December 18, 2014
Chile's Bachelet takes office, CFK attends ceremony
Michelle Bachelet took office today as the president of Chile for the second time in an inauguration ceremony held in front of more than 20 world leaders and public figures, among them, Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Bachelet accepted the presidential sash from Senate head Isabel Allende, the daughter of late socialist President Salvador Allende, whose overthrow in 1973 ushered in the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Returning to the job she held between 2006 and 2010, Bachelet heads a coalition that ranges from moderate leftists to communists. She wants to use tax reforms to overhaul education and healthcare.
"Chile has a single enemy and that is inequality and only together can we overcome it," she said in a speech on the balcony of the presidential palace La Moneda, to cheering crowds waving Chilean flags.
"On the day I leave this house I want you all to feel that your life has changed for the better, that Chile is not just a list of indicators or statistics but a better country to live in."
Those indicators and statistics are not looking great. Economic activity growth slowed to a near four-year low in January, the peso has slid over 8 percent in the year to date and the crucial copper price is at its weakest since 2010.
Bachelet's swearing-in this afternoon in the port city of Valparaiso, the seat of Chile's Congress, was attended by presidents from around the region, with the notable exception of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, who was due to come but cancelled at the last minute.
Venezuela has been rocked by civil unrest, with at least 22 deaths in five weeks of street protests demanding Maduro's resignation. A Chilean was the first foreign fatality this week.
An emergency meeting of South American foreign ministers, including Venezuela's Elias Jaua, is planned for Wednesday to discuss the unrest.
In a possible reflection of the strategic importance of Chile - a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council - US Vice President Joe Biden was also in Santiago to attend the ceremony. He met with Bachelet and other Latin American leaders, with Venezuela high on the agenda.
Biden expressed the view that a resolution to the crisis would require third party mediation but that could not be imposed, said a US administration source.