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Bachelet: Si Y No

The election of  Socialist pediatrician Michelle Bachelet as President on Sunday is good news for the people of Chile. Especially given the alternatives. By a 53-46% margin, Bachelet defeated the conservative candidate, Sebastian Pinera, who is mostly credited with bringing easy credit-card access to Chile.

Bachelet becomes Chile’s first woman president and one of the very few female heads of state in Latin American history. Her election as not only a woman – but also as a self-proclaimed agnostic and a single mother of three children from two different fathers-- signals, without doubt, a potentially exhilarating cultural breakthrough for what is an oddly and unusually conservative country. Not until last year was even limited divorce legalized in Chile. Abortion is still outlawed. The Catholic Church operates one of the country’s most watched networks and the social boundaries of Chilean life sometimes feel as pinched as its string-like geographical shape.

Seventeen years of the not only politically repressive but also socially austere Pinochet dictatorship set back Chile’s cultural development for untold decades.  In short, Bachelet’s election could help untether one very uptight and tightly-wound Chilean society.

Her potential to enact more than symbolic change, however, is something that must be viewed with a certain dose of skepticism. Her Socialist Party is, in fact, a  cautious middle-of-the-road formation that has a lot more in common with American Democrats than with Cuban Communists. In alliance with the center-right Christian Democrats, Socialist President Ricardo Lagos has governed for the last six years with what might be called an excessive caution. 

While his administration has increased spending on health and education programs, it has refused to fundamentally alter or reform the “savage capitalist” economic system imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship. Compared with neighboring Latin American economies, Chile has, indeed, shown steady growth and stability. But at a high social cost that is often overlooked by its free-market boosters. Chile remains one of the most unequal economies in the world, producing fabulous wealth for a few, and just-above-subsistence for many. There’s a sizeable Chilean  middle class, but it leaves in a state of perpetual economic fear and constraint.

Nor has Bachelet’s allies show much enthusiasm for one and for all cleaning up Chile’s horrific human rights legacy. The Lagos government exerted pressure on the courts to not fully pursue Pinochet (who nevertheless is closer to trial than ever before). Bachelet, on the other hand, is herself a victim of torture under the Pinochet regime. And her father, an Air Force General who had been a Cabinet Minister in the government of Salvador Allende, died in custody after his own bouts with Pinochet’s butchers (as a young translator to Allende at the time, I met General Bachelet several times and greatly admired him).

Bachelet should be more aggressive in allowing prosecution of the remaining planners and perpetrators of torture and murder.

Perhaps, more importantly, she should show the courage to enact significant economic reforms that start to level out the uphill playing field for most Chileans. The privatized and broken private pension system cries out for more attention. As do under funded schools and a rather hair-raising public health system. The Chilean minimum wage needs a hyper-boost. The 8% unemployment rate must be lowered by a public works program. And the dictatorship’s draconian labor code, never fully reformed since Pinochet’s departure from power, must be scrapped and redrawn to allow freer union organizing.

Chileans are a deeply disillusioned lot. Their interest in politics has plummeted over the years. First came Pinochet who made politics illegal and dangerous. And then came fifteen years of civilian rule which promised much but delivered less.

If Bachelet doesn’t take bold steps to inspire and re-engage Chileans in political life, the novelty of her gender will very soon wear thin.

49 Responses to “Bachelet: Si Y No”

  1. Randy Paul Says:

    Bachelet should be more aggressive in allowing prosecution of the remaining planners and perpetrators of torture and murder.

    Agreed. This will be one of the areas in which she could differentiate and distinguish herself.

    One of the things that she also see about doing (if it hasn’t been done already) is to have the 10% of CODELCO’s earnings that go to the military changed. Chile doesn’t need a large military apparatus.

  2. Beautiful Horizons Says:

    Now’s the Hard Part

    Michelle Bachelet, about whose possible presidential candidacy I posted about for the first time more than two years ago, has been elected President of Chile. Now comes the hard part: governing. As Marc Cooper notes here, despite the largely positive

  3. Posthegemony Says:

    Bachelet

    But for a well-merited word of caution, here’s Marc Cooper: “Her potential to enact more than symbolic change, however, is something that must be viewed with a certain dose of skepticism”. Echoed by Beautiful Horizons, who underlines particularly th…

  4. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    Marc, why not be a Real Reporter — with numbers?

