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.
Likely top stories this week: Salvadoran presidential candidates are running neck-in-neck; former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe wins a Senate seat; Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet meets regional leaders before her inauguration; UNASUR countries gather in Chile to discuss Venezuela; Brazil inaugurates its ninth World Cup stadium, with three more to go.
Salvadoran Elections Remain “Too Close to Call”: Salvadorans went to the polls on Sunday in a runoff election between presidential candidates Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano. The country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal asked both candidates to refrain from claiming victory until the results have been fully calculated—which may take until Thursday, according to officials. Vice President Sánchez Cerén, of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional—FMLN) and a former guerrilla, was just ahead of Quijano, of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista—Arena) party, in the latest polls, with a razor-thin .22 percentage point lead.
Uribe elected to Senate in Colombian Elections: In Sunday’s legislative elections, President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition claimed 47 out of 102 Senate seats and 92 out of 166 seats in the Lower House, while voters elected former President Álvaro Uribe of the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) to a seat in the Senate. Uribe has been highly critical of Santos’ government’s peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. Santos congratulated Uribe and said, “I hope that we can leave aside the hatred and resentments, and can work for the country.” Santos is running for re-election in May’s presidential elections.
Bachelet to Meet with Maduro Before Inauguration: Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet will have an intense day of meetings before her inauguration on Tuesday, including a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regional leaders. More than 20 countries are sending representatives to the inauguration. Vice President Joe Biden will represent the United States, and met with Bachelet this morning.
UNASUR Meeting in Chile: Latin American foreign ministers and heads of state in the Union of South American Nations (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas—UNASUR) will meet in Chile on Wednesday to discuss the political unrest in Venezuela, where an estimated 21 people have died in continuing protests. This morning, the Venezuelan National Guard reportedly dismantled barricades in the city of San Cristobal. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the UNASUR meeting last Thursday, adding that the Venezuelan president “would never be capable of repressing his own people.”
Brazil Inaugurates World Cup Stadium: On Sunday, Brazil inaugurated its ninth World Cup stadium in the Amazonian city of Manaus. The stadium, Arena da Amazonia, was inaugurated a month later than expected and is still not yet fully completed, but 20,000 people attended a regional championship match there on Sunday. Three workers were killed in the stadium’s construction, and it cost $70 million more than expected. Brazil still needs to complete construction on three stadiums before June: Itaquerão in São Paulo, the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá, and the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is set to visit Chile and the Dominican Republic with his wife Jill in mid-March. The visits will mark his third trip to the region. Biden will attend Chilean President-Elect Michelle Bachelet's inauguration before traveling to the Dominican Republic to discuss bilateral relations and regional cooperation with President Danilo Medina.
The vice president has been seen as an integral part of President Obama's Latin America strategy. Despite visits by both leaders to the region last year, the administration's foreign policy has focused primarily on Asia and the Middle East. The U.S. was seen as taking a positive step towards strengthening ties with the region last November when Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine had come to an end.
This year is critical for U.S. trade in the region as NAFTA turns 20 and the U.S. continues its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
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.
On Sunday, December 15, Michelle Bachelet won 62 percent of Chile’s presidential run-off election, easily outpacing Evelyn Matthei’s 38 percent. On March 11, 2014, she will don Chile’s presidential sash for a second time, having served a previous term from 2006–2010. According to her 2013 electoral platform, she will focus on education, tax reform and adjustments (if not an outright overhaul) to the Chilean Constitution.
The three objectives are intertwined and they reflect Chile’s 25-year effort to responsibly reform a severely flawed constitution and legal system.
Forged under General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973–1990), Chile’s 1980 Constitution carved out a series of authoritarian enclaves, designed to allow General Pinochet to cloak his heavy-handed rule in the guise of democracy.
With an influential, unchecked military presence, weak legislature, concentrated presidential powers, and a binomial electoral system that ensured disproportionate conservative representation, Pinochet’s constitution hardly provided a bedrock for Latin America’s most advanced democracy.
Much to Chile’s credit, however, subsequent governments did not attempt to delegitimize this constitution outright—an approach that would likely have derailed the country’s heady economic growth. Rather, iterations of the center-left Concertación government (1990–2010) methodically reformed the document, always in close consultation with the private sector and the political opposition.
Not every election sparks debate on issues which define individual lives nor offers voters the chance to fundamentally shape the direction of a nation.
This Sunday Chileans will vote for 120 deputies, 20 senators and one president, bringing an end—to the first chapter at least—of a campaign race which has witnessed both the best and worst of the democratic process and vacillated from enthralling to infuriatingly dull to down-right bizarre.
A historic nine presidential candidates and campaign issues ranging from a new constitution to the right of rape victims to abort have made for an engaging spectacle and led to public discussions on topics which, for more than 20 years, have either been considered too divisive or too inconvenient to consider.
Symptomatic of a country at last free of the fear of dictatorship, whose emerging middle class has found its voice or whose historic struggle against exploitation has once again resurfaced—depending on which analysis one ascribes to, and which according to opinion polls, no longer trusts the political establishment——the 2013 school of presidential hopefuls are a motley crew. Among the nine is vegan, spiritual leader and former World Bank economist Alfredo Sfeir; seamstress-turned-activist Roxana Miranda; porsche-driving professor and celebrity economist Franco Parisi, and the combative intellectual who seeks to unite student, labor and environmental movements, Marcel Claude.
