Last weekend, Chile inaugurated its first woman president, 57-year-old former torture victim of the Pinochet regime, Veronica Michelle Bachelet. With this victory, Bachelet became one of only 23 female heads of state and government in the world, according to www. guide2womenleaders.com.
"Who would have said, 10, 15 years ago that a woman would be elected president," said Bachelet in her victory speech.
The election was held in December, but no candidate received the 50 percent vote necessary to win. The country held a runoff in January and Bachelet received 53.5 percent of the vote, defeating center-right billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera.
"I don't think it's surprising that a Latin American country did it first. People are more involved [in Latin American countries]. It's about time for a woman to be president here, but I don't think it's going to happen," said sophomore Flor Melara.
A moderate socialist, Bachelet's campaign focused mainly on equality, social justice, bridging the gap between the rich and poor and building upon outgoing President Lagos's goal of reaching developed-country status by 2010. Bachelet's victory is contributing to the growing left-leaning trend in Latin American politics; she is the fourth Concertacion, center-left, president in Chile.
"The priority for my government is that there will be development for everyone, equally. Chile will not be complete if its parts do not develop harmoniously together," said Bachelet in a speech last Saturday.
Bachelet was born in Santiago, Chile in 1951, the second child of an anthropologist and an Air Force general. She spent many of her childhood years traveling around Chile from one military base to another. She also spent some time in the United States while her father worked at the Chilean Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Bachelet returned to Chile for medical school at the University of Chile, but her time there was cut short by political unrest. The president at the time, Salvador Allende, was thrown out of power by a coup in 1973 and Augusto Pinochet took over the country.
During Pinochet's rule, Bachelet returned to Chile for medical school at the University of Chile, but her time there was cut short by political unrest. The president at the time, Salvador Allende, was thrown out of power by a coup in 1973 and Augusto Pinochet took over the country. During Pinochet's rule, Bachelet's father was detained at the Air War Academy under charges of treason; he suffered cardiac arrest and died after months of daily torture.
In 1975 Bachelet and her mother were detained and tortured at Villa Grimaldi, a notorious secret detention center in Santiago. Later that year, both were exiled to Austria and finally settled in East Germany.
In 1979, Bachelet returned to Chile and continued her medical studies, graduating in 1983 with an M.D. She began working with non-governmental organizations to help children of the tortured and missing in Santiago. After democracy was restored in Chile in 1990, Bachelet began working for the Ministry of Health as a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization and the German Corporation for the Technical Cooperation.
Bachelet was appointed Defense Minister by President Lagos in 2002, becoming the first woman to hold this post in a Latin American country. Bachelet's close ties with President Lagos, who left office with an approval rating of 75%, has made her extremely popular across Chile. Her first act as president was to swear in a cabinet of 10 men and 10 women.
Bachelet's win shocked many people, there are currently only 23 female heads of state in the world and Chile is considered one of the most socially conservative countries in South America.