    “Compared with neighboring Latin American economies, Chile has, indeed, shown steady growth and stability. But at a high social cost that is often overlooked by its free-market boosters. Chile remains one of the most unequal economies in the world, producing fabulous wealth for a few, and just-above-subsistence for many. There’s a sizeable Chilean middle class, but it leaves in a state of perpetual economic fear and constraint.”

    So why are you afraid to compare: GDP growth, inequality in the economy (gini coeffecient), % of the population “middle class” between Chile, Argentina, and Brazil? And Cuba and Venezuala?

    I’d guess, I don’t know, that the answers would show Chile doing better, or much much better, than its neighbors.

    As long as the Left refuses to look at honest comparisons, it’s going to remain supportive of the “kind” failure socialism, rather than “savage” but more successful capitalism.

    I say that every successful increase in the middle class is more kind, and every socialistic failure is more savage.

  5. goethe girl Says:

    A single mother of three by two different fathers? And you think this will be a cultural advance? We’ve been through this in the U.S., and the results haven’t helped the black population. Grow up, Marc.

  6. JohnDoe Says:

    “results haven’t helped the black population”

    Nice new friends you have, Marc.

  7. Mark A. York Says:

    “I say that every successful increase in the middle class is more kind, and every socialistic failure is more savage.”

    Then how do you explain our dwindling middle class? There’s a commie at the helm?

  8. reg Says:

    “I’d guess, I don’t know”

    Interesting qualification of the key assertion in a comment criticizing Marc for not offering enough data to substantiate his statements.

  9. reg Says:

    “JohnDoe Says: I’m going to tar Marc by association with the remarks – even by his critics -in his comment section because I’m too lame to actually say anything substantive myself”

    OnTopic – I was impressed by the profile of Chile’s new Prez in the Times. Seems like there are some possiblities with her election of some substantive reforms. Incremental, of course, but for those of us who think that Marc’s caveat that the Chilean Socialists are more like U.S. Democrats than Cuban Communists is in fact a good thing – i.e. that the pragmatic left isn’t ceding the center to the right or trying to sell ideology over practical governance – the potential for incremental reform is a lot more cause for optimism than a recycling of the demagogic, dishonest rhetoric and strategies of social polarization that are offered up by the opportunistic right and the zealous left.

  10. reg Says:

    Incidentally, from what I’ve been reading – and I’m not much up on Chilean politics or economics – the question of the disastrous privatized pension system is really boiling over. Hard to believe that a year ago the Know-Nothing faction was touting Chile’s failing system – which has enriched investment bankers and left retirees out in the cold – as some sort of solution to projected long-term shortfalls in social security funding (which are, incidentally, even at their least dire, predicated on lower levels of economic growth than are likely to actually happen based on past performance.)

  11. roger Says:

    Marc, All those proposals seem about right. I’d add just one more. Chile needs to heal the wounds in its relationship with other nations in the region. It is, for instance, rather ridiculous that half of Peru’s national archive is still located in Chile, because the Chilean army took it some what, a hundred twenty five years ago? Regional cooperation would benefit all, and allow Chilean wealth to play a constructive role in Bolivia and Peru, for example.

  12. Marc Cooper Says:

    Roger… yes.

    Reg.. let me clarify. I dont think that Cuban Communists are a better example than American Deocrats. But Chile could use something better than either one.. that’s what I meant.

    The pragmatism of the Chilean Left, its ability to hold the center, etc are all admirable. Less thrilling is their willingness to manager instead of reform a rather brutal and markedly unequal economic model.

    To Tom Grey.. u’ve got to be kidding. YOU are going to challenge me as a reporter? And you are going to suggest that I shy away from had truths on this bog? Youve got to be kidding.

