Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet
Portrait Michelle Bachelet.jpg
Former 35th and 37th President of Chile
Assumed office
11 March 2014
Preceded by Sebastián Piñera
In office
11 March 2006 – 11 March 2010
Preceded by Ricardo Lagos
Succeeded by Sebastián Piñera
Executive Director of UN Women
In office
14 September 2010 – 15 March 2013
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Lakshmi Puri (Acting)
President pro tempore of the Union of South American Nation
In office
23 May 2008 – 10 August 2009
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Rafael Correa
Minister for National Defense
In office
7 January 2002 – 1 October 2004
President Ricardo Lagos
Preceded by Mario Fernández
Succeeded by Jaime Ravinet
Minister for Health
In office
11 March 2000 – 7 January 2002
President Ricardo Lagos
Preceded by Álex Figueroa
Succeeded by Osvaldo Artaza
Personal details
Born Verónica Michelle Bachelet
September 29, 1951 (age 65)
Santiago, Chile
Political party Socialist
Other political
Concertación (1988–2013)
Nueva Mayoría (2013–present)
Spouse(s) Jorge Dávalos Cartes (1979–1984)
Children Sebastián
Alma mater University of Chile
Website Official website

Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria (Spanish: [beˈɾonika miˈtʃel βatʃeˈle ˈxeɾja]; born 29 September 1951) is a Chilean politician who has been President of Chile since 11 March 2014. She was previously president from 2006 to 2010, becoming the first woman in her country to do so. After leaving the presidency and while not immediately re-electable, she was appointed the first executive director of the newly created United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). In December 2013, Bachelet was re-elected president with over 62% of the vote, bettering the 53.5% she obtained in 2006. She is the first person since 1932 to win the presidency of Chile twice in competitive elections.[1]

Bachelet, a physician with studies in military strategy, was Health Minister and Defense Minister under her predecessor, Ricardo Lagos. She is a separated mother of three and describes herself as an agnostic.[2] Aside from her native Spanish, she also speaks, with varying levels of fluency, English, German, Portuguese and French.[3][4] She is a member of the Socialist Party of Chile

Family background

Bachelet is the second child of archaeologist Ángela Jeria Gômez and Air Force Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet Martínez. Bachelet’s paternal great-great-grandfather, Louis-Joseph Bachelet Lapierre, was a French wine merchant from Chassagne-Montrachet who emigrated to Chile with his Parisian wife, Françoise Jeanne Beault, in 1860; he was hired as a wine-making expert by the Subercaseaux vineyards in southern Santiago. Bachelet Lapierre’s son, Germán, was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1862, and married in 1891 to Luisa Brandt Cadot, a Chilean of French and Swiss descent, giving birth in 1894 to Alberto Bachelet Brandt. Bachelet’s maternal great-grandfather, Máximo Jeria Chacón, of Spanish (Basque region) and Greek heritage, was the first person to receive a degree in agronomic engineering in Chile and founded several agronomy schools in the country.[5] He married Lely Johnson, the daughter of an English physician working in Chile. Their son, Máximo Jeria Johnson, married Angela Gómez Zamora. Their union produced five children, the fourth of whom is Bachelet’s mother.[6]

Early life and career

Childhood years

Bachelet was born in La Cisterna,[7] a middle class suburb of Santiago. She was named after French actress Michèle Morgan.[8] Bachelet spent many of her childhood years traveling around her native Chile, moving with her family from one military base to another. She lived and attended primary school in Quintero, Cerro Moreno, Antofagasta and San Bernardo. In 1962 she moved with her family to the United States, where her father was assigned to the military mission at the Chilean Embassy in Washington, D.C. Her family lived for almost two years in Bethesda, Maryland, where she attended Western Junior High School and learned to speak English fluently.[9]

Returning to Chile in 1964, she graduated from high school in 1969 at Liceo Nº 1 Javiera Carrera, a prestigious girls’ public school, finishing near the top of her class.[10][11] There she was president of her class, a member of the school’s choir and volleyball teams, and part of a theater group and a music band, “Las Clap Clap”, which she co-founded and which toured around several school festivals. In 1970, after obtaining a relatively high score in the university admission test, she entered medical school at the University of Chile, where she was selected in the 113th position (out of 160 admitted applicants).[10][11][12] She originally intended to study sociology or economics, but was prevailed upon by her father to study medicine instead.[13] She has said she opted for medicine because it was “a concrete way of helping people cope with pain” and “a way to contribute to improve health in Chile.”[3]

Detention and exile

Facing growing food shortages, the government of Salvador Allende placed Bachelet’s father in charge of the Food Distribution Office. When General Augusto Pinochet suddenly came to power via the 11 September 1973 coup d’état, Bachelet’s father was detained at the Air War Academy under charges of treason. Following months of daily torture at Santiago’s Public Prison, he suffered a cardiac arrest that resulted in his death on 12 March 1974. In early January 1975, Bachelet and her mother were detained at their apartment by two DINA agents,[14] who blindfolded and drove them to Villa Grimaldi, a notorious secret detention center in Santiago, where they were separated and subjected to interrogation and torture.[15] In 2013 Bachelet revealed she had been interrogated by DINA chief Manuel Contreras there.[16] Some days later, Bachelet was transferred to Cuatro Álamos (“Four Poplars”) detention center, where she was held until the end of January. Thanks to the assistance of Roberto Kozak,[17] Bachelet was able to go into exile in Australia,[18] where her older brother, Alberto, had moved in 1969.[10] Of her torture, Bachelet said in 2004 that “it was nothing in comparison to what others suffered”. She was “yelled at using abusive language, shaken,” and both she and her mother were “threatened with the killing of the other.” She was “never tortured with electricity,” but she did see it being done to other prisoners.[19]

