Saturday, March 25, 2006

Biography: Michelle Bachelet Jeria de Chile

President-elect Michelle Bachelet Jeria was born on September 29, 1951.

She is a trained pediatrician and public health specialist who also holds degrees in military science. A member of the Socialist Party and separated mother of three, Dr. Bachelet was the first woman in Chilean and Latin American history to hold the Health and Defense portfolios. On January 15, 2006 she became Chile's first-ever woman president.

Michelle Bachelet graduated from Santiago's Javiera Carrera Secondary School in 1969. A year later she enrolled at the University of Chile medical school and joined the Socialist Party.

Her father, Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, was arrested in the aftermath of the coup d'etat of September 1973 and died in prison in March 1974. In January 1975 both she and her mother, Ángela Jeria, were arrested and tortured. After their release they went into exile in Australia, then in Germany.

In 1979 Michelle Bachelet returned home. In 1982 she completed her medical training at the University of Chile. From 1983 through 1986 she completed a residency in Pediatric Medicine and Public Health. From 1986 through 1990 she headed the Medical Department of PIDEE, an NGO assisting the children of victims of the military regime.

In 1990 Michelle Bachelet joined the West Santiago Health Service and the National AIDS Commission, and was consultant on public health issues to several international organizations.

In March 1994 she became Senior Assistant to the Deputy Health Minister and a year later was named to the Socialist Party Central Committee. In 1996 she enrolled at Chile's National Academy for Strategic and Policy Studies. In 1997 she completed the Continental Defense Course at the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Defense College. From 1998 through 2000 she was Senior Assistant to the Defense Minister and became a member of the Socialist Party Executive Committee.

On March 11, 2000 President Ricardo Lagos appointed her as Health Minister. On January 7, 2002 she became the first woman in Chilean and Latin American history to hold the Defense portfolio.

On October 1, 2004 Dr. Bachelet stepped down as Defense Minister to stand as presidential candidate. Following a 438-day presidential campaign, on 12 December 2005 Michelle Bachelet and her three contenders square off at the polis. She receives a massive but not yet decisive 45.95 percent of the popular vote.

On 15 January 2006 a final runoff vote is held. Michelle Bachelet garners 53.5 percent of the vote and defeats her right-wing contender. After 476 days on the stump, she is set to become the first woman in Chilean history to hold the highest office in the land.



President Bachelet calls on chileans to work for the well-being of the country:
Saturday, 11 March 2006

Image: The President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, greeted well-wishers from one of the balconies of La Moneda, the Presidential Palace, and gave her first official speech.

Here is the full text of President Bachelet’s address to the nation:

"Thank you, women and men of Chile.

Thank you for your applause, thank you for the smiles that you confer upon me so much, and thank you for the hugs. I feel truly privileged to receive so much affection from you.

I want to address my words to all Chilean women and men, without exclusions.

There have been times in our history when we were divided amongst ourselves. We looked at each other with distrust, suspicion and disdain.

Over the past 16 years of democracy, we have worked hard together to smooth over the sharp edges of a divided society, a society that separated ‘us’ from ‘them.’ Now is the time that we all feel part of a larger ‘us.’

Today, there is something different in the air. We have been able to build a new society, where the noble desire for a better future for all Chileans unites us. Everyone has a place in that future, with an inclusive homeland, where no diversity is left out and no one feels like their destiny is left dangling in the breeze.

We have prepared ourselves for this great challenge. The 21st century will bring new tasks for us, some of which are unknown to us at this moment. Aside from the technological revolution unfolding before our eyes, I think that there is another revolution afoot in the way we relate to each other, the way we interact within our communities, and our manner of combating individualism, indifference and hopelessness. The time has come for us to look one another in the eye, without resentments or suspicion.

The past is what it is: the past. We will never forget it. As President Lagos said, ‘there is no tomorrow without yesterday,’ and we do not want to repeat the errors of the past. We want a more prosperous, just, egalitarian and participative future.

We know that we are not going to solve all our problems in four years—that was never part of the discourse of my campaign. But we are going to take a great step forward.

This will be a government of citizens, from the most neglected to the most entrepreneurial, an infinite range of colors, perceptions and faces that imbue our society with so much richness. These citizens, you, have in me a President that will also speak the language of the truth.

Difficulties will arise, without a doubt; every government experiences them. ‘Campaigns,’ a great thinker once said, ‘happen in poetry, but governments happen in prose.’

However, the relationship between you and us, and I, will not be affected by any such difficulties, because I want to establish a dialogue based on frankness and participation. It will be a great pact between the citizens and those who govern.

You know that I follow through with my commitments. I will say what I think, and I will do what I say. I give you my word!

In our quest to move towards a Chile that is better every day for every one of our citizens, I want to gather the efforts of citizens and the Congress, which is the expression of the legitimacy of our laws. With all of them, we will work towards a shared ideal: the good of Chileans, and justice throughout our country. And to do this, I am asking for the support of all women and men in Congress.

We will focus our efforts on our children, like the children who greeted me when I entered La Moneda through Citizens’ Plaza. That way, all our children will be able to learn and develop equally from the time they are born, and we can eliminate all traces of inequality in our country.

We will focus our efforts on our beloved elders, our senior citizens, to compensate them for what they contributed to our country.

