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Bachelet Returns to Power in Chile Promising Reform

Bachelet Returns to Power in Chile Promising Reform

Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:03 PM

Socialist Michelle Bachelet took the oath of office as president of Chile Tuesday, returning to power after four years with a reform agenda to reduce social disparities in this prosperous South American country.

The 62-year-old was sworn in at a solemn ceremony in the Congress, which has its seat in the port of Valparaiso, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago.

"Yes, I promise," she said as she took the oath of office from the new Senate president Isabel Allende.

Allende, the daughter of ousted president Salvador Allende who died in a 1973 coup, handed Bachelet the presidential sash.

Gathered for the transfer of power were presidents from around the region as well as US Vice President Joe Biden.

Notably absent was Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, who cancelled at the last minute.

Five weeks of unrest in Venezuela, which has left at least 21 dead, including a Chilean woman, was expected to be a major topic of discussion among the leaders here.

Argentina's Cristina Kirchner, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Peru's Ollanta Humala, Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Uruguay's Jose Mujica were among the presidents attending.

Bachelet succeeds Sebastian Pinera, who took office in 2010 at the end of her first groundbreaking term as Chile's first female president.

Pinera, barred from running for a second consecutive term, is leaving office at the peak of his popularity.



In this second stint at the helm, Bachelet will have a chance to cement her legacy as a transformative leader who experienced firsthand the horrors of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship.

During that dark period, Bachelet was tortured, fled the country, and then returned years later to work as a pediatrician, eventually entering politics.

Her father died after being tortured for remaining loyal to leftist president Salvador Allende in the 1973 coup that saw Pinochet come to power.

She returned to Chile last year after three years in New York, where she headed UN Women, and defeated conservative Evelyn Matthei in December elections with 62 percent of the vote.

During the intense campaign, she promised to launch major reforms of Chile's education system, its taxes and write a new constitution that wipes away vestiges of the Pinochet dictatorship.

She promised free university-level education and to end state subsidies to private, for-profit colleges, which have put higher education out of reach of the poor.

Both reforms were at the center of mass student protests that swept Santiago starting in 2011.

Student leaders have remained skeptical, however, and say the protests will continue.

To finance the educational system, Bachelet has called for an ambitious tax reform that would raise $8.2 billion, or about three percent of GDP.

The new constitution Bachelet envisions would replace one imposed by the military in 1980, and revise the length and limits on presidential terms.

"I don't say the constitution solves everything, but it provides a framework," Bachelet said before her election.



In Congress, she has the majority needed to approve the tax reform, but still must form alliances with the opposition and independents to pass the educational reform and to rewrite the constitution.

Analysts believe she can easily find the votes for education reform, but say overcoming hurdles to changing the constitution will be much tougher.

Internally, Bachelet also must deal with political differences that are already evident in the broad coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists and Communists that support her.

The crisis in Venezuela has already confronted her with divisions between Christian Democrats, who want to censor the Maduro government, and the communists, who support him.

Bachelet is inheriting an economy that is losing steam after some five years at a five percent growth rate. Growth next year is forecast at between 3.75 and 4.75 percent.

One of her first challenges, therefore, will be to dampen the soaring expectations for quick changes, with Asian demands for Chile's copper diminishing.

Chile is the world's top copper producer and its main client is China, whose appetite for the substance has ebbed.


© AFP 2018

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Socialist Michelle Bachelet took the oath of office as president of Chile Tuesday, returning to power after four years with a reform agenda to reduce social disparities in this prosperous South American country.
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:03 PM
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