    I didnt post the numbers on the Chilean economy because this is a blog post and not a term paper. I think I stated unequivocally that Chile’s economic growth and stability record are admirable. What part of that didnt u get?

    I also said that it is one of the most unequal economies in the world. Those figures are readily available. I will also remind you that Ive been married into a Chilean family for 32 years and have relatives who live in shantytowns and shacks. And not they’re not lazy layabouts.. they are what is knows as POOR PEOPLE.

    Tom.. the one joke you don’t get is just how much you resemble a Bolshevik. That’s right. Like a Marxist-Leninist militant, you are a dogmatic true-believer upon whom reality has absolutey NO effect whatsoever. You can’t see it from where you sit– but everyone else can. I dont mean that in a hurtful way. You are generally a polite and friendly contributor to our online dialogues and hope you continue to be. But, comrade, you are blind.

  13. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    The “key assertion” is that Marc, as a reporter, has failed to provide facts.

    It’s true that I don’t do the work to provide those facts — but it seems too many Lefties are not even aware that Marc is failing to provide the facts.

    My “guess” is my current belief that Chile, after capitalism, is far better off than its neighbors. This indicates, correctly, that my current belief could be changed by facts. (eg that Argentina’s X sized middle class is bigger than Chile’s Y sized, with similar measures.)

    Reg doesn’t try to compare Chile’s pension system to its neighbors, either. My guess is that Chile’s is much better, for most folks — but not everybody. So those few in Chile as bad off in pensions as the many in Argentina are upset that so many in Chile are NOT so bad off.

    I’d be more sympathetic to any critiques of Chile which compare it to any real neighbors.

    It might be that a “very uptight and tightly-wound Chilean society” is exactly why Chile does better economically — and as its culture is “liberated”, its economy falters, and the few poor are able to drag down a lot more of the Chilean economy — I wonder what how the Cuban middle class fared in the 45 years of Castro.

    But I’m no expert, it’s not worth my time to look up — Marc Cooper IS “an expert”. So he, presumably, knows or can easily find out.

    Why doesn’t he report the facts?

  14. Mark A. York Says:

    “Tom.. the one joke you don’t get is just how much you resemble a Bolshevik.”

    Author author!

    Chile seems to be suffering from a right-wing ditatorship past. The economy improves as the culture is liberated not the other way around. Cuba sure isn’t liberated in any way so that’s a red herring.

  15. Mark A. York Says:

    “The annual GNP per capita was $1,510 in 1988. It has only risen by $100 since 1978. Economic growth over recent years has been, on the average, 4 to 5 percent annually. Inflation has been one of the lowest in Latin America.”

  16. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    (My reply was before Marc’s slapdown)

    Marc, it WAS clear to me you admitted Chile had admirable growth figures. But it wasn’t clear to me that you are being realistic about the alternatives, and especially about the comparisons. In fact, it seems to me your hatred of Pinochet, the torturing criminal, blinds YOU to the reality that his authoritarianism on the market-oriented side has the positive economic effect you refuse to give him credit for.

    Insofar as POOR PEOPLE are a concern, it’s obvious what they need. More jobs. So why don’t folk on the Left … offer them more jobs? Because to offer a job is to be an entrepreneur, and Leftists don’t want to get their hands dirty.

    Bono, or somebody, should be setting up a company to produce food, or clothes, or housing — by poor Chileans for Chileans.

    Dogmatic true believers fail to state what their beliefs are, and how to change their minds. It’s easy for me — show me the socialist based economy that is doing better than Singapore or Hong Kong (pre 99) and I concede socialism is pretty good.

  17. Eleanore kjellberg Says:

    “Chile remains one of the most unequal economies in the world, producing fabulous wealth for a few, and just-above-subsistence for many. There’s a sizeable Chilean middle class, but it leaves in a state of perpetual economic fear and constraint.”

    I do not have Marc’s extensive knowledge of Chile, so my comments can only be based on a few cultural anthropology courses taken years ago, and some recent news reports.

    It is impressive that a middle-age female pediatrician was elected, however, gender alone is not important; but what is necessary is a practical political ideology for solving Chile’s economic problems. She is considered part of the “centre-left alliance,” but that same party has been running Chile since 1990.

