The Socialist president is the first woman elected for the post inthe history of South America
Socialist paediatrician Michelle Bachelet was sworn in as Chile’s first female president last weekend in a moving ceremony of great significance for the politics of Latin America. In her first statements as the new leader of the most stable economy of the region, Bachelet appealed for national unity to heal the divisions left by the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet that had imprisoned and tortured thousands of Chileans, including her parents.
Leaders from all the region joined Bachelet in the celebrations, including the Bolivian newly inaugurated president Evo Morales, whose country has a long territorial dispute with Chile over the Pacific coastline. Also United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met Bachelet for 30 minutes ahead of the ceremony, attended to the ceremony as described her election as a triumph of democracy .
Despite the Socialist background of Bachelet and her popular predeccessor Ricardo Lagos, Chile has put in force a free trade agreeement with the United States and has developed close ties with the US administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Rice told Chile's state television that she expects US-Chile relations will remain as close under Bachelet as they were under Lagos.
Populist Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chávez, a close friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro and a persistent critic of the US, saluted Bachelet's inauguration as further sign of a leftist swing in Latin America, following the victories of Tabare Vazquez in uruguay, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil. "South America has changed," he said. "A worker is president of Brazil -- there comes Lula; an Indian is president of Bolivia; a woman is president of Chile, and in Venezuela, a revolutionary soldier, which is what I am."
In her first decision as President of Chile, Bachelet fulfilled her promise and sworn in a cabinet of 10 men and 10 women. In Santiago, in a speech from the presidential palace balcony, she called for national unity in the wake of Chile's 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
"There was a time in our history when we were divided, looking at each other with suspicion, with mistrust and rejection. Now, the time has come to look at each other again to the face, to the eyes," she told thousands of cheering supporters. "The past is the past, but we do not want to repeat the mistakes of that past," she said. "Living in democracy, we are able to work to erase the troubles of a divided society."
In the speech, Bachelet paid homage to her father, General Alberto Bachelet, an air-force general who was tortured and died in prison for opposing the 1973 military coup, on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of his death. She also paid tribute to "our armed forces, which are again the armed forces of all Chileans".
Bachelet appeared relaxed during the ceremony as she repeatedly waved in response to greetings from people in the stands. She smiled broadly when someone shouted: "We love you, Michelle!" Lagos removed the presidential sash he was wearing and handed it to Frei, a former president himself, who placed it on Bachelet.
Bachelet, who won the elections in a close runoff with right-wing tycoon Ricardo Pinera on January, is seen as the left wing of the Chilean Socialist party, mostly by her defense of the civil rights. Herself an atheist, the 54 year-old divorced woman has sparked the opposition of the traditionally conservative upper classes.
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