We will focus our efforts on everyone who is looking for work. But, as I said during the campaign, I don’t mean just any kind of job; I am talking about decent and respectable jobs. The workers of our country deserve it.

We will support our talented young people, who want to go to college or technical institutes, who want to be entrepreneurs and forge their own destinies. They are our future—our present and our future—and we are going to strongly support them.

We will focus our efforts on women, because women deserve it.

We will stand with the indigenous peoples of our country.

We will focus our efforts on those who are disabled.

The government should be at the service of those who endure the bitterness of feeling defenseless, as well as those who want to move ahead.

No citizens will be forgotten in Chile. That is my commitment. We will be actively present in all regions of the country. There will be no town or village overlooked.

That was why my first public event, on the way from Valparaíso to Santiago, was to go to Casablanca, because I want all of us to feel part of Chile, and I want all regions to feel relevant and have an important role to play.

And if it doesn’t happen that way, men and women of Chile, you can feel free to remind me.

You know that I never asked for power. I am willing to serve. You have granted me the position that I am taking today, and I feel the weight of the responsibility involved.

All Chileans, all Chileans, will be on my mind and in my heart at all times, like everyone who stood along the roads as I came into Santiago. Thank you to all of you for the tremendous love and support. I insist that I am clear on the responsibilities involved in carrying the hopes, needs and affection of so many people on my shoulders. I am going to work very hard to respond to these hopes and expectations.

I know the realities of my country very well; I have traveled up and down Chile many times. You have opened your hearts, as well as the doors of your homes, to me. I know about precariousness and inequality. I also know about invaluable successes, like our Nobel Prizes, the artists and creators that have forged our culture, the achievements of our athletes, the work and qualifications of our professionals and our workers, the force of our land.

I think about so many that have been able to stand up and work hard in the face of adversity.

All of them, up and down our long country, will form the backbone of my administration.

My friends:

This is a very solemn moment for the country. I ask you to turn your heads and look at the statues of the illustrious citizens adorning this plaza. This is the Republic, my friends. There in the front is Diego Portales, the symbol of a small, growing Republic, modest at the time, but thriving, orderly and able to resolve disputes with the law rather than by taking up arms.

Jorge Alessandri, Salvador Allende and Eduardo Frei Montalva also stand in this plaza. I pay tribute to them, as they symbolize our modern homeland, the country of the 20th century, vocations for democracy and eras of development and social progress.

I personify a whole history, which had dark and bitter moments, but I knew how to recover. Today, we Chileans live better and more free than before. We have had three successful administrations. I feel proud to continue along a path that has borne so many fruits.

I salute and send my affection for President Patricio Aylwin and President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.

The Chile we are building today stands upon the foundations that they built in the past.

At this time, I not only want to express admiration and fondness, but also my special gratitude for a great President of the Republic of Chile, Ricardo Lagos Escobar.

What great pride we all felt today when we saw him walk out of this Palace this morning to the ovations of the people. Yes, my friends, clap loudly, because Ricardo Lagos Escobar deserves it. When we applaud this great President, who did his work so well, we are applauding for the entire Republic!

Finally, there is one more tribute that I cannot leave out. One March 12th, 32 years ago, at the age of 50, my father, Alberto Bachelet Martínez, died. In the future I will be there with him, but I know that he is here with me, as I said the night I won the election.

In memory of my father, General Bachelet, I would like to salute the Chilean military, who are an important part of our history. Today they are part of the heritage of all Chileans.

My friends:

We will continue working to make our country more developed, with more justice and better opportunities.

The world is watching us. The world is closely observing what is happening in this small country in the south of the world that was able to restore freedom and rights—with effort and pain, yes—but it built a solid democracy. It brought about reconciliation and it is progressing. It has been able to pull millions out of poverty, in the name of freedom and dignity.

May the famous visitors here visiting us know that this small country wants to take a great step forward in history, towards prosperity for its children, but also towards a new way of seeing and practicing politics. It has forged more inclusive, participatory, more open and more transparent politics, for, by and with all citizens.

My fellow Chileans:

I know full well that there are many needs that remain unmet. I know that every family has aspirations and hopes. I want to channel my experience, my sensibilities and my efforts into the beautiful task of leading this country towards a better destiny. That is what I want for Chile, and I know that together, we can achieve it.

Today, Chile has a new government, led by a woman, which is the expression of a new era. Now is the time for happiness, for men as well, for young people and children, for seniors, and, of course, women.

Now is the time for everyone, in this, my dear homeland, the homeland of all Chilean women and men.

Thank you very much, my friends, because I want Chile to belong to everyone. I want Chile to be the great country that we all want it to be. We are going to work hard for that, to make our homeland a more just, humane, charitable and egalitarian place. That is the dream of everyone here right now; that is the dream that runs through our entire country, from Arica to Antarctica.

I and everyone in my administration, throughout the country, will work to make that dream a reality, without rest. Four years is a short time, so we are going to work at full throttle. Together, we will make Chile a much better place.

So, my friends, we will continue working, because we want all children, men and women to have a better present and future.

Now let us celebrate, because we are going to continue making progress with our country, so that great avenues can open up to all women and men.

Viva Chile!".

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