Michelle Bachelet, a pediatrician and former health and defense minister, soundly defeated her opponent; billionaire tycoon Sebastian Pinera in Chile’s presidential run-off Sunday. Bachelet’s 53.5 percent to Pinera’s 46.5 percent marked a trend throughout Latin America of leftist electoral victories. Leftists now run Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela, with the inclusion of Chile, the political sentiment of the region is unmistakable.
The U.S. response to Bachelet’s electoral victory is of course not yet evident, but her historic reality is directly tied to U.S. hegemonic impulses. On September 11 of 1973 in Chile popularly elected president Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a bloody coupe carried out by General Augusto Pinochet and his military of which 10 of the 30 of the Chilean officers charged with Pinochet for crimes against humanity were graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas. In Chile, SOA graduations ran the Chilean secret police (DINA) and 3 concentration camps. Michelle Bachelet’s father, Alberto Bachelet, an air force general loyal to Salvador Allende, was tortured to death by DINA in 1974. Also in 1974, Bachelet and her mother, Angela, were kidnapped by the junta, locked in a cage without food for a number of days.
Other women in their cell were raped by guards. Because of family connections Michelle Bachelet and her mother were able to get out after being beaten. Escaping torture, rape, and murder by the junta, they were exiled to Australia. After spending some time in Australia, Michelle Bachelet went to East Germany, became a doctor and returned clandestinely to Chile. She treated the victims of rape and torture and organized against the Pinochet regime.
Pinochet presented a ceremonial sword to the School of the Americas, it hung in the commandant’s office until the early 1990s over 3,000 civilians were murdered by the Pinochet regime. The junta fell from power in 1990. Bachelet, a divorced single mother of three, and an agnostic, is an enigmatic figure in a traditional, Catholic, machismo society, she seems to buck the social norms. Despite the violence and loss she experienced during the Pinochet era, her outlook and vision for Chile is positive. She said, after her electoral victory, "We are breathing the air of liberty and unity. Violence came into my life, destroyed what I loved, because I was a victim of hate I have dedicated my life to reversing that hate, converting it into understanding, tolerance and, why not say it, love."
While the Bachelet win in Chile and the increasingly likely win of leftist-populist Ollanta Humala in Peru further signal Latin America’s move to the left. The U.S. appears to be preparing for something. In July of last year, 500 U.S. troops arrived in Paraguay fully equipped with planes, weapons, etc. Earlier in 2005 the Paraguayan government granted the U.S. troops total immunity. Many believe Bolivia and Venezuela, both significant oil producers, are the next targets before Bush exits the world stage. Whether oil or copper, the U.S. seems to have a hegemonic penchant toward resources in other countries, particularly if those countries wish to use their resources to help their poor.