Likely Victor in Chile’s Presidential Election

Chile’s Socialist party’s presidential candidate, Dr Michelle Bachelet, stands poised to be the next president of Chile. She has a significant lead in the polls, and if there is a run-off election she is expected to still be the victor. Her closest opponent, Joaquin Lavin, a conservative, trails well behind her.

Dr Bachelet endured numerous personal tragedies in the years of Pinochet’s coup. Her father, Alberto Bachelet, an airforce general loyal to president Salvador Allende, was tortured to death in 1974 by DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. In 1975, both, then 23-year-old medical student, Michelle Bachelet, and her mother, Angela Jeria, were kidnapped from their home by a gang of DINA men. Both were tortured and deprived of food and water. Because of intervention by some top military officials, the two women escaped execution and were instead exiled to Australia under the junta. Many women and girls were raped, tortured, and executed. Most of the perpetrators remain unpunished.

Bachelet and her mother spent almost 5 years in Australia, then she returned to Chile to do clandestine human rights work. She also became a medical doctor. Democracy was restored in Chile in 1988. As a politically active outspoken critic of the U.S. supported fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Bachelet became President Ricardo Lagos’s choice to head the national ministry of health. She served in this capacity from March of 2000 then in a stunning move, President Lagos appointed her defense minister in 2002.

As a former victim of military crimes, this move signaled a complete overhaul of Chile’s military establishment. While she endorsed efforts to prosecute officers for their crimes against the civilian population, she obtained and continues to have the respect of the majority of the military and their families. There were over 3,000 murdered by the junta during the Pinochet years, a national wound that has not yet healed. "There was a group of Pinochet supporters who thought when the wives of the disappeared died off, the problem will die with it," Bachelet said, "But their children and grandchildren have taken up the flag."

Despite the harsh realities of the past, the current president Ricardo Lagos as well as his likely successor, Dr. Bachelet, have their vision set firmly on the future, dealing with the current complexities of the economy, social issues, and the environment.