which recognizes the land rights of such communities; however tensions remain high.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly's Spring 2014 issue for in-depth analysis of ILO 169, land rights, and previous consultation.
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Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian mining company and the world’s largest gold producer, announced Thursday that it has temporarily halted operations at its Pascua-Lama gold mine in the Andean border region between Argentina and Chile. Production was scheduled to begin by early 2014, but environmental regulations, depreciating gold prices and declining company profits led to a decision to indefinitely suspend construction at the mine. Barrick said it has already spent over $5 billion of the total estimated project cost of $8.5 billion. The company told investors in a quarterly earnings statement that the postponement would provide capital savings of up to $1 billion in 2014.
Barrick’s stock prices fell 8.65 percent in April when a Chilean appeals court announced that it would block operations at Pascua-Lama due to “environmental irregularities.” The announcement came after members of Diaguita Indigenous communities filed a complaint that the mine had polluted glacial deposits and contaminated scarce water resources in the Atacama Desert. Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick welcomed the April announcement and said he hoped the company would be able to address the court’s concerns and conduct environmentally sound operations. The Chilean government has not announced plans to revise or lift the restrictions.
Officials voiced greater concern in Argentina, where operations were not discontinued until the company’s recent announcement. On the Argentine side of the mine, Barrick operations provide thousands of jobs and accounts for a third of San Juan province’s economy. Officials there have advocated repeatedly for the project, and it remains unclear how the closure will affect the region’s economy. Nevertheless, Guillermo Calo, Barrick’s top official in Argentina, said the company still plans to invest $400 million there next year.
In the last round of regional conference qualifiers last night, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras punched their tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Chile and Ecuador join Colombia and Argentina as the representatives from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL), while Honduras, which will play in its second consecutive World Cup, joins the United States and Costa Rica from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In CONCACAF, the qualifying match that created the most late drama was the United States’ 3-2 comeback win over Panama in Panama City. As the game went into stoppage time, Panama led 2-1. If the result had stood, Panama would have claimed the fourth spot on the CONCACAF qualification table, requiring a home-and-away playoff series with New Zealand to book their first-ever ticket to the World Cup. But two stoppage-time goals by the U.S. ended Panama’s World Cup hopes and landed Mexico in the fourth CONCACAF spot, despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. Mexico will play New Zealand twice next month to decide who will travel to Brazil.
In CONMEBOL, Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador sent both countries through to Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina 3-2 in Montevideo to secure that conference’s fifth playoff spot, and it will play Jordan twice in November in order to qualify for the World Cup. The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
Forty years since right-wing military generals swept socialist President Salvador Allende from office, Chile remains as divided as the day the bombs fell on La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace.
In 2013, amid renewed social movements, the first presidential election since the coming in of the first right-leaning administration following the country’s return to democracy, the events of September 11, 1973 are as relevant as ever before.
Few Chileans were left untouched by the coup. Hundreds of thousands were killed, tortured, exiled or simply “disappeared” during the coup and the 17-year military rule that followed it. But even those born after the 1990 transition to democracy live under the shadow of General Augusto Pinochet.
The legacy of dictatorship is present in almost every facet of the country’s political and economic institutions, down to the very constitution that underpins it: its economy is rooted in the regime’s drastic free-market reforms; politics confined by the electoral system it pioneered; and schools, hospitals and pensions administered according to the model the constitution imposed.
To this day in Chile, that legacy remains disputed—even as thousands of protesters link stark economic inequalities to the years of military rule, others affiliate them with the country’s overall financial success.
But though the horrors of the military regime continue to haunt Chile, despite the fact that its political, economic and cultural reverberations continue to this day, change may be in the air.
For the first time, those involved in the military regime—many of whom, far from being punished, have gone on to positions of further authority—have begun to publicly address the issues of their past. The Chilean mainstream media is candidly addressing the dictatorship’s human rights abuses in a way it rarely had previously done. The issue of constitutional reform is forefront in the presidential race.
Much more needs to be addressed—and acted upon—before the wounds of the dictatorship can be healed and the stark divisions in Chile reconciled. But with dialogue finally beginning to open on the subject of human rights and a presidential campaign gearing toward full swing this year, 40 years after the coup that so drastically altered the course of a nation, Chile finally has the chance to put the horrors of September 11, 1973 behind it.
