Latin American Women Power: Bachelet Makes It A Presidential Trio

With Sunday's election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, three of Latin America's most pivotal countries are now led by women. There is symbolic unity, but very different types of leaders.

Bachelet celebrates victory Sunday
Bachelet celebrates victory Sunday
Osvaldo Pepe


BUENOS AIRES — With Michelle Bachelet’s clear election victory, making her president of Chile for a second time, the three countries with greatest geopolitical pull in Latin America’s southern cone are now led by women.

Alongside Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Bachelet represents the third leg of the stool. Yet the gender coincidence — both welcome and in harmony with our times — does not mitigate their differences in style, personal histories or in their political views about what it means to lead a country.

The Argentine president represents in body and soul the Peronist legacy of rising social mobility. The daughter of a bus driver and a housewife, public education allowed this football fan and political activist to forge a tremendous career in terms of political achievements and accumulation of wealth.

Bachelet is the daughter of an anthropologist and an army general of Franco-Chilean stock. Rousseff’s mother was Brazilian and her father Bulgarian, a lawyer and successful businessman typical of the upper-middle class.

The political commitments made by Rousseff and Bachelet took them to the peripheries of armed struggle, and while they did not wind up taking up arms against their countries’ dictatorial regimes, they were jailed, tortured and sent into exile. Bachelet’s father, head of the Chilean Air Force and utterly loyal to Chile’s ill-fated socialist President Salvador Allende, died in prison of a massive heart attack following another round of torture.

Bachelet and Kirchner with a statue of Eva Peron in 2009 (Office of Argentine President)

Kirchner had fewer problems during Argentina’s military regime in 1976-82. She chose a spell of relative isolation in southern Argentina, where she was not persecuted. As she has said, in those days, every time she heard a siren she “hid under a bed.”

Public and private

While Rousseff and Bachelet came to office with some managerial experience, Kirchner’s parliamentary role was her key factor. Rousseff was energy and mines minister in the Río Grande Sul state and cabinet chief to her predecessor Lula da Silva. Bachelet was health, then defense minister under President Ricardo Lagos. She rejected the temptation of revenge after the end of the military regime in 1990 — honoring in an even more fitting manner the memory of the father who had died in a Pinochet regime prison.

Bachelet is soft-spoken and does not lose her temper, and she prefers persuasion to issuing orders. She ended her first presidency with an 84.1% approval rating.

Rousseff is more energetic and stricter with her political team than with society. She dismissed eight ministers who were merely suspected of corruption, and did not hesitate to publicly recognize the legitimacy of mass protests that recently shook Brazil. She listened to the people’s message. She did pretend to be distracted or display a personal and characteristic frivolity while part of her society — which must have voted for her — suffered and bled.

Bachelet was elected in 2006 and has returned, while Kirchner became president in 2007 and was reelected in 2011, the year Rousseff entered the Planalto Palace as president.

All three women face the enormous challenge of reducing their countries’ deep social inequalities and income disparities, but also of creating opportunities and some hope for the future.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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