Likely top stories this week: Protesters clash with Brazilian police forces in Rio de Janeiro; A commuter train crash injures 30 in Buenos Aires; Hurricane Raymond builds strength near Mexico’s Pacific coast; Michele Bachelet leads the polls in next month’s presidential elections in Chile; Newly leaked documents reveal that the U.S. spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Violent Clashes Between Police and Protesters Ahead of Brazilian Oil Auction: 300 protesters clashed with national police forces today outside a state auction for offshore oil exploration rights of the Libra oil field, near Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff requested heavy security for the event after mass protests erupted last week in support of teachers’ strikes in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Media reports said a small group of protesters tried to set a car on fire, and that the police fired tear gas and stun grenades onto a nearby beach with tourist onlookers.
Commuter Train Crashes in Buenos Aires: 30 passengers were injured in a Buenos Aires train crash this Saturday. The accident took place at Terminal Once, the same station where a crash killed 51 people and injured over 700 others last year. Last year’s crash reduced public support for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and analysts expect her popularity to be damaged once again ahead of the upcoming Congressional elections scheduled for October 27. The crash comes amidst growing concerns over the quality of the Argentine capital’s rail system and a recent proposal by the federal government to seize administrative control of the city’s commuter rail operations.
Hurricane Raymond Builds Strength Near Mexico: Hurricane Raymond was upgraded to a category three hurricane by the Mexican Comisión Nacional del Agua (Mexican Water Commission—CONAGUA) today. Meteorologists said the storm currently reports sustained winds of 195 km/h (120mph), and that it would be the first category three storm to hit Mexico this year. Public officials say they are still recovering from the damage left by Ingrid and Manuel, two tropical storms that simultaneously affected Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts last month. The storms killed over 150 civilians and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
Michelle Bachelet Leads Polls in Chile: A new poll by Universidad Diego Portales finds that former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is expected to win 37.7 percent of votes in the country’s November 17 presidential election. Bachelet served as Chile’s first woman president from 2006 to 2010 and returns to her home country following her role as the first executive director of UN Women. A runoff is expected between Bachelet and one of the eight other presidential candidates. Bachelet polls far ahead of even the second-place candidate, Evelyn Matthei, who received 12.3 percent of expected votes in the poll.
New Revelations on U.S. Surveillance in Mexico: Newly released documents revealed that U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) secretly spied on former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The documents state that the agency acquired access to the former president’s email communications with cabinet members. The Mexican Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations—SRE)— which modestly criticized revelations in September that the U.S. had spied on Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during his campaign—said more forcefully yesterday that U.S. surveillance in Mexico was “unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to Mexican law and international law.”
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelan opposition agrees to participate in corruption debate; Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei registers her candidacy; Humala’s popularity reaches a new low; peace talks resume in Colombia; and environmental groups seek a referendum to prevent drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Forest.
Public Debate on Corruption in Venezuela
On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would ask the National Assembly for an enabling law to combat corruption, and challenged the opposition to participate in a public debate to discuss the government’s nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The Venezuelan government has made over 100 corruption-related arrests in the last month, including several political and media figures associated with the opposition.
On Sunday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia, said the opposition would participate in a public debate on corruption, and called on the president to “tell us the time and location” for a discussion on national TV and radio. According to Henrique Capriles, opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, recent anti-corruption efforts are a strategy to divert public attention from other pressing problems such as insecurity and inflation. Capriles’ offices are currently under investigation for corruption.
Evelyn Matthei Officially Registers her Candidacy
On Sunday, the candidate for the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), Evelyn Matthei, officially registered her candidacy for the Chilean presidential election on November 17. Matthei was accompanied by leaders of UDI and Renovación Nacional (RN)—the two parties that constitute the ruling Alianza coalition. After registering her candidacy, Matthei gave a speech that recognized the current lead of former president and current presidential candidate of the Nueva Mayoría coalition, Michelle Bachelet. Still, Matthei expressed hope of taking the election to a second round of voting. If no candidate secures half of the votes in the first round, a second round of voting would be held in mid-December.
Humala’s Popularity Reaches a New Low
On Sunday, the latest Ipsos-Perú survey published by El Comercio revealed that Ollanta Humala’s popularity dropped to 29 percent, the lowest during the two years of his presidency. Despite the government’s recent military win again the Shining Path terrorist group, the president registered 4 percentage points less popular support than in July 2012. The survey also revealed that first lady Nadine Heredia’s popularity dropped to 38 percent, and Lima Mayor Susana Villarán continues to have one of the highest disapproval rates in the country, which reached 69 percent in August.
New Round of Colombian Peace Negotiations
On Monday, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) begin a new round of negotiations in Havana to discuss topics such as political participation. This is one of the most controversial items in the peace agenda as it involves negotiations around the incorporation of the rebel group into the country’s democratic system. According to Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator, the FARC must surrender their arms and reach agreements around the five topics of the agenda to participate in Colombian politics. President Juan Manuel Santos sent a message to the FARC stating his commitment to the negotiations, but warned that the military fight will continue in the interim.
Environmental Groups in Ecuador Vow to Save Yasuní Program
On Sunday, environmental groups, human rights groups and Indigenous lawmakers threatened to take Ecuador’s government to international court over a plan to drill for oil in Yasuní, a protected part of the Amazon rainforest that is believed to hold some 900 barrels of oil—about a fifth of Ecuador’s total reserves. The actions follow President Rafael Correa’s statement last week that the government was abandoning the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, a long-term commitment to refrain from drilling in the rainforest area if the international community came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. The president said that “the world has let Ecuador down,” as just $13.3 million has been delivered to the country. In the coming days, Correa plans to ask the National Assembly to declare crude-oil exploitation in the Yasuní as a "national interest." In response, some of Ecuador’s Indigenous lawmakers have called for a national referendum to decide on the issue.
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.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.