In May 1975 Bachelet left Australia and later moved to East Germany, to an apartment assigned to her by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) government in Am Stern, Potsdam; her mother joined her a month later, living separately in Leipzig. In October 1976, she began working at a communal clinic in the Babelsberg neighborhood, as a preparation step to continue her medical studies at an East German university. During this period, she met architect Jorge Leopoldo Dávalos Cartes, another Chilean exile, whom she married in 1977. In January 1978 she went to Leipzig to learn German at the Karl Marx University’s Herder Institute (now the University of Leipzig). Her first child with Dávalos, Jorge Alberto Sebastián, was born there in June 1978. She returned to Potsdam in September 1978 to continue her medical studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin for two years. Five months after enrolling as a student, however, she obtained authorization to return to her country.[20]

Return to Chile

After four years in exile, Bachelet finally returned to Chile in 1979. Her medical school credits from the GDR were not transferred, forcing her to resume her studies from where she had left off before fleeing the country.[citation needed] She graduated as physician-surgeon[21] on 7 January 1983.[22] She wished to work in the public sector wherever attention was most needed, applying for a position as general practitioner; her petition was rejected by the military government on “political grounds”. [3] Instead, because of her academic performance and published papers, she earned a scholarship from the Chilean Medical Chamber to specialize in pediatrics and public health at the University of Chile’s Roberto del Río Children’s Hospital (1983–86). She completed the program with excellent grades but for “financial reasons” did not obtain her certification.[23]

During this time she also worked at PIDEE (Protection of Children Injured by States of Emergency Foundation), a non-governmental organization helping children of the tortured and missing in Santiago and Chillán. She was head of the foundation’s Medical Department between 1986 and 1990. Some time after her second child with Dávalos, Francisca Valentina, was born in February 1984, she and her husband legally separated. Between 1985 and 1987, Bachelet had a romantic relationship with Alex Vojkovic Trier,[24] an engineer and spokesman for the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, an armed group which among other activities attempted to assassinate Pinochet in 1986. The tryst turned into a minor issue during her presidential campaign, during which she argued that she never supported any of Vojkovic’s activities.[5]

After Chile made a transition to democracy in 1990, Bachelet worked for the Ministry of Health’s West Santiago Health Service and was a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit. While working for the National AIDS Commission (Conasida) she became romantically involved with Aníbal Hernán Henríquez Marich, a fellow physician — and right-wing Pinochet supporter — who fathered her third child, Sofía Catalina, in December 1992; their relationship ended, however, a few years later. Between March 1994 and July 1997, Bachelet worked as Senior Assistant to the Deputy Health Minister. Driven by an interest in civil-military relations, in 1996 Bachelet began studies in military strategy at the National Academy of Political and Strategic Studies (ANEPE) in Chile, obtaining first place in her class.[3] Her student achievement earned her a presidential scholarship, permitting her to continue her studies in the United States at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, D.C., completing a Continental Defense Course in 1998. That same year she returned to Chile to work for the Defense Ministry as Senior Assistant to the Defense Minister. She subsequently graduated from a Master’s program in military science at the Chilean Army’s War Academy.[citation needed]

Early political career

Involvement in politics

In her first year as a university student (1970), Bachelet became a member of the Socialist Youth (then presided by future deputy and later disappeared physician Carlos Lorca, who has been cited as her political mentor[25]), and was an active supporter of the Popular Unity. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, she and her mother worked as couriers for the underground Socialist Party directorate that was trying to organize a resistance movement; eventually almost all of them were captured and disappeared.[26]

Following her return from exile she became politically active during the second half of the 1980s, fighting — though not on the front line — for the re-establishment of democracy in Chile. In 1995 she became part of the party’s Central Committee, and from 1998 until 2000 she was an active member of the Political Commission. In 1996 Bachelet ran against future presidential adversary Joaquín Lavín for the mayorship of Las Condes, a wealthy Santiago suburb and a right-wing stronghold. Lavín won the 22-candidate election with nearly 78% of the vote, while she finished fourth with 2.35%. At the 1999 presidential primary of the Concertación, Chile’s governing coalition from 1990–2010, she worked for Ricardo Lagos’s nomination, heading the Santiago electoral zone.[citation needed]

Minister of Health

Bachelet, as Minister of Defense, meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2002

On 11 March 2000, Bachelet — virtually unknown at the time — was appointed Minister of Health by President Ricardo Lagos. She began an in-depth study of the public health-care system that led to the AUGE plan a few years later. She was also given the task of eliminating waiting lists in the saturated public hospital system within the first 100 days of Lagos’s government. She reduced waiting lists by 90%, but was unable to eliminate them completely[5] and offered her resignation, which was promptly rejected by the President. She authorized free distribution of the morning-after pill for victims of sexual abuse, generating controversy.[citation needed]

