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Tue

06

Mar

2007

Presidential Presence - Holding the Hands of the People vs. A Distant Wave of the Hand
Tuesday, 06 March 2007 11:36
by Carolyn Baker

Below the equator, it is now autumn, the end of summer and the beginning of winter. During the month of February, the nation of Chile virtually shuts down, and like the month of August in the United States, government officials take a four-week vacation.

On February 3 a tragic explosion occurred in a federal government building in Valparaiso, Chile triggered by a gas leak. More lives might have been lost, but the inferno occurred on a Saturday—the very Saturday that President Michelle Bachelet was en route to her secluded summer cabin in the nation’s Lakes Region, intending to spend a month away from media and La Moneda, the presidential palace, relaxing on the beach with her mother and two daughters. No sooner had Bachelet arrived at her Caburga cabin, than she was informed of the tragedy and immediately boarded a helicopter bound for Valparaiso.

After touring the disaster area, assessing the damage, and ordering a generous aid package for families affected by the explosion, she returned to Caburga, but the extent to which she was able to free herself from presidential tasks for the duration of the month of February is unclear since at the time of her departure, the capital city of Santiago was embroiled in a mass-transit crisis as a result of Bachelet’s implementation of a new Transantiago bus system designed to alleviate congestion and greenhouse gasses. Throughout her vacation she was briefed daily on the situation by her Minister of the Interior, but as a result of the transit chaos, Bachelet returned a few days early from her vacation, displaying an impressive tan—the only indication that she might have actually spent a few hours relaxing on a luscious Caburga beach. Bachelet returned from her vacation early, not only to quell the criticisms of her opposition, but to reassure her people that she was in charge and that the Transantiago system would work because she was going to make sure it would.

On Friday, March 1, Bacheletre-visited to Valparaiso to spend time with the 45 families impacted by the February 3 tragedy. Some of the aid measures to those families include:

-Emergency funding to cover fire-fighting and rescue efforts

-800 million pesos to help businesses damaged by the explosion

-People affected received priority attention from the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service and the national healthcare service (FONASA).

-37 people who lost their jobs will receive emergency jobs for three months until they can find definitive jobs.

-45 families rendered homeless received subsidies to buy homes.

-250 million pesos will be spent on restoring Serrano Street, the area most damaged by the explosion. Public plazas and spaces will be restored as well.

Bachelet seems to be at her very best when she is mingling with the Chilean people about whom she cares deeply, regularly loses sleep, and incessantly worries will not have enough to eat, will not be gainfully employed, adequately educated, receive sufficient health care, and have their needs met as senior citizens. When the subject of “life” comes up in interviews with Bachelet, she is quick to add “not just life but quality of life”, and she holds an unrelenting commitment to her nation’s citizens’ transcendence from poverty to a magnificent quality of life, and the chaos resulting from the new transit system, Bachelet's policies are engendering steady economic growth for Chile.

As I watched the video and photos of the Chilean president’s visit to Valparaiso, my memory flashed to August 29, 2005 and the days and weeks following Katrina when the United States president who has spent more time on vacation than any other in the nation’s history, even after being informed of the worst natural disaster the United States has ever experienced, functioned as if he were the only human being on planet earth. For him, the carnage of New Orleans and Mississippi was just so much water over the levy, or so it seemed as he boarded Air Force One on Friday, March 1, departing the Big Easy with a cold wave of the hand and a hollow message that “the federal government still knows you exist.”

PRESIDENT BUSH LEAVING NEW ORLEANS, MARCH 1, 2007

Recently, I heard someone state that if you want to know what the U.S. government thinks of its citizens, look at Katrina. Listen to Newt Gingrich's recent speech delcaring that Katrina victims perished because they were "too uneducated and too unprepared" to get out of the way. From the moment the Bush administration was selected by the Supreme Court as “winner” of the 2000 election, it has made war on its own citizens, as any democratic republic that has devolved into empire must do.

Michelle Bachelet and her mother were taken as political prisoners by the Augusto Pinochet regime in 1973 and were tortured in prison, later fleeing to Eastern Europe. Her father, a Chilean air force general died in prison of a heart attack. All of this, of course, as George Herbert Walker Bush was National Chairman of the Republican Party and on his way to becoming Director of Central Intelligence, the agency that financed and facilitated the Pinochet dictatorship.

Next month, Junior will visit a number of Latin American countries, including Chile and Venezuela. For all the axes that President Bachelet could have to grind with the Bush family and U.S. policies past and present, she wishes to go down in the history of her country and the world as the great reconciler—known not only as the physician that she is, but a political healer who can somehow apply the socio-political sutures and salve that will bind the wounds of her nation, her region, and her hemisphere. Indeed, Bachelet intends to visit Cuba sometime this year, and if she does, she will be the first Chilean president to do so in 33 years. Because of her adamant socialist stance, she faces powerful opposition from her nation’s right-wing Pinochet legacy and so-called leftists who are unwilling to take the country where she is determined to lead it.

Michelle Bachelet has sometimes been called “Madre de Chile” or Mother of Chile”, and some Hillary supporters may argue that she is living proof that women govern more humanely; however, a closer look at history may well reveal as many “good fathers” in government as “good mothers”. As for a Hillary-Michelle comparison, the similarities between Clinton and Bachelet begin and end with gender. She neither has been nor is a globalist or a supporter of the Iraq War and is not a member of the ruling elite in her country or elsewhere. Her politics and perspective, far to the left of Hillary’s, have proven themselves devoid of duplicity, and with a character shaped by horrific violation of own and her nation’s human rights and a Chilean constitution that limits a presidential term to four years only, Michelle Bachelet has a singular agenda about which she is extraordinarily passionate: to transform the quality of life of her beloved fellow Chilenos.

Hugo Chavez has already appealed to Latin America to protest Bush’s upcoming visit. Bachelet, whose style is remarkably different, is not likely to do so openly, but at the same time, I’m betting that the reception of the emperor in La Moneda Palace in Santiago will not be replete with warm fuzzies. Already, mainstream media is reporting that Bush’s woes will follow him to Latin America. As for his visit to that long, narrow country on South America’s Pacific coast, Bush may discover that Chile is one of the “chilliest” places on earth.

In the coming weeks, Speaking Truth To Power will be reporting on Bush’s visit to Latin America and the reactions of its leaders and citizens.
 
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