3 de Octubre del 2007
Bachelet en el Financial Times
por Jorge Arrate
La revista Punto Final analizó hace algunas semanas el “asesinato de imagen” de la Presidenta Bachelet. Pero han sido demasiado pocas las voces que han denunciado
claramente la intencionalidad de noticias y comentarios que apuntan, desde el inicio de su gobierno y ya antes, durante la campaña, a disminuir a Bachelet.
Machismo, dicen algunas, y también algunos, y no cabe duda que tienen razón. Chile es un país de contradicciones llamativas. Una es que la cultura nacional está aún impregnada de un grado alto de machismo y que, a pesar de ello, los chilenos elegimos una mujer como Presidenta. Se trata de un hecho histórico, de gran trascendencia en el largo plazo. Sin embargo, no significa la superación de una forma de pensar que no reconoce plenamente la igualdad social y cultural de la mujer.
Pero no es sólo eso. Tras la campaña contra Bachelet están los grandes intereses económicos que se benefician del modelo vigente e impiden que los frutos del crecimiento se distribuyan con justicia. En estos días se han levantado contra una eventual reforma que reconozca a los trabajadores los derechos laborales básicos. Hace unos meses lo hicieron ante la eventualidad que la educación dejara de ser un espacio abierto al lucro.
Si alguna duda había sobre la existencia del diseño contra Bachelet, la lectura del Financial Times del domingo pasado y su “traducción” chilena es la mejor prueba.
Estoy en Estados Unidos y sigo la prensa de acá y de allá diariamente. La semana pasada tuve la percepción que las intervenciones de Bachelet durante su viaje a Nueva York no recibían en la prensa de Chile un tratamiento afinado. Su intervención en Columbia tenía contenidos de interés que se omitían, su discurso en el lanzamiento de la Fundación Gabriela Mistral, breve pero importante, también. El texto que leyó en la comida organizada por el Foreign Policy Association y el National Endowment for Democracy, si bien relevó -a mi juicio con énfasis exagerados- los éxitos de la transición chilena, reconoció también sus falencias. Y, cuando debió responder espinudas preguntas, Bachelet no cayó en la trampa de distanciarse dócilmente de Chávez y reconoció el derecho de los trabajadores a movilizarse en defensa de sus legítimos intereses.
El Financial Times digital permite leer dos textos sobre Bachelet, uno que ha sido mal utilizado en su contra, según acaba de señalar la propia corresponsal del diario inglés a Radio Cooperativa. El otro texto, ignorado en Chile, publicado el mismo día, es escrito por la editora del Financial Times en Estados Unidos, Christya Freeland. Es una columna llamada “Jugando según las reglas de los muchachos” (“Playing by the boys rules”). Se refiere a la intervención de Bachelet en Columbia University, donde la Presidenta dice: "Si un hombre toma una decisión, él es un hombre de carácter que ha adoptado una resolución. Y si no toma una decision, él es un hombre sabio... Si una mujer no la toma, ella es incapaz de adoptar una decisión. No es sabia. Y si la toma, alguien la convenció de tomarla”. Freeland contrasta esta postura con la de la era “post feminista” en Estados Unidos, donde las banderas que levantaron las madres de las mujeres adultas de hoy han sido dejadas de lado para poner más énfasis en el “derecho a optar” como elemento central. Su conclusión es que Bachelet, con su discurso más clásico, pareciera tener razón. Freeland cita conversaciones con mujeres ejecutivas de Wall Street que, desde el anonimato, admiten que son objeto de discriminació n. Como en Chile, según el otro texto, el de Jude Webber, quien señala que las mujeres universitarias chilenas ganan sólo el 61% de lo que gana un hombre que realiza el mismo trabajo.
La pobrísima y sesgada síntesis del artículo de Webber y la ignorancia del de Freeland, conforman una paradoja: el principal diario de negocios del mundo releva en estas dos publicaciones cómo la dimensión de género impacta a Bachelet y en Chile esos contenidos se usan para castigarla… machistamente.
Machismo, intereses económicos que se sienten amenazados. Sin duda, una campaña. Pero no sólo. El incidente muestra una vez más las falencias del sistema de medios de comunicación que existe en Chile.