Minister of National Defens

On 7 January 2002, she was appointed Minister of National Defense, becoming the first woman to hold this post in a Latin American country and one of the few in the world. While Minister of Defense she promoted reconciliatory gestures between the military and victims of the dictatorship, culminating in the historic 2003 declaration by General Juan Emilio Cheyre, head of the army, that “never again” would the military subvert democracy in Chile. She also oversaw a reform of the military pension system and continued with the process of modernization of the Chilean armed forces with the purchasing of new military equipment, while engaging in international peace operations. A moment which has been cited as key to Bachelet’s chances to the presidency came in mid-2002 during a flood in northern Santiago where she, as Defense Minister, led a rescue operation on top of an amphibious tank, wearing a cloak and military cap.[5][27][28]

2005–2006 presidential election

Bachelet during a television debate in 2005

In late 2004, following a surge of her popularity in opinion polls, Bachelet was established as the only CPD figure able to defeat Joaquín Lavín, and she was asked to become the Socialists’ candidate for the presidency.[29] She was at first hesitant to accept the nomination as it was never one of her goals, but finally agreed because she felt she could not disappoint her supporters.[30] On 1 October of that year she was freed from her government post in order to begin her campaign and to help the CPD at the municipal elections held later that month. On 28 January 2005 she was named the Socialist Party’s candidate for president. An open primary scheduled for July 2005 to define the sole presidential candidate of the CPD was canceled after Bachelet’s only rival, Christian Democrat Soledad Alvear, a cabinet member in the first three CPD administrations, pulled out early due to a lack of support within her own party and in opinion polls.[citation needed]

At the December 2005 election, Bachelet faced the center-right candidate Sebastián Piñera (RN), the right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín (UDI) and the leftist candidate Tomás Hirsch (JPM). As the opinion polls had forecast, she failed to obtain the absolute majority needed to win the election outright, winning 46% of the vote. In the runoff election on 15 January 2006, Bachelet faced Piñera, and won the presidency with 53.5% of the vote, thus becoming her country’s first female elected president and the first woman who was not the wife of a previous head of state or political leader to reach the presidency of a Latin American nation in a direct election.[31]

On 30 January 2006, after being declared President-elect by the Elections Qualifying Court (Tricel), Bachelet announced her cabinet of ministers, which was unprecedentedly composed of an equal number of men and women, as was promised during her campaign. In keeping with the coalition’s internal balance of power she named seven ministers from the Christian Democrat Party (PDC), five from the Party for Democracy (PPD), four from the Socialist Party (PS), one from the Social Democrat Radical Party (PRSD) and three without party affiliation.

First presidency (2006–2010)

The Bachelet Cabinet
Office Name Party Term
President Michelle Bachelet PS Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 11, 2010
Interior Andrés Zaldívar DC Mar. 11, 2006–Jul. 14, 2006
Belisario Velasco (resigned) DC Jul. 14, 2006–Jan. 4, 2008
Edmundo Pérez Yoma DC Jan. 8, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Foreign Affairs Alejandro Foxley DC Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 13, 2009
Mariano Fernández DC Mar. 13, 2009–Mar. 11, 2010
Defense Vivianne Blanlot PPD Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 27, 2007
José Goñi PPD Mar. 27, 2007–Mar. 12, 2009
Francisco Vidal PPD Mar. 12, 2009–Mar. 11, 2010
Finance Andrés Velasco Ind. Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 11, 2010
Gen. Sec. of the
Paulina Veloso PS Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 27, 2007
José Antonio Viera-Gallo PS Mar. 27, 2007–Mar. 10, 2010
Gen. Sec. of
Ricardo Lagos Weber PPD Mar. 11, 2006–Dec. 6, 2007
Francisco Vidal PPD Dec. 6, 2007–Mar. 12, 2009
Carolina Tohá (resigned) PPD Mar. 12, 2009–Dec. 14, 2009
Pilar Armanet PPD Dec. 18, 2009–Mar. 11, 2010
Economy Ingrid Antonijevic PPD Mar. 11, 2006–Jul. 14, 2006
Alejandro Ferreiro DC Jul. 14, 2006–Jan. 8, 2008
Hugo Lavados DC Jan. 8, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Clarisa Hardy PS Mar. 11, 2006–Jan. 8, 2008
Paula Quintana PS Jan. 8, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Education Martín Zilic DC Mar. 11, 2006–Jul. 14, 2006
Yasna Provoste (impeached) DC Jul. 14, 2006–Apr. 3, 2008
René Cortázar (interim) DC Apr. 3, 2008Apr. 18, 2008
Mónica Jiménez DC Apr. 18, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Justice Isidro Solís PRSD Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 27, 2007
Carlos Maldonado PRSD Mar. 27, 2007–Mar. 11, 2010
Labor Osvaldo Andrade (resigned) PS Mar. 11, 2006–Dec. 10, 2008
Claudia Serrano PS Dec. 15, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Public Works Eduardo Bitrán PPD Mar. 11, 2006–Jan. 11, 2008
Sergio Bitar PPD Jan. 11, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Health María Soledad Barría (resigned) PS Mar. 11, 2006–Oct. 28, 2008
Álvaro Erazo PS Nov. 6, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Housing &
Patricia Poblete DC Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 11, 2010
Agriculture Álvaro Rojas DC Mar. 11, 2006–Jan. 8, 2008
Marigen Hornkohl DC Jan. 8, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Mining Karen Poniachik Ind. Mar. 11, 2006–Jan. 8, 2008
Santiago González PRSD Jan. 8, 2008–Mar. 11, 2010
Transport &
Sergio Espejo DC Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 27, 2007
René Cortázar DC Mar. 27, 2007–Mar. 11, 2010
National Assets Romy Schmidt PPD Mar. 11, 2006–Jan. 6, 2010
Jacqueline Weinstein PPD Jan. 6, 2010–Mar. 11, 2010
Energy Karen Poniachik Ind. Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 29, 2007
Marcelo Tokman PPD Mar. 29, 2007–Mar. 11, 2010
Environment Ana Lya Uriarte PS Mar. 27, 2007–Mar. 11, 2010
Women Laura Albornoz DC Mar. 11, 2006–Oct. 20, 2009
Carmen Andrade PS Oct. 20, 2009–Mar. 11, 2010
Culture & the
Paulina Urrutia Ind. Mar. 11, 2006–Mar. 11, 2010

