Michelle Bachelet has taken over the presidency of Chile in a ceremony loaded with symbolism, after promising to stick to her tax-and-spend campaign pledges, despite a sharp economic slowdown.
Returning to Chile’s top job after a spell with the United Nations, Bachelet heads a coalition that ranges from moderate leftists to communists.
The new president says she wants to address social inequality by overhauling education and healthcare, funded by tax reforms.
Bachelet’s swearing-in at the port city of Valparaiso, the seat of Chile’s Congress, was attended by presidents from around the region, with the notable exception of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, who was due to come but apparently cancelled at the last minute, the Reuters news agency reported.
“[The transfer of power was] very democratic, very moderate, as it should be,” said Colombia’s centre-right President Juan Manuel Santos, frontrunner in his country’s upcoming presidential election.
“And even something unusual to Latin America: no speeches. It is a lesson for the rest of the countries in Latin America.”
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, a former fighter known for backing progressive social policies in his country, gave a warning to new politicians.
“Chile depends on you all, whatever colour you have, take care of what you have. Keep it. It’s very easy to lose,” Mujica said.
Shadow of Venezuela
An emergency meeting of South American foreign ministers, including Venezuela’s Elias Jaua, is planned for Wednesday in Santiago to discuss civil unrest in Venezuela, where at least 22 people have died in five weeks of street protests demanding Maduro’s resignation.
With a plethora of foreign ministers present in Chile for the transfer of power, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has called for a meeting among the ministers on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
“We will have a UNASUR meeting tomorrow afternoon with foreign ministers, once the ceremonies surrounding the transfer of power have concluded,” said Chile’s new Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz.
“Then we will also have the opportunity to discuss the situation in Venezuela and other UNASUR topics,”
Government officials began replacing the presidential photo in government offices on Tuesday, removing a framed photo hanging in La Moneda presidential palace of outgoing President Sebastian Pinera and replacing it with a photo of Bachelet.