En este ámbito hemos sido negligentes, a lo mejor cómplices, en los gobiernos de Concertación. Cuando se realizó algún intento por buscar correcciones, como por ejemplo establecer criterios de distribución justa de la publicidad estatal que permitieran fortalecer el pluralismo regional y político de los medios, la iniciativa se entrampó por razones que desconozco.
El gobierno de Bachelet no ha abordado la materia, no obstante que fue planteada en su campaña. Uno de sus errores es persistir en esta área en la política de no hacer nada que, entre otras cosas, heredó de sus antecesores.
(*) Jorge Arrate fue Presidente del Partido Socialista de Chile.
First among unequals
By Jude Webber
Published: September 29 2007 03:00 | Last updated: September 29 2007
In a country that has been slow to empower women,
Michelle Bachelet swept to power on a platform of
social justice and gender equality. But after 18
months, is Chile's first female president already a lame duck? By Jude
Night is falling in Santiago, and the roads are
crammed with cars carrying commuters home. Shiny
new white buses bowl along avenues that seem to
lead directly to the feet of the silvery,
snow-capped mountains encircling the city. But no
one is looking at the spectacular scenery. At bus
stops, long lines of Chileans wait patiently
behind barriers for buses that appear slow to come.
I opt for the underground. There, the carriages
are clean, and the service efficient - until you
try to change lines. As I turn a corner into a
tunnel, I walk straight into a huge crowd of
people trying to inch en masse down a narrow set
of steps to the platform. "It never used to be
like this," says the woman next to me.
Welcome to Transantiago, the city's new
integrated bus and metro system, five years and
untold millions of dollars in the making.
Launched in February, it was meant to impose
order on a chaotic, unregulated transport system
which had contributed significantly to congestion
and pollution in a city of six million. Instead,
it proved a fiasco. There were too few buses,
coming too infrequently, and people had to walk
to stops on new routes that turned familiar,
no-transfer commutes into complicated journeys.
The overhaul of the capital's transport system
was devised under former president Ricardo Lagos,
but his successor, Michelle Bachelet, has become
its public face. Seven months since its launch,
it has improved but remains flawed, unpopular
and, some argue, emblematic of Bachelet's own
fortunes. She stormed into office 18 months ago,
confident and accomplished. Now, after
Transantiago, and mounting social and labour
unrest, she appears wrong-footed. Bachelet is not
the only leader to have stumbled in the early
years in office, but as the first female
president in a country where only a third of
women have jobs, her fate has taken on an operatic magnitude.
Part of Bachelet's current problems stem from how
much was expected of her when she took office in
March last year. She was a people's champion
after Lagos, the paternalistic statesman and her
political maker, but also a mould-breaker in
every way: a single mother and socialist, fluent
in five languages, accomplished in both medicine
and politics, and an agnostic in a land of
Catholics. With her cropped blonde hair, dazzling
smile and informal manner, she oozed charisma in a sea of suits.
Bachelet was elected with 53 per cent of the
vote, and a month into her term she had approval
ratings of 62 per cent. But in a poll released
this month, that figure dropped to 39 per cent.
Forty-two per cent of people disapprove of her.
Such a slide in popularity would worry any
politician, but Bachelet has pinned her political
fortunes on the people. On the campaign trail,
she promised a new, participatory style of
government that would continue pro-market
economic policies begun under the dictatorship of
Augusto Pinochet. These have made Chile
prosperous, but with an accent on social justice,
education, pension reform, welfare, research and
development and gender equality. She aims to
empower ordinary Chileans by improving education,
infrastructure and access to credit, and thus to
shatter perceptions in the country that politics
can only deliver for the rich upper class.
"She couldn't care less about political power,"
said Marta Lagos, a pollster and friend of all of
Chile's four post-Pinochet leaders. No one
concerned with power for its own sake would
voluntarily expose themselves to public ridicule
in the way Bachelet has. In March, in a televised
address, she apologised for the Transantiago
mess, admitting it was an unmitigated disaster -
particularly for the poor, who were most
dependent on public transport. The following
month, she confessed that her gut feeling had
been that Transantiago was not ready for launch,
but that she had allowed herself to be talked into it.
What might have been viewed as brave and candid
came across instead as naive. Many people equated
her touchy-feely presidential style with
incompetence. It didn't help that she had faced
protests by students pressing for free bus fares,
free college entrance exams and better school
buildings, and had acceded to most of their
demands, drawing criticism for being too
permissive and establishing dangerous precedents.