Bachelet waving with other leaders at the inauguration ceremony in Valparaíso

Presidential styles of
Michelle Bachelet
Flag of the President of Chile.svg
Reference style Su Excelencia, la Presidenta de la República.
“Her Excellency, the President of the Republic”
Spoken style Presidenta de Chile.
“President of Chile”
Alternative style Señora Presidenta.
“Madam President”

First days

Bachelet was sworn in as President of the Republic of Chile on 11 March 2006 in a ceremony held in a plenary session of the National Congress in Valparaíso which was attended by many foreign heads of states and delegates.[28] Much of Bachelet’s first three months as president were spent working on 36 measures she had promised during her campaign to implement during her first 100 days in office. They ranged from simple presidential decrees, such as providing free health care for older patients, to complex bills to reform the social security system and the electoral system. For her first state visit, Bachelet chose Argentina, arriving in Buenos Aires on 21 March. There she met with president Néstor Kirchner, with whom she signed strategic agreements in energy and infrastructure, including the possibility of launching a bidding process to operate the Transandine Railway.[32]

Domestic affairs

Social policies

In March 2006 Bachelet created an advisory committee to reform the pension system, which was headed by former budget director Mario Marcel.[33] The commission issued its final report in July 2006,[34] and in March 2008 Bachelet signed the bill into law. The new legislation established a Basic Solidarity Pension (PBS) and a Solidarity Pension Contribution (APS), guaranteeing a minimum pension for the 60% poorest segment of the population, regardless of their contribution history.[35]The reform also grants a bonus to female pensioners for every child born alive.[36]

In October 2006 Bachelet enacted legislation to protect subcontracted employees, which would benefit an estimated 1.2 million workers.[37] In June 2009 she introduced pay equality legislation, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work in the private sector, regardless of gender.[38]

In September 2009 Bachelet signed the “Chile Grows with You” plan into law, providing comprehensive social services to vulnerable children from ages zero to six. That law also established a social welfare management framework called the “Intersectoral Social Protection System”, made up of subsystems, such as “Chile Solidario” and “Chile Grows with You”.[39]

Between 2008 and 2010 the Bachelet administration delivered a so-called “literary briefcase” (a box of books including encyclopedias, dictionaries, poetry works and books for both children and adults) to the 400 thousand poorest families with children attending primary school from first to fourth grade.[40]

In March 2009, Bachelet launched the “I Choose my PC” program, awarding free computers to poor seventh graders with excellent academic performance attending government-subsidized schools.[41] During 2009 and 2010 Bachelet delivered layettes to all babies born in public hospitals, which are about 80% of total births.[42][43] In January 2010, Bachelet promulgated a law allowing the distribution of emergency contraception pills in public and private health centers, including to persons under 14, without parental consent. The law also requires high schools to add a sexual education program to their curriculum.[44]

Student protests

Bachelet’s first political crisis came in late April 2006, when massive high school student demonstrations — unseen in three decades — broke out throughout the country, demanding a rise of quality levels in public education. In June 2006, she sought to dampen the student protests by setting up an 81-member advisor committee, including education experts from all political backgrounds, representatives of ethnic groups, parents, teachers, students, school owners, university rectors, people from diverse religious denominations, etc. Its purpose was to propose changes to the country’s educational system and serve as a forum to share ideas and views. The committee issued its final report in December 2006.[45] In August 2009, she signed the education reform bill into law, which created two new regulatory bodies: a Superintendency on Education and a Quality Agency.[46]


During her presidency Bachelet opened 18 new subway stations in Santiago, nine in 2006, one in 2009 and eight in 2010.[47][48] In December 2009 Bachelet announced the construction of a new subway line in Santiago, to be operational by 2014[49] (the date was later changed to mid-2016[50]).