    She has stated that: “Chile needs to unite behind the goals of reducing poverty and creating more equal opportunities so that everyone can benefit from what the country has to offer.” Without being a psychic it is difficult to know if her dreams will be realized—only time will tell, however for the sake of the Chilean poor, I hope she succeeds—let’s hope for the best.

    According to the news she was imprisoned and tortured during the 17 years that Pinochet maintained his dictatorship, so she would be inclined to expedite his grand finale—and would also be well aware of her responsibility to construct a government that will aid in correcting the years of devastation caused by her “incarcerator.”

    Bachelet, has promised to make half her cabinet women—but again this is a non-issue—what is important is her social reforms; and if they will provide economic justice to the poor.

  18. Randy Paul Says:

    So why don’t folk on the Left … offer them more jobs? Because to offer a job is to be an entrepreneur, and Leftists don’t want to get their hands dirty.

    I can’t and won’t say that I speak for Marc, Tom, but if you want an object lesson as to why I think he made the Bolshevik comment, read that sweeping, unsupported generalization you just made.

    Here’s an even better idea: if Mr. Pinera wants to help unemployment in Chile, let him take some of those billions and set up a microcredit loan system to help people trying to start up their own businesses.

    See Tom, that’s the difference between simpl.y reacting and thinking something through.

  19. Eva Reyes Says:

    La esperanza del pobre… prometida

  20. Mark A. York Says:

    “According to the news she was imprisoned and tortured during the 17 years that Pinochet maintained his dictatorship”

    No doubt this is why the country improved according to the World in Grey. Jail the liberals, and everything else will work itself out in the wash, if not no one will notice. Who will dare to notice?

  21. Fruits and Votes Says:

    Bachelet–a move to the left?

    In my series of posts about the Chilean election, I emphasized continuity across the four administrations since Pinochet, rather than the leftward movement that seems to be such a feature of journalistic coverage of Latin America recently.
    Posthegemo…

  22. Eva Reyes Says:

    Revolutionary pretense is the name of the game. Fundamentally nothing much has changed. Continuity as F&V says.

  23. reg Says:

    “Reg.. let me clarify. I dont think that Cuban Communists are a better example than American Deocrats. But Chile could use something better than either one.. that’s what I meant.”

    I’m sorry if you thought I was implying that, because it wasn’t my intention at all…I know better (that you know better). I was just extrapolating a bit. As for “a better example than American Democrats”…we could all use one. What I’d be curious about is where the Chilean party stands in respect to the spectrum of European social democratic parties. The really tough question, which I don’t pretend to have even a shred of an answer to, which is why I fall back on the nostrums of “pragmatism”, is how a social democratic party can both govern effectively and maintain a vision that goes beyond immediate exigencies to inspire – or at least connect with -some of the social movements and cultural currents that are essential to any significant reform, much less structural change. Nobody seems to have solved that one, or even begun a coherent debate that I’m aware of.

  24. andy Says:

    Resourceful post at Global Voices Online:

    Chilean Elections in the Blogosphere

  25. archive : s0metim3s :: Bachelet :: January :: 2006 Says:

    [...] My abiding memory of Bachelet’s election will be this: Hugo Chavez on tv saying, “I can smell the perfume of a woman”, humming a little tune the source of which I’m unaware of, blowing a kiss to the screen, and giggling. Now, it’s nice that he feels he can flirt, but ‘yuuuuk’ was my visceral and overwhelming response. More intelligent deliberations over at posthegemony and here. [...]

  26. Everything Between Says:

    [...] On the heels of the election of  as President of Chile, Ellen Johnson-Sirleif was inaugurated President of Liberia, becoming Africa’s first elected female leader. Would it ever happen in America? Munir at Diplomatic Times Review would like to know, adding that Pakistan and Bangladesh are the only Muslim countries to have elected female leaders. Secretary Rice and First Lady Bush attended the ceremony. [...]

  27. Michael Turner Says:

    Canada might elect a conservative PM. There is a conservative in the Oval Office, and Vicente Fox is certainly to the right of PRI. That’s pretty much all of North America.

