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The Contrarian
A Woman's World?
Chile gets a new president…

[Sally C. Pipes] 3/13/06

Last month’s election of Michelle Bachelet as president of Chile is being hailed as part of an inexorable march toward a better world run by women. Before popping the champagne, we might wait to see how the women perform in office, particularly in Chile, where the new leader will face challenges.

Her Socialist Party, as part of a center-left coalition, has led Chile into a free-trade pact with the United States, reduced inflation, and seen annual economic growth of about six percent. She says she will maintain the same policies, though she strikes me as an unlikely candidate to do so.

Her father, an air force general, died of a heart attack after being arrested by the Pinochet regime. Michelle fled, first to Australia and then to East Germany, a rather strange choice. Why flee to a Stalinist regime more repressive than anything Chile had experienced? The German Democratic Republic, as East Germany styled itself, was not at all democratic. It was a one-party totalitarian dictatorship that needed to imprison citizens behind walls and barbed wire – and shot those who attempted to leave.

Sally C. Pipes
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute [go to Pipes index]

General Pinochet, unlike Fidel Castro, stepped aside to allow democratic elections. These brought to power Socialist Party leaders such as Ricardo Lagos, in whose government Michelle Bachelet served as Chile's minister of health and minister of defense. She became Chile's first female president by defeating conservative businessman Sebastian Pinera by 53.5 to 46.5 percent. She has announced plans to tackle issues such as pre-school access, unemployment, and pension reform, but her main challenge will be maintaining independence.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, Latin America has turned sharply to the left, with left-wing governments ruling in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales represent the extremes, spouting economic gibberish and fevered anti-American rhetoric. They also fawn over Fidel Castro. Mr. Morales describes the Castro regime, a one-party communist dictatorship for nearly 50 years as a "democracy." It isn't.

Michelle Bachelet will be under great pressure to join the chorus but so far she shows no trace of the anti-American rhetoric in the style of Chavez. As for her part in the better world run by women, the women do seem to be on a roll.

Angela Markel recently took the helm in Germany and Tarja Halonen was reelected president of Finland. We might mention Helen Clark in New Zealand and Gloria Arroyo in the Philippines. There is even talk that we might have a female leader here in the United States, though one can argue that Hillary Clinton, the most likely candidate, has already served two terms.

Of course, no honor roll of female leaders is complete without Margaret Thatcher, an ideal role model for Michelle Bachelet. When Margaret Thatcher took over the UK it was in economic ruin. She turned it around, in the face of furious opposition from class warriors, union militants, and socialists of all denominations. She also had to deal with something Chile's new president is not likely to face, an invasion of its territory by an Argentine military junta. She prevailed, which speeded the junta's fall.

For her part, Michelle Bachelet inherits a stable and growing economy. She should seize the opportunity to become the voice of reason, independence, and prosperity in a continent where men such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales lead the way in economic and political nonsense. She can show that leadership by avoiding clashes with Washington and maintaining sound economic policies based on the free market.

Michelle Bachelet took office on March 11. I wish her well, but I won't be giving her any points simply for being a woman. All leaders should be judged on their record. -one-

copyright 2006 Pacific Research Institute




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