In February 2007 Santiago’s transport system was radically altered with the introduction of Transantiago, designed under the previous administration.[31] The system was nearly unanimously condemned by the media, the users and the opposition, significantly damaging her popularity, and leading to the sacking of her Transport minister. On her decision not to abort the plan’s start, she said in April 2007 she was given erroneous information which caused her to act against her “instincts.”[51]

In September 2008, Chile’s Constitutional Court declared a US$400 million loan by the Inter-American Development Bank to fund the transport system unconstitutional. Bachelet — who had been forced to ask for the loan after Congress had refused to approve funds for the beleaguered program in November 2007 — made use of an emergency clause in the Constitution that grants funds equivalent to 2% of the fiscal budget.[52] In November 2008, she invoked the emergency clause again after Congress denied once again funds for the system for 2009.

2010 earthquake

On 27 February 2010, in the last week of summer vacations[53] and less than two weeks before Bachelet’s term expired, Chile was ravaged by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 500 people, toppled apartment buildings and bridges and triggered tsunamis that wiped away entire fishing villages. Bachelet and the government were criticized for a “slow response” to the disaster, which hit on a Saturday at 3:34 a.m.[31] and left most of the country without electricity, phone or Internet access.[54][55][56] Bachelet declared a “state of catastrophe” and on Sunday afternoon sent military troops to the most affected areas in an effort to quell scenes of looting and arson.[31] She imposed night curfews in the most affected cities.[57] She was criticized for not deploying the troops fast enough.[58][59]

Human rights

In January 2009 Bachelet opened the Museum of Memory in Santiago, documenting the horrors of Pinochet’s 16-and-a-half year dictatorship.[60] In November she promulgated a law (submitted to Congress during the previous administration) creating the National Institute for Human Rights, with the goal of protecting and promoting human rights in the country.[61] The law also allowed for the reopening of the Rettig and Valech commissions for 18 months.[62]

Other legislation passed[edit]

President Bachelet with Mayor of Pichilemu Roberto Córdova in January 2010, during the re-inauguration of the Agustín Ross Cultural Centre

In August 2008 Bachelet signed a freedom of information bill into law, which became effective in April 2009.

In January 2010 Bachelet enacted a law creating the Ministry for the Environment. The new legislation also created the Environmental Evaluation Service and the Superintendency for the Environment.[63][64]


Bachelet was widely credited for resisting calls from politicians from her own coalition to spend the huge copper revenues to close the country’s income gap.[31][65] Instead in 2007 she created the Economic and Social Stabilization Fund, a sovereign wealth fund which accumulates fiscal surpluses which are above 1% of GDP.[66] This strategy allowed her to finance new social policies and provide economic stimulus packages when the 2008 financial crisis hit the country.[31]

During Bachelet’s four years in office the economy grew at an average of 3.3% (2.3% in per capita terms), with a high of 5.7% in 2006 and a negative growth of −1.0% in 2009, due to the global financial crisis. The minimum wage was increased at an average of 2% per year in real terms (the lowest of any president since 1990), while unemployment hovered between seven and eight percent during her first three years and rose to nearly 11% during 2009. Inflation averaged 4.5% during her term, reaching close to 9% during 2008, due to an increase in food prices.[67] Absolute poverty fell from 13.7% in November 2006 to 11.5% in November 2009.[68]

Political issues

Bachelet began her term with an unprecedented absolute majority in both chambers of Congress — before appointed senators were eliminated in the 2005 constitutional reforms the CPD never had a majority in the Senate — but she was soon faced with internal opposition coming from a number of dissatisfied lawmakers from both chambers of Congress, the so-called díscolos (“disobedient”, “ungovernable”), which jeopardized the coalition’s narrow — and historic[69] — Congress majority on a number of key executive-sponsored bills during much of her first half in office, and forced her to negotiate with a right-wing opposition she saw as being “obstructionist”.[70][71] During the course of 2007 the CPD lost its absolute majority in both chambers of Congress, as several senators and deputies from that coalition became independent.

In December 2006, former dictator Augusto Pinochet died. Bachelet decided not to grant him a state funeral, an honour bestowed upon constitutionally elected Chilean presidents, but a military funeral as former commander-in-chief of the Army appointed by President Salvador Allende. She also refused to declare an official national day of mourning, but did authorize flags at military barracks to fly at half staff. Pinochet’s coffin was also allowed to be draped in a Chilean flag. Bachelet did not attend his funeral saying it would be “a violation of [her] conscience”, and sent Defense Minister, Vivianne Blanlot.[72]

In April 2008, Bachelet’s Education Minister, Yasna Provoste, was impeached by Congress for her handling of a scandal involving mismanagement of school subsidies. Her conviction was the first for a sitting minister in 36 years.[73][74][75]

Foreign relations

Bachelet with former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner


During her first year in office Bachelet faced continuing problems from neighbors Argentina and Peru. In July 2006 she sent a letter of protest to Argentine president Néstor Kirchner after his government issued a decree increasing export tariffs on natural gas to Chile, which was considered by Bachelet to be a violation of a tacit bilateral agreement. A month later a long-standing border dispute resurfaced after Argentina published some tourist maps showing contested territory in the south — the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (Campo de Hielo Patagónico Sur) — as Argentine, violating an agreement not to define a border over the area.[citation needed]


