Thursday, March 28, 2013

Can a Bachelet Reelection Meet Expectations in Chile?

After two years at the head of U.N. Women in New York, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile yesterday and formally announced her candidacy in the country’s presidential elections this year. At a speech in Santiago, Bachelet told hundreds of supporters that she had “taken the decision to be a candidate,” ending months of speculation over whether she would run in the November 17 election.

In her speech the former president said the main goal of her administration would be addressing income inequality in Chile, which in 2011 had the most uneven distribution of wealth of any Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country. Noting the general discontent with the current government, she said she believed “the enormous inequality in Chile is the main reason for the anger,” and vowed to end it. Chile’s Radio Cooperativa has a helpful rundown of the speech’s other major points.

Bachelet is immensely popular in the country. She is expected to easily win a June 30 primary election against three lesser-known candidates, and polls show her with a strong lead over her closest rival, former Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne. According to a January poll by the Chilean Center for Public Studies, 49 percent of respondents said they intend to vote for her in November, compared to just 11 percent for Golborne.

But with expectations for her presidency so high, Bachelet will be under considerable pressure to meet popular demands, such as reforming the education system and increasing mining royalties. She is well-liked for the moment, but in office she will likely struggle with widespread disillusionment with the political class.

Some 60 percent of Chileans abstained from voting in local elections in October, a sign that many in the country are fed up with traditional politicians on both the left and right. If she fails to live up to hopes, Bachelet could see the same mass demonstrations that have rocked the administration of President Sebastian PiƱera.

News Briefs
  • Armed members of a self-defense movement seized a small town in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero and detained local police officers on Tuesday. According to Milenio, some two thousand members of the Union of Organized Towns of Guerrero State (UPOEG) raided the police office of the town of Tierra Colorado after the death of one of its leaders, detaining the head of municipal police and eight other officers. Five were killed in the clash, including three police officers. The Associated Press claims that some opened fire on tourist vehicles during the incident, while EFE reports that the group withdrew from the town after reaching an agreement with Guerrero’s attorney general.
  • The White House announced yesterday that President Barack Obama will travel to Mexico and Costa Rica in early May in order to promote stronger economic ties with both countries. According to La Nacion, in Costa Rica he is slated to meet with several other Central American leaders at a Central American Integration System (SICA) summit.
  • With citizen insecurity playing an important role in the campaigning ahead of presidential elections in Venezuela next month, El Nacional reports that interim president Nicolas Maduro has vowed to fight crime if elected, saying “I want to be the president of peace.”
  • Despite being subpoenaed in November 2010 to testify in this case of U.S.-based mining company Drummond, accused of ordering the murder of two union leaders in 2001, an appellate court in the District of Columbia has ruled that former President Alvaro Uribe is not required to provide testimony.
  • Colombia’s Caracol Radio reports that Hermes Vidal Osorio, a leading land restitution activist, was assassinated yesterday. As Colombia Reports points out, the incident shines a light on the dangers faced by victims’ rights activists in the country.
  • The Guardian has an interesting piece on rising opposition to Chinese investment in Latin America, where analysts say increasing Chinese demand for the region’s natural resources is taking a harsh toll on the environment and the health of local communities. This was recently illustrated by Ecuador’s announcement that it plans to auction off over three million hectares of Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, despite protests from local indigenous groups.
  • The Washington Post’s Juan Forero looks at how technology like smart phones and GPS trackers are helping the indigenous Paiter Surui in western Brazil become the first tribe to sell carbon credits internationally. If successful, experts say this could become a development model for indigenous peoples looking to preserve their land.
  • The New York Times reports on falling oil production in Brazil, as national oil company Petrobras struggles to rein in debt, delayed projects, and slowly depleting oil reserves. Petrobras’ slow progress, the article begins, “embodies the sluggishness of the nation’s economy itself.”
  • The NYT also features an op-ed by political science professor Anita Isaacs of Haverford College on the limitations of the ongoing trial against Guatemalan ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt. She claims that the process is “ill-suited to dignifying Guatemala’s victims,” as witnesses find themselves subjected to humiliating and traumatizing cross-examination by the defense team.
  • The independent El Salvador Human Rights Commission (CDHES) has announced that it will release a 197-page report next month detailing the torture practices of the military and police during the country’s brutal civil war. The report contains the accounts of 270 torture victims interviewed in 1986, according to Inter Press Service.
Note: yesterday’s Post initially held that Peruvian Cabinet Chief Juan Jimenez said military draftees could be sent to the violent Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known in Spanish as the VRAEM). In reality it was Deputy Defense Minister Mario Cesar Sanchez de Bernardi who said that some draftees would inevitably be deployed to violent areas after six months of training. Jimenez said this would not be the case.

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