A new president in Chile marches to the left

President-elect Michelle Bachelet of Chile secured a mandate in a runoff election against Evelyn Matthei with 63% percent of the vote on December 15. Bachelet comes to the job with experience: she was Chile’s president from 2006 to 2010.
Responding to a congratulatory phone call from incumbent president Sebastian Piñera, the socialist Bachelet affirmed "I shall be a president for everyone in Chile." Bachelet takes over from him in March.
Returning to the presidential palace, Bachelet promises to legalize elective abortion in cases of rape, when the life of the mother is endangered or if the illness or defect of a fetus is found to be incompatible with the life of the mother. At issue is also same-sex marriage, which she has promised to push through Chile’s congress. She left her first presidency with high approval ratings. During her hiatus from government, she served in the United Nations to promote feminist issues.
The once and future president will have plenty of issues to tackle when she takes over in 2014. Among the issues is immigration: like the United States, Chile has a low birthrate and an aging native population. Immigrants from elsewhere on the South American continent are drawn to the relative prosperity, democracy, and welfare safety net that Chile provides. Especially in northern Chile, immigrants have not been welcomed with open arms. In Antofagasta, for instance, street fights between native Chileans and Colombian immigrants subsequently sparked anti-immigrant rallies. While the conservative Matthei had advocated a stricter line, Bachelet said that she will introduce legislation that would segue from “security and controlling immigrant labor” to “inclusion, regional integration, and rights.”
The blonde Bachelet promises to reform not only immigration, but also education and taxation. Also at issue is the reform of the country’s constitution and electoral system.
After expanding by 5.6% in 2012, Chile’s national economy slipped a little to end at 4.2% growth for this year. The economy is expected to slip even more next year: between 3.75-4.75%. Chile is the biggest exporter of copper in the world, and its economy has long been buoyed by demand stemming from China. As demand has slacked, so too has the Chilean economy. The price of copper dropped 30% since its peak in 2011.
Bachelet, who was considered a moderate socialist during her first stint in the presidency, promises to take a left tangent. She promises to raise corporate taxes by 5 points to 25 percent, for example.  Also, she wants to provide higher education free of charge, adhering to demands from leftists who swarmed the streets during President Sebastian Piñera’s term. Fears are afoot that this will mean inflation, since Bachelet has not announced the fiscal means to pay for it.

Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

Filed under politics, chile, politics, abortion, leftism, Americas


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