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Michelle Bachelet will be Chile's new socialist leader

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South America Elects Another Leftist

Michelle Bachelet will be Chile’s new socialist leader

The Bush administration congratulated Michelle Bachelet Monday on her election as Chile’s first female president. She won 53 percent of the vote to 46 percent for businessman Sebastian Pinera. Many analysts are saying she is not an America basher like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s newly elected President Evo Morales.

A Bush White House spokesperson said the United States commends the people of Chile for yet another election that shows their strong commitment to democracy.

"We have an excellent, long-standing relationship with Chile and look forward to working with the new president and her team," the White Housel said.

Bachelet,a medical doctor and a member of the same Socialist Party as onetime dictator Salvador Allende, was once imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Her father, an air force officer, also opposed the Pinochet regime. He died in prison.

Bachelet has promised to maintain the free market policies in Chile, including a private pension system that has the received the envy of President Bush. She did not provide details.

She also vowed to fight to lower the country’s unemployment rate of 8 percent and improve public health services, housing and education and curb rising urban crime.

A State Department report says the country’s unemployment rate has “hovered in the 8%-10% range in recent years, well above the 5%-6% average for the 1990s. Unemployment remained at 8.8% at the end of 2004 in spite of strong economic growth.”

The report also said, “Most international observers blame the high unemployment rate on Chile’s complicated and restrictive labor laws. Wages have risen faster than inflation as a result of higher productivity, boosting national living standards. The percentage of Chileans with incomes below the poverty line — defined as twice the cost of satisfying a person’s minimal nutritional needs — fell from 46% in 1987 to around 18% by 2004.”

Outgoing Chilean President Ricardo Lagos told BBC Radio Chile’s economic troubles were worsened by the September 11 attacks on the United States and a steep drop in the price of copper — Chile’s main export.

Even though some American analysts are saying that Bachelet will be friendlier toward America that Venezuela’s Chavez and Bolivia’s Morales, she said she would work with them on solving regional problems.

"Chavez, Morales, they are presidents elected by their peoples. Chile must have relationships with all of them, "she said.

But some observers see Bachelet’s election as further evidence that South America is moving further leftward.

Bachelet and members of the Chilean Congress will take office on March 11.

Written By

Mr. Burns worked for several years on Capitol Hill. He previously reported on Cuba and Latin America as a correspondent for Cybercast News Service and United Press International.

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