    Now look at South America — left-leaning heads of state in six countries, as of Morales and Bachelet. Including Brazil, its largest nation.

    Is this just a statistical fluke?

  28. Justin Delacour Says:

    “[…] My abiding memory of Bachelet’s election will be this: Hugo Chavez on tv saying, “I can smell the perfume of a woman”, humming a little tune the source of which I’m unaware of, blowing a kiss to the screen, and giggling. Now, it’s nice that he feels he can flirt, but ‘yuuuuk’ was my visceral and overwhelming response. […]”

    Whoever you are, you should lighten up a bit. Hugo Chávez is quite the entertainer. Latin Americans –even those who despise him– know this about him. Unfortunately, his funniest statements are rarely translated into English because the U.S. press would prefer to portray him as no more than a bombastic brute. It’s a shame because, no matter what you think of Chavez, you can’t come to fully understand the phenomenon of Chavismo if you don’t understand what a showman he is.

    Here’s a telling excerpt from a report about the 2004 Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico:

    According to the Buenos Aires daily Pagina 12, reporters were awaiting the conclusion of a key meeting between the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and President Nestor Kirchner of debt-crushed Argentina, when Chávez passed by.

    “Have you seen the photos that they’ve been sending from Mars?” he asked the crowd, referring to images of a flat, scorched-looking landscape the U.S. space vehicle has been transmitting.

    “It looks like the IMF has been there too,” Chávez quipped.

    Now, I must admit to having been entertained by Chávez’s next quip as well, despite the fact that it could easily be construed as sexist.

    Just days after U.S. Secretary of State-nominee
    Condoleezza Rice said at her Senate confirmation hearings that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was “a negative
    force in the region,” Chávez responded that Rice needed the type of companionship he could not satisfy. “I will not make that sacrifice for my country,” he said.

    I don’t know about you, but given her pivotal role in King George’s imperial cabinet, it’s hard for me to have much sympathy for the target of Chávez’s barb.

    Like him or not, Chávez is a funny guy.

  29. Randy Paul Says:

    So sexist comments are alright as long as the subject is a right winger . . .

  30. reg Says:

    The funniest thing about some of those comments of Chavez is how much they, in fact, make Crazy Hugo himself seem like the epitome of a macho stereotype of the blustering caudillo. Sexist cliches can play both ways, but I don’t think the big guy gets that.

    That said, I’ll admit I’ve made cracks like that about right-wing women I can’t stand – but only in front of my wife who agrees with me about Condi and a couple of others. She reserves her own caustic, sexist remarks for whiny or fussy male right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson and George Will. But never for consumption of the children or, god forbid, the press.

    (That was a moment of unnecessary honesty I’m sure – unlike Hugo Chavez – I’ll probably regret.)

  31. reg Says:

    Uh…this doesn’t count as “the press”, does it ??? No…of course not. Just a few folks with drinks in their hands, shooting the shit.

    Well, not really with drinks in their hands…it’s still morning where I come from. All I’ve had today was high-protein cereal, yogurt and tea. I’m a very good boy. Really.

    The only reason I’m posting crap like this is because I know Marc’s on a plane and has absolutely no control over his comments section. Otherwise I’d show more restraint.

    Now…to work.

  32. Justin Delacour Says:

    “So sexist comments are alright as long as the subject is a right winger . . . ”

    Well, no, but I still laughed, and so did millions of other Venezuelans.

    Besides, Condosleeza isn’t just a right winger. She’s George Bush’s right-hand woman. She’s a neo-con with a whole hell of a lot of power, who has condemned a lot of innocent brown Iraqis to their deaths. It’s hard to have any sympathy for such a woman.

  33. Randy Paul Says:

    Then criticize her policies, not her physical appearance nor her gender. That’s the sort of thing one expects from Rush Limbaugh.

  34. Justin Delacour Says:

    Oh, I see, now Hugo Chávez = Rush Limbaugh. Sure.