In early 2007 Peru accused Chile of unilaterally redefining their shared sea boundary in a law, passed by Congress, which detailed the borders of the new administrative region of Arica and Parinacota. The impasse was resolved by the Chilean Constitutional Tribunal, which declared the particular section of the law unconstitutional. In March 2007, the Chilean state-owned — but editorially independent — television channel TVN cancelled the broadcast of a documentary about the War of the Pacific after a cautionary call was made to the stations’ board of directors by Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Alejandro Foxley, apparently acting on demands made by the Peruvian ambassador to Chile;[citation needed] the show was finally broadcast in late May of that year. In August 2007 the Chilean government filed a formal diplomatic protest with Peru and summoned home its ambassador, after Peru published an official map claiming a part of the Pacific Ocean that Chile considers its sovereign territory. Peru said this was just another step in its plans to bring the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In January 2008 Peru asked the court to consider the dispute, prompting Bachelet to summon home the Chilean ambassador in Lima for consultations.[76]

UN voting deadlock

Chile’s October 16, 2006 vote in the United Nations Security Council election — with Venezuela and Guatemala deadlocked in a bid for the two-year, non-permanent Latin American and Caribbean seat on the Security Council — developed into a major ideological issue in the country and was seen as a test for Bachelet. The governing coalition was divided between the Socialists, who supported a vote for Venezuela, and the Christian Democrats, who strongly opposed it. The day before the vote the president announced (through her spokesman) that Chile would abstain, citing as reason a lack of regional consensus over a single candidate, ending months of speculation. In March 2007 Chile’s ambassador to Venezuela, Claudio Huepe, revealed in an interview with teleSUR that Bachelet personally told him that she initially wanted to vote for Venezuela, but then “there were a series of circumstances that forced me to abstain.”[77] The government quickly recalled Huepe and accepted his resignation.

Bachelet with Evo Morales and Lula da Silva at a Union of South American Nations summit in 2008


In May 2008 Bachelet became the first President pro tempore of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and in September she called for an urgent summit, after Bolivian President Evo Morales warned of a possible coup attempt against him. The presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Colombia, and the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, met with Bachelet at the La Moneda Palace in Santiago, where they agreed to send two commissions to Bolivia: one to mediate between the executive and the opposition, and another to investigate the killings in Pando Department.[78]

Cuba visit

In February 2009 Bachelet visited Cuba and met with Fidel Castro. There she urged the United States to put an end to the embargo. No Chilean head of state had visited the country in 37 years.[79] The meeting with Castro backfired after the Cuban leader wrote, a day later, that the “fascist and vengeful Chilean oligarchy is the same which more than 100 years ago robbed Bolivia of its access to the Pacific and of copper-rich lands in a humiliating war.”[80][81][82]

Progressive Leaders summit

In March 2009, Bachelet hosted in Viña del Mar, the “Progressive Leaders Summit”, meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Presidents Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina. The meeting garnered some media interest because it took place six days before the highly anticipated G-20 Summit in London.[83][84]


President Bachelet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in 2015

Continuing the coalition’s free-trade strategy, in August 2006 Bachelet promulgated a free trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China (signed under the previous administration of Ricardo Lagos), the first Chinese free-trade agreement with a Latin American nation; similar deals with Japan and India were promulgated in August 2007. In October 2006, Bachelet promulgated a multilateral trade deal with New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (P4), also signed under Lagos’ presidency. She held free-trade talks with other countries, including Australia, Vietnam, Turkey and Malaysia. Regionally, she signed bilateral free trade agreements with Panama, Peru and Colombia.[citation needed]

Other policies

In October 2007 Bachelet granted an amnesty to undocumented migrants from other Latin American countries. The measure was expected to benefit around 15,000 Peruvians and 2,000 Bolivians.[85] In December 2007 Bachelet signed in Bolivia a trilateral agreement with the presidents of Brazil and Bolivia to complete and improve a 4,700 km road to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, via Arica and Iquique in Chile and Santos in Brazil. In May 2008, following months of intense lobbying, Chile was elected as member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, obtaining the largest vote among Latin American countries.[86]

In December 2009 Chile became the first country in South America, and the second in Latin America after Mexico, to receive an invitation to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[87] Bachelet signed the accession agreement in January 2010,[88] but it formally became a member in May 2010, after she had left office.[89]




Job-approval ratings

Bachelet enjoyed an approval rating above 50% for her first three months in office, during the so-called “honeymoon period”. Her popularity fell during the students protests that year, hovering in the mid 40s. In July she had a disastrous public relations incident when a group of residents she was visiting in the southern city of Chiguayante who were affected by a landslide berated her publicly on television, accusing her of using their tragedy to boost her falling popularity. One woman demanded that she leave the scene so rescue efforts could continue.[90][91] In July, after only four months in office, Bachelet was forced to reshuffle her cabinet, in what was the fastest ministerial adjustment since 1990.[92]