Chileans are not impressed. Bachelet, once a
ground-breaker, now finds herself described as a
lame-duck president with nearly two thirds of her term left to run.
Latin America has had a handful of female
presidents, but Bachelet was the first to become
head of a significant country in the region
without a leg-up from a politically powerful
husband. When she tried to get a job as a
physician in the 1980s, her surname was a
hindrance. A decade earlier, her father, Chilean
air force Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet,
had, amid rampant inflation and food shortages,
been put in charge of national food distribution
by Salvador Allende, the Marxist president who
took office in 1970, and whom the CIA had worked
to destabilise. General Bachelet was arrested for
treason on the day of Pinochet's coup against
Allende in 1973 and died six months later in jail
of a heart attack brought on by torture.
Michelle Bachelet was 21 at the time of her
father's death. Two years later, she and her
mother Angela Jeria, an archaeologist, were
arrested by the secret police, blindfolded and
taken to the notorious Villa Grimaldi torture
centre. They were roughed up and psychologically
tortured but were lucky: within weeks, they were
released and fled into exile in Australia, where
Bachelet's older brother Alberto had been living since the late 1960s.
From Australia, Bachelet moved to Leipzig, East
Germany, where she finished her training as a
surgeon and met and married fellow Chilean exile
Jorge Davalos, the father of her two eldest
children, now in their 20s. Returning to Chile in
1979, she won a scholarship allowing her to
specialise in paediatrics and public health, and
after the end of the dictatorship, worked as a
consultant to international agencies including
the World Health Organisation. Subsequent
military studies, including a spell at the
prestigious Inter-American Defense College in
Washington DC, paved the way for her to become
Latin America's first female defence minister in
2002, two years after she had joined Lagos's cabinet as health
Chile is widely perceived as being the most
socially conservative state in an already macho
continent. Pinochet's regime - brutal, military
and repressive - lasted 17 years until 1990,
making Chile a later convert to democracy than
neighbours which were also ruled by military
juntas in the 1970s and 1980s. It has also been
slower to empower women. There is a blanket ban
on abortion in Chile, unlike in other Latin
American countries, where it is permitted in a
handful of instances. Divorce was only introduced three years ago.
Economically, Chile's enviable income levels,
investment-grade sovereign credit rating and
solid economic performance make it the country
other Latin American nations want to be when they
grow up. But culturally, it is still behind, with
the proportion of women in politics and public
life far lower than, say, in Argentina, and fewer
women in the workforce than anywhere else in Latin America.
Still, things are slowly changing. "The fact that
Michelle Bachelet has come to government is a
trigger for that change, and a product of that
change," says Andres Velasco, the finance
minister. More women are heading households - as
Bachelet attests: she and Davalos split up in the
mid-1980s. She had another daughter, now 14, from
a later relationship but never married the father and is separated from
The number of women-led homes in Chile is rising
across all social classes, and now totals nearly
30 per cent overall - up from 20 per cent in
1990. Women work and earn more than ever before,
though true equality remains a long way off.
Chilean women still only earn three quarters as
much on average as men, and the more advanced
their education, the greater the gap: a
university-educated women earns just 61 per cent
of what a similarly educated man does.
Being a woman - or as Bachelet is fond of joking
"a woman, a socialist,separated, agnostic: all
the sins together" - has shaped both the
president's agenda and her approach to politics.
She has said her style is one "which could be
characterised as more feminine, but which in
reality, I think is more modern". Even so, it's
hard to imagine a male president using the kind
of language that she sometimes does. She called a
law giving women the right to breast-feed at work
"just and beautiful", and said of her own
experiences at the hands of Pinochet's torturers
"because I was a victim of hate, I have dedicated
my life to turning that hate into understanding,
into tolerance and, why not say it, into love".
She promised to do more for women and, in her
first year, delivered not only the breast-feeding
law in a country where women complain they have
been subjected to illegal pregnancy tests at job
interviews, but also set up hundreds of nurseries
and shelters for victims of domestic violence. By
presidential decree, and to the disgust of the
Catholic Church, she made the morning-after pill
available free to girls as young as 14, Chile's
heterosexual age of consent, arguing that since
it was already available for women who could pay,
it would be discriminatory not to offer it to poorer people as well.
