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[Opinion] President Bachelet

Posted March. 13, 2006 08:06,   


“It would be fun to be president under these conditions,” said the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel in an interview with Chile’s first female president, Michelle Bachelet (54), who took office on March 11. This is because Chile is currently posting six percent economic growth, a rate any European country would want.

Bachelet herself is a symbol of democracy and reconciliation, and she was given her mandate to lead Chile thanks to an outpouring of love from the public. “For me, the most important thing is to make my people’s hopes come true,” she says.

Chile is considered a conservative and male-dominated society, even among other Catholic-dominated countries. Divorce was only legalized 1.5 years ago. And even progressives in Chile avoid the word “abortion.” In this environment, it comes as something of a shock that an atheistic, divorced single mother of three could be elected president.

That is part of why Bachelet’s inauguration is being regarded as a cultural milestone, following Chile’s economic liberalization in the 1980s, and its political democratization in the 1990s.

President Bachelet was a 21-year old medical student when a military coup toppled the Chilean government on September 11, 1973. Bachelet’s father, an air force officer, was executed, she and her mother were harshly tortured, and her boyfriend disappeared. Bachelet even once bumped into a person who tortured her in the elevator of a building in Santiago City. But instead of hatred, Bachelet said, “I devoted entire my life to turning that hatred back.” Bachelet’s power is a tolerance and generosity that does not let her attack her political opponents.

No matter how popular she is, however, her presidency will be empty without continued economic prosperity. Unlike other South American countries, Chile succeeded in liberalizing its economy by opening markets and privatizing, even under the rule of a military dictatorship in the 1980s. This was thanks to the independence of Chile’s judicial power and a solid civil society.

For these reasons, Chile was able to transform itself into a democratic country as well.

Although there has been a strong swing left in South America in recent years, and although Bachelet herself is from a center-left coalition, Chile’s new government is not following the same path as the rest of the continent’s governments.

I feel envy Chile’s new president, who pledges to make people’s lives better and who is not obsessed with ideology.

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial Writer, yuri@donga.com