Bachelet’s popularity dipped further in her second year, reaching a low of 35% approval, 46% disapproval in September 2007. This fall was mainly attributed to the Transantiago fiasco.[93] That same month she had a second negative incident when a group of earthquake and tsunami victims she was visiting in the southern region of Aisén received her bearing black flags, and accused her of showing up late.[94][95] The city mayor, who told Bachelet to “go to hell”, later apologized.[96][97] Over the following 12 months, however, Bachelet’s approval ratings did not improve. At the onset of the global financial crisis in September 2008 Bachelet’s popularity was at a low 42%, but gradually her job approval ratings began to rise. When she left office in March 2010 her popular support was at a record 84%, according to conservative polling institute Adimark GfK.[98]

The Chilean Constitution does not allow a president to serve two consecutive terms[31] and Bachelet endorsed Christian Democratic Party candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle for the December 2009 election.[99]

Political interregnum

In April 2010, Bachelet inaugurated her own think-tank, “Fundación Dialoga”. Its headquarters are located in Providencia, a suburb of Santiago.[100]

Bachelet is a member of the Club of Madrid, the world’s largest forum of former heads of state and government.[101] Since 2010 she has also been a member of the Inter-American Dialogue, the leading think tank on Western Hemisphere relations and affairs, and served as the organization’s co-chair.[102]

On 14 September 2010, Bachelet was appointed as head of the newly created United Nations body UN Women by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She took office on 19 September 2010. On 15 March 2013 she announced her resignation.[103]

2013 presidential election

On 27 March 2013, Bachelet announced that she would seek a second term as President of Chile during the 2013 elections.[104] The well-respected CEP poll, released in May 2012, suggested that 51% of voters wished to see her become the next president, far ahead of any other would-be candidate.[105]

On 30 June 2013, Bachelet became the Nueva Mayoría’s candidate for president after she won a four-way primary election with the support of five center and left parties (PS, PPD, PC, IC, MAS) and 73% of the vote.[106]

At the 17 November 2013 presidential election, Bachelet fell short of the absolute majority needed for an outright win. In the runoff election, held on 15 December of that year, she beat former senator and Minister of Labor Evelyn Matthei with over 62% of the vote, yet turnout was significantly lower than in the first round.[107]

Second presidency (2014–)

File:Chilean President Michelle Bachelet holds video conference with Paranal Observatory from Expo Milano 2015.webmPlay media

Bachelet visiting the Chilean Pavilion at Expo Milano in 2015

The Bachelet Cabinet
Office Name Party Term
President Michelle Bachelet PS Mar. 11, 2014–
Interior Rodrigo Peñailillo PPD Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Jorge Burgos PDC May 11, 2015–Jun. 8, 2016
Mario Fernández PDC Jun. 8, 2016–
Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz PPD Mar. 11, 2014–
Defense Jorge Burgos PDC Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
José Antonio Gómez PRSD May 11, 2015–
Finance Alberto Arenas PS Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Rodrigo Valdés PPD May 11, 2015–
Gen. Sec. of the
Ximena Rincón PDC Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Jorge Insunza (resigned) PPD May 11, 2015–Jun. 7, 2015
Patricia Silva (interim) PS Jun. 7, 2015Jun. 27, 2015
Nicolás Eyzaguirre PPD Jun. 27, 2015–
Gen. Sec. of
Álvaro Elizalde PS Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Marcelo Díaz PS May 11, 2015–Nov. 18, 2016
Paula Narváez PS Nov. 18, 2016–
Economy Luis Felipe Céspedes PDC Mar. 11, 2014–
Fernanda Villegas PS Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Marcos Barraza PC May 11, 2015–
Education Nicolás Eyzaguirre PPD Mar. 11, 2014–Jun. 27, 2015
Adriana Delpiano PPD Jun. 27, 2015–
Justice José Antonio Gómez PRSD Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Javiera Blanco Ind. May 11, 2015–Oct. 19, 2016
Jaime Campos PRSD Oct. 19, 2016–
Labor Javiera Blanco Ind. Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Ximena Rincón PDC May 11, 2015–Nov. 18, 2016
Alejandra Krauss PDC Nov. 18, 2016–
Public Works Alberto Undurraga PDC Mar. 11, 2014–
Health Helia Molina (resigned) PPD Mar. 11, 2014–Dec. 30, 2014
Jaime Burrows (interim) PDC Dec. 30, 2014Jan. 23, 2015
Carmen Castillo Ind. Jan. 23, 2015–
Housing &
Paulina Saball PPD Mar. 11, 2014–
Agriculture Carlos Furche PS Mar. 11, 2014–
Mining Aurora Williams PRSD Mar. 11, 2014–
Transport &
Andrés Gómez-Lobo PPD Mar. 11, 2014–Mar. 14, 2017
Paola Tapia PDC Mar. 14, 2017–
National Assets Víctor Osorio IC Mar. 11, 2014–Oct. 19, 2016
Nivia Palma IC Oct. 19, 2016–
Energy Máximo Pacheco PS Mar. 11, 2014–Oct. 19, 2016
Andrés Rebolledo PPD Oct. 19, 2016–
Environment Pablo Badenier PDC Mar. 11, 2014–Mar. 20, 2017
Marcelo Mena Ind. Mar. 20, 2017–
Women Claudia Pascual PC Mar. 11, 2014–
Culture & the
Claudia Barattini Ind. Mar. 11, 2014–May 11, 2015
Ernesto Ottone Ind. May 11, 2015–
Sports Natalia Riffo MAS Mar. 11, 2014–Nov. 18, 2016
Pablo Squella Ind. Nov. 18, 2016–
Presidential styles of
Michelle Bachelet
Flag of the President of Chile.svg
Reference style Su Excelencia, la Presidenta de la República.
“Her Excellency, the President of the Republic”
Spoken style Presidenta de Chile.
“President of Chile”
Alternative style Señora Presidenta.
“Madam President”

