Sunday, December 11, 2005

Michelle Bachelet: Chile's turn to the Left

Three decades after Salvador Allende's democratically elected Socialist- Communist alliance was overthrown by a bloody military coup, the daughter of one of the generals who did not side with the coup, leads the polls. The next round of elections in January promise to be close since Bachelet's current lead could be misleading, her 45% votes are still less than the rival right wing candidates whose votes were split.

Chile's continued turn to the Left (if finally elected Bachelet will replace an outgoing Socialist President) is marred because she is still expected to carry out free- market policies, according to the IHT.

A profile.

When her father, Gen. Alberto Bachelet, was arrested on the day of the coup she was a 22-year-old medical student. She and her mother also were rounded up, blindfolded, beaten and denied food for five days while their cellmates were raped — an ordeal she doesn't want to talk about except to say she and her mother were ''physically mistreated.''

Their connections enabled them to leave the country. After five years of exile in Australia and then communist East Germany, Bachelet returned to Chile, working underground with other leftist exiles and quietly advancing in the Socialist Party. She became a well-known figure in the center-left coalition that has ruled since democratic elections were restored in 1990.

If elected president, she's expected to maintain the free-market policies that have made Chile's economy one of the most successful in Latin America, but wants to develop a pension system that will narrow the gap between rich and poor.

''I was a woman, a divorcee, a socialist, an agnostic ... all possible sins together,'' she recently told reporters.


She is widely credited with helping to overcome mistrust between the military and the civilian government that was spawned by the coup of 1973.

''I harbor no rancor because I have a politician's understanding of why those things happened,'' she once said.
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