Turmoil on the Right may open the door for a third party or independent presidential candidate—or pave the way for a Bachelet tsunami.
A turbulent few weeks in Chilean politics have made for a seismic shift in the race for La Moneda. And with the debut of primary elections, voluntary voting and a clamor for change unprecedented in the country’s modern democratic era, Chile’s November 17 presidential vote has the potential to make history.
Last month, weeks after claiming a surprise victory in primary elections, conservative candidate Pablo Longueira abruptly resigned, citing clinical depression. After days of barely concealed infighting, party brass appointed Evelyn Matthei—also of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI)—as his replacement.
The dramatic nature of Longueira’s resignation and Matthei’s ascension captured worldwide media attention, with the international press focusing on two themes: gender and history.
The decision, it was reported, seemingly ensured that Chile’s next leader would be a woman, with Matthei taking on former president and overwhelming favorite Michelle Bachelet.
The second factor to give the story international traction was the two candidates’ intriguing personal history. Both are daughters of military officers and were childhood playmates, but their family friendship was ruptured by the coup of September 11, 1973, when Matthei’s father sided with the military junta and Bachelet’s father fell victim to it.
The fallout from the change in leadership, however, may extend beyond the two women in the international spotlight.
Former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira of the Independent Democratic Union (Unión Demócrata Independiente—UDI) withdrew from the Chilean presidential campaign on Wednesday just weeks after winning the June 30 primary of the incumbent Alliance for Chile (Alianza por Chile) coalition. His son, Juan Pablo Longueira, informed the press that his father had been suffering from severe depression and could no longer be a part of the race. The election will be held on November 17, 2013.
The Alianza coalition must now overcome any internal divisions to choose a new candidate to run against former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate.
According to a survey released on July 12 by El Diario La Segunda and Universidad del Desarrollo Ms. Bachelet has a 39 percent approval rate among likely voters.
Possible Alianza candidates include Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei of the UDI and former Defense minister Andrés Allamand of the National Renewal (Renovación Nacional—RN). According to Carlos Huneeus, director of Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea, “the task is daunting for those who want to run against Bachelet.” Longueira entered the race just three months ago after the center-right candidate and businessman, Laurence Golborne, dropped out due to a financial scandal.
Thousands of protestors—with estimates as high as 150,000 people—marched through the streets of Santiago yesterday to voice their frustrations over social inequality, living wages and the country’s pension system. The demonstration was part of a nationwide strike organized by Chile’s largest labor union, the Central Union of Workers (Central Sindical Unitaria de Trabajadores - CUT) demanding a raise in the monthly minimum wage from $380 to $490, improved labor conditions, tax reform, and a replacement of the privately managed pension system with a state-run one.
The protestors halted traffic during the morning rush hour, causing major delays in Santiago, and set a public bus on fire after the bus driver and passengers disembarked. Sixty-seven people were arrested. Miners also joined in the protests, and blocked the entrance to the world’s largest copper mine, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile – Codelco). Approximately 15,000 plant workers and another 30,000 contractors were called to participate in the strike. The company estimated a $41 million loss as a result.
The president of the National Association of Public Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales - ANEF), Raúl de la Puente, asserted that 90 percent of the 100,000 public-sector employees took to the streets, in contrast to the government’s figures that only 6.4 percent (10,200) of public sector workers joined the strike.
These labor strikes took place amid ongoing and escalating social tensions surrounding Chile’s education system, with students demanding free, quality higher education.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate for Chile’s November presidential election, expressed her support on Monday for legalizing abortion in cases of medical emergency and rape. Her opponent, former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira and candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition, has vowed to maintain the current policy of prohibition.
Reproductive rights has risen to national attention in the midst of outrage following news last week that a pregnant 11-year old Chilean girl—raped by her mother’s partner in the southern city of Puerto Montt—faces life-threatening complications from her pregnancy. The girl, identified only as Belén, has few legal options since abortion is banned in Chile under all circumstances.
Chile is one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America and has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. Abortions for medical reasons were allowed until 1973, but then outlawed under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule. Despite the restriction, reports from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 150,000 abortions take place in Chile each year. However, President Sebastián Piñera has opposed loosening the prohibition. In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have ended the absolute ban.