Bachelet, Michelle (1951–)

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Bachelet, Michelle (1951–)

Michelle Bachelet, who became the first female president of Chile on 15 January 2006, was born in the Chilean capital of Santiago on 29 September 1951. Her father, Alberto Bachelet (1922–1974), had been an important figure in the government of Salvador Allende, and he was arrested after the 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power, and he died in prison in 1974. In January 1975 both Michelle and her mother, Ángela Jeria, were arrested and tortured for their allegiances to the Socialist Party. After they were released they went into exile in Australia and Germany, but maintained allegiance to the Socialist Party.

In 1979 Bachelet returned home to Chile, and in 1982 she completed her medical training at the University of Chile. Although the political allegiances of her family made it difficult for her to secure employment, she eventually found work at a medical clinic that specialized in treating those who had been tortured under Pinochet. She later worked for a nongovernmental organization assisting children whose parents were victims of the military regime.

Bachelet moved into politics in 1995, when she was named to the Socialist Party Central Committee. In 2000 the Chileans elected another Socialist president, Ricardo Lagos Escobar. Escobar appointed Bachelet as Chile's minister of health. In 2002 she became the first female Latin American defense minister.

In 2005 the Socialist Party of Chile selected her as its presidential candidate. Her presidential campaign platform was based on continuing Chile's free-market economic policies and maintaining the country's close ties with the United States, while increasing social benefits, especially for women, the retired, and the poor. Despite the popularity of her platform, her personal life (as a divorced mother of three and an admitted agnostic) was difficult for her to overcome in a country as Catholic as Chile. In the first round of voting she won the most support but did not receive a majority of the vote. Her victory was finally secured with a January 2006 runoff vote, where she gathered 53.3 percent of popular support.

During her presidency she worked to implement the goals of her platform. She made free public healthcare more readily available for the elderly poor, and she increased retirement pensions for Chile's most disadvantaged groups by 10 percent. When Augusto Pinochet died on 10 December 2006, she did not organize a government funeral for the ex-dictator. This decision was in keeping with general public sentiment; on the day that he died, thousands of demonstrators celebrated in the streets of Santiago.

See alsoChile, Political Parties: Socialist Party .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Guzmán Bravo, Rosario, and Gonzalo Rojas Donoso. La hija del tigre. Santiago de Chile: RiL Editores, 2005.

Subercaseaux, Elizabeth, and Malú Sierra. Michelle: Desde la cárcel a la presidencia de Chile. Barcelona: RBA Libros, 2006.

Worth, Richard. Michelle Bachelet. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.

                                            Emily Berquist

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