Ivan Alvarado / Reuters Police fired water cannons to disperse crowds during a rally, as Chile's President Michelle Bachelet delivers a speech inside the National Congress, May 21, 2015.

Bachelet's Last Stand

Can She Rescue Chile?

On November 10, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook Chile. It came just under two months after a larger earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.4, devastated the country’s central region. In light of a tsunami warning after the first quake, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet ordered the evacuation of one million people from the coastline between the northern city of Arica and the southern city Puerto Aysén and formally declared the area a disaster zone. All in all, 13 people died. The government estimates that as many as 3,000 homes were destroyed.

It is a bitter truth that the earthquakes have hit Chile in the middle of the strongest political, economic, and social shocks the country has seen in many years. Facing corruption allegations and historically low approval ratings, and unable to move forward on crucial reforms at her planned pace, Bachelet is undergoing her most difficult moments as president. Some have already written off her presidency as a wasted opportunity. She has roughly two years left to try and prove her critics wrong.

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

In December 2013, Bachelet, who promised far-reaching reform, won the presidential election with 62 percent of the vote. After almost two years in charge, though, that support has drained away. According to the public opinion institute GFK Adimark Chile, Bachelet’s approval rate reached a historic low of 24 percent in August 2015. That month, her center–left coalition government had an approval rating of a mere 16 percent. The only group that fared worse was the center–right opposition Alianza, with 15 percent. The fact that Chile’s two leading political factions, which currently dominate national politics, have a combined approval rating of only 31 percent signals a deep crisis within the political class.

Student protesters clash with riot policemen (not pictured) during a demonstration to demand changes in the Chilean education system, in Santiago May 8, 2014.

Student protesters clash with riot policemen (not pictured) during a demonstration to demand changes in the Chilean education system, in Santiago May 8, 2014.

Part of the problem is the sluggish economy Bachelet inherited from her predecessor. Some politicians would have waited to commence necessary reforms until the economy looked healthier, but Bachelet did not. The goal of her reform agenda was to introduce a progressive tax system that no longer favored companies over individuals (as economy on a sounder footing for the long term. Free education would reduce social tensions, and better educated professionals would push up Chile’s productivity rate. Those factors, in turn, would lead to more foreign investment. The reforms passed, and await implementation.

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