Bachelet sworn in as Chile’s first woman president
VALPARAISO, Chile – Michelle Bachelet, a single mother who was tortured under Chile’s military dictatorship, was sworn in as the country’s first female president on Saturday and promptly fulfilled a key campaign promise by naming women to half her Cabinet posts.The inauguration also made Bachelet the first directly elected Latin American woman president who was not the widow of a powerful politician.Bachelet said her inauguration “was not only the change from a great president to a woman president. It’s about putting an entire government to your service.”Bachelet, who suffered prison, torture and exile under Chile’s military dictatorship, took her oath at the crowded Hall of Honor of Chile’s Congress in this port city near Santiago, applauded by most of the leftist leaders who have come to power in South America in recent years.She returned to Santiago and in a speech from the presidential palace balcony made an appeal to national unity – an indirect reference to the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. 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 in the face, in the eyes,” she told thousands of cheering supporters in Santiago.In her first official act as president, Bachelet swore in her 20-member Cabinet of 10 men and 10 women. She has promised to have equal numbers of men and women in some 300 decision-making posts.She plans legislation that would require political parties to include a certain percentage of women in their lists of candidates in congressional and municipal elections.Bachelet met privately with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as leftist presidents Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.Rice told Chile’s state television that she expects relations with the United States to remain as close under Bachelet as they were under her predecessor and fellow socialist, Ricardo Lagos.Bachelet appeared relaxed during the ceremony as she repeatedly waved her right hand in response to greetings from some people in the stands. The 54-year-old president smiled broadly when someone shouted, “We love you, Michelle!”At times, the exuberance of Bachelet’s supporters burst through the solemnity. A group of mostly young people in the stands chanted, “Ole, Ole, Ole, Michelle, Michelle, Michelle!”Bachelet is seen as somewhat more to the left of Lagos, although equally supportive of the strict fiscal discipline and free-market economic policies considered successful in Chile.She is also expected to maintain Lagos’ foreign policy, including close ties with the United States. The relations even survived Chile’s opposition, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to the invasion of Iraq. Washington has agreed to sign a free trade accord with Chile, its first with a South American country.Chavez, a close friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro and a strong, frequent critic of the United States, saluted Bachelet’s inauguration.”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.”The election of Bachelet, a separated mother of three, has excited women’s rights activists in Chile and abroad.”There is no doubt that the United States has leaders of Bachelet’s caliber to put up for high-office,” said Marie C. Wilson, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit U.S. group that works for the advancement of women.Bachelet is the daughter of an air force general who was tortured and died in prison for opposing the 1973 military coup led by Pinochet. Then a 22-year-old medical student, she herself was briefly imprisoned and tortured along with her mother before being forced into exile.