  35. gebloggte Welten » Nachtrag zur Wahl von Michelle Bachelet Says:

    [...] Bachelet: Si Y No. Auf der website von Marc Cooper [...]

  36. Randy Paul Says:

    Only to the simple-minded. Get a grip, Justin and perhaps read my entire comment.

    No Chávez doesn’t equal Limbaugh, but witless, sexist comments are not the exclusive provenance of the right (just listen to Jackson Browne). No matter how much Chávez gives you the warm tinglies, his comments about Rice were pure ad hominem and have no place in a serious discussion of policy.

    Mores the pity that you don’t see that.

  37. reg Says:

    “That’s the sort of thing one expects from Rush Limbaugh”

    Randy, I was going to make a joke about “Big Fat Idiots”, but thought better of it…

    Justin – “That’s the sort of thing one expects from…” doesn’t = an “=” sign. It’s a figure of speech, sort of like when Dick Durbin said “Torture’s the sort of thing one expects from dictatorships, not Americans” (or whatever the exact quote was) and got jumped on for supposedly equating Bush with Hitler. He didn’t. His point actually made it fairly clear that they shouldn’t be equated, because he held one to a much higher standard. I don’t know where Randy rates Chavez on the official Rush Limbaugh “Plus-Size Idiot” scale, but I think his point was that we just might expect better than such comments from heads of state than we do from Drug-Addled Hate Radio Vermin. Chavez should leave the low-blow, sarcastic invective to Rush…and, uh, me.

  38. Randy Paul Says:

    [Since my original response is "awaiting moderation," allow me to simplify for you Justin.]

    Ad hominems, like strawmen are politically neutral: they are not the exclusive provenance of either the left or the right.

    Chávez’s comment is ad hominem and has no place in a serious discussion of policy. Your attempt to paint my comment as my equating Chávez with Limbaugh is a strawman argument and serves merely to attempt to deflect the discussion from the relevant issue.

    Ese perro no cazará.

  39. Randy Paul Says:

    Justin,

    Is this what passes for intelligent debate for you?

    First you comment approvingly of a sexist ad hominem simply because you dislike the person at whom it is directed and you admire the person who made it.

    Then when I call you on it you invent a strawman argument that I’m saying that Chávez equals Rush Limbaugh.

    grow up.

  40. Justin Delacour Says:

    Take it easy, there, Randy. I didn’t quote Chavez approvingly. I just said I laughed at what he said. Just being honest.

    No need to post three times in response.

  41. Randy Paul Says:

    My comments were being moderated and I assumed they didn’t make it, so I reposted.

    What I objected to was the Chávez = Limbaugh comment. Reg stated rather eloquently why that’s so ridiculous.

    Warm regards,

    Randy

  42. Everything Between Says:

    [...] On the heels of the election of as President of Chile, Ellen Johnson-Sirleif was inaugurated President of Liberia, becoming Africa’s first elected female leader. Would it ever happen in America? Munir at Diplomatic Times Review would like to know, adding that Pakistan and Bangladesh are the only Muslim countries to have elected female leaders. Secretary Rice and First Lady Bush attended the ceremony.### [...]

  43. randy johnson Says:

    Marc, dejalos en paz, po. No han servido la cazuela todavia, y tu andas con huevadas de que le falte sal. A foolish consistency the hobgoblin…no es cierto?

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  45. carrietotherebecca Says:

    In response to Tom Grey’s challenge and request for hard facts, for whatever they’re worth, here are some. It is well-known among anyone that has spent time in Chile or studying it that it has one of the highest levels of inequality, by the #s, in both Latin America and the world. Among the “more developed” Latin American countries, Chile has the highest Gini coefficient (significantly higher than Argentina’s).

    Here are some Gini indices (something economists use to meausre inequality, the higher the number, the greater the inequality – for example, sweeden’s is 25 and the U.S.’s is 40.8):
    Brazil 59.3
    Colombia 57.6
    Chile 57.1
    Argentina 52.2
    Peru 49.8
    Venezuela 49.1
    Bolivia 44.7
    Ecuador 43.7

    (From the UN Development Program, http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/)

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