But her boldest move backfired. Seeking to lead
by example, she championed the cause of women by
kicking off her government with a cabinet split
50-50 along gender lines. Critics complained that
her team was mediocre, and that she was
undermining the notion of a meritocracy. She
stuck to her guns until Transantiago. In March,
her first anniversary in office, she reshuffled
her cabinet again, ejecting two senior women and
drafting in some of the old guard.
Bachelet denies her experiment with equality has
gone awry. "It's not mathematical, it's a
concept," she told me in an interview in the
Moneda Palace. "I'm not just aspiring to a
representative democracy, I'm interested in a
democracy in which men and women are well represented."
She stresses that her non-traditional approach to
politics - including bringing together diverse
"stakeholders" to discuss an issue, listening and
then deciding - is not exclusively the preserve
of women. Indeed, instead of identifying herself
with prominent peers such as Angela Merkel,
Hillary Clinton, Segolene Royal or Argentine
first lady and presidential candidate Cristina
Fernandez, she compares herself to Spain's prime
minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "He's a
man and yet he has the same kind of direct, simple leadership."
Bachelet is clearly weary of, and hurt by, the
kind of double standards familiar to women
following "macho" career paths. "When President
Lagos appeared moved by something, people said,
'how great to have a sensitive president'. I
can't help my voice cracking when I'm deeply hurt
or moved by something, [so] I'm [perceived as] a
woman who can't control her emotions. If
President Lagos spoke strongly, he was a man of
character. If I do, I'm furious." She says her
pension reform bill gives the lie to critics who
believed her approach - setting up a special
council to study the issue - was typical of her
inability to take decisions. She counters that
consensus-building leads to stronger accords, and
hopes that by next July her bill, now before the
Senate, will have resulted in the biggest
shake-up of the pensions system in 30 years, with
retirees and even housewives - who have never had
pensions - receiving monthly payments of $150.
Bachelet also admits to to certain qualities
associated with alpha males. She is a workaholic,
she has a strong sense of duty and loyalty and
she is often portrayed as a micromanager who
steamrolls members of her own team, eschewing
advice and taking decisions alone. As one
minister, who declined to be named, noted drily:
"Sometimes officials can be surprised by
decisions they were not consulted about."
Her troubles didn't end with the Transantiago
apology. A five-week pay strike by subcontracted
workers at the country's state copper giant,
Codelco, overlapped with a strike at the major
Collahuasi mine and suggested rising union
activism. A large demonstration in Santiago last
month was called by an umbrella trades union
group, her supposed allies, and attended by
members of her coalition. Moreover, Chile has
been subjected to gas shortages from its sole
supplier, Argentina. And inflation is at a
six-year high. "She's only surviving without any
worse problems because Chile is awash in money,"
said one investment banker, referring to a bonanza of revenue from
It would be wrong to lay too much blame at
Bachelet's door. She is the fourth consecutive
president of the Concertacion, which came
together to oppose Pinochet, and which is
beginning to look tired after two decades in
power. Cracks are appearing among its members,
and it has been hit by a scandal over $800,000
that appears to have been siphoned off from a
government sports agency and which the opposition
says was funnelled into Concertacion political
campaigns. (The scandal does not implicate
Bachelet.) Genaro Arriagada, a veteran Christian
Democrat and former minister, says: "There are
two crises here. She has serious problems, but it
would be just as unfair to blame Bachelet for
everything as it would be to say this is a crisis
of the Concertacion in which Bachelet plays no part."
The jury is still out on whether the Concertacion
will succeed in reinvigorating itself against the
expected onslaught of billionaire businessman
Sebastian Pinera in the 2010 presidential
elections, in which Bachelet cannot stand.
Nevertheless, what some women's groups feared may
have already come true: a poor performance by
Bachelet will almost certainly make it harder for
another woman, such as Christian Democrat leader
Soledad Alvear, to follow in her footsteps in the near future.
Can Bachelet recover? She says a pioneer has to
be patient, but even her supporters say it's
going to be tough. With a four-year term instead
of the six that Ricardo Lagos enjoyed, and
midterm elections next year, she has precious
little time left to turn things around. And yet
whatever happens, all sides credit her with
humanising politics. "She's changed things much
more than people want to accept," said Marta
Lagos. "I'm not sure her style will endure... but
there will, in Chile, be a before and after Michelle Bachelet."
Jude Webber is an FT correspondent based in Argentina.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007