Bachelet was sworn in as President of the Republic of Chile for a second time on 11 March 2014 at the National Congress in Valparaíso. Isabel Allende, daughter of former President Salvador Allende, as the newly elected President of the Senate, administered the affirmation of office to Bachelet, the first time in the country’s history both parties involved were women.[108]


In September 2015, President Bachelet’s approval rating was 24 percent, compared to 72 percent disapproval.[109] Chileans’ support for her has dropped sharply since the revelations of corruption scandals such as the Caval scandal, which involved her son and daughter-in-law accepting millions of dollars in the form of a loan from Vice-Chairman of the Banco de Chile Andrónico Luksic Craig. The couple’s company (Caval) used the money to purchase land and resell it at a $5 million profit after repaying the loan. President Bachelet maintains that she was unaware of her family’s actions and found out about the agreement between Luksic and her daughter-in-law through the press.[110][111] By August 2016, Bachelet’s approval rating dropped to 15%, the lowest for any President since the return of free elections in 1990.[112]

In March 2017, Bachelet’s approval rating remained low, with about 23% of Chileans approving of her.[113]


Awards and media recognition

  • Ranked 17th most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine in 2006[114] (she was #22 in 2009,[115] #25 in 2008,[116] and #27 in 2007.[117]) As of 2014, she was ranked 25th.[118]
  • Defense of Freedom and Democracy Award by Ramón Rubial Foundation (January 2007).[119]
  • Ranked world’s 15th most influential person by TIME magazine in 2008.[120]
  • Shalom Award by the World Jewish Congress (June 2008).[121]
  • Maximum Leadership Award (Argentina, October 2008).[122]
  • Global Trailblazer Award by Vital Voices (October 2008).[122]
  • South American Football Honorary Order of Merit in the Extraordinary Great Collar degree by CONMEBOL in July 2009.[123] She is the first woman to receive such recognition.[124]
  • Keys to the City of Lisbon (December 2009)
  • Woman of the Bicentenary at the 2010 Energy of Woman Awards by Chilectra (April 2010).[125]
  • Federation of Progressive Women’s International Prize (Spain, November 2010).[126]
  • Keys to the City of Miami (November 2010).[127]
  • The Association of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida’s 2010 Award for Leadership in Global Trade (November 2010).[127]
  • Member, Inter-American Dialogue (since 2010)[128]
  • Washington Office on Latin America’s Human Rights Award (November 2010).[129]
  • Women’s eNews’ Newsmaker of the Decade Award (May 2011).[130]
  • Ministry of Defense of Argentina’s first Generala Juana Azurduy Award (April 2012).[131]
  • Eisenhower Fellowships’s Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service (May 2012).[132]
  • 2012 – “10 Most Influential Ibero American Intellectuals” of the year – Foreign Policy magazine[133]

Honorary degrees

  • University of Brasilia (April 2006).[134]
  • Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (May 2007).[135]
  • University of Essex (April 2008).[136]
  • Pompeu Fabra University (May 2010).[137]
  • National University of Córdoba (June 2010).[138]
  • Catholic University of Córdoba (June 2010).[138]
  • Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (September 2010).[139]
  • Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (November 2010).[140]
  • University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle (November 2010).[141][142]
  • Columbia University (May 2012).[143]
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (June 2015).[144]
  • University of Évora (March 2017).[145]


  •  Malaysia : Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm (2009)[146]
  •  Italy: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (9 October 2007).[147]
  •  Lithuania: Order of Vytautas the Great with Golden Chain (23 July 2008).[148]
  •  Australia: Companion of the Order of Australia (Honorary) (5 October 2012).[149]
  •  Spain:
    • Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (26 February 2010).[150]
    • Collar of the Order of Charles III (30 October 2014).[151][152]
  •  Netherlands: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (25 May 2009)[153]
  •  Portugal: Order of Prince Henry (7 November 2007)
  •  Sweden: Member of Royal Order of the Seraphim, 10 May 2016. Received on her state visit to Sweden.[154]


  • Michelle Bachelet – Symbol des neuen Chile (Ebbo Demant/SWR, 2004)[155]
  • La hija del General [“The General’s Daughter”] (María Elena Wood/2006)[156]


  • Bachelet, Michelle. 2002. Los estudios comparados y la relación civil-militar. “Reflexiones tras una década de consolidación democrática en Chile”, Revista Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad, 17(4): 29-35.

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