"Exhibiting You" - Story

Señora Presidenta

The General’s Daughter Becomes Chile’s First Woman President

Submitted: 03/26/2008

That was a historic moment. That was the first time those words were ever pronounced because Chile had never before had a woman president. Many had doubts that Chile would ever have one, especially one like Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet is a self-professed socialist in an increasingly free market-obsessed world. She is a divorcee with three children from two different partners in a country where the institution of marriage is sacred. She is an unapologetic agnostic living in a conservative, Roman-Catholic country.

Chilean filmmaker María Elena Wood followed and filmed Michelle Bachelet for an entire year, trying to understand the woman behind the "Bachelet phenomenon"- a term the Chilean press has used to describe her meteoric rise to power. "Until March of 2000, I was nobody," Bachelet says in Wood's film La Hija del General. "And then the President [Lagos] asked me to solve the problems in the hospitals, and I became famous." Since 2000, Bachelet has served as both the Minister of Health and Minister of Defense.

Some attribute Bachelet's overwhelming popularity to her personality. She herself admits that she is much loved by the people and that much of her appeal lies in her being a woman. "People are very affectionate and they show their affection by kissing, hugging, touching me. It must be because I am a woman. They would certainly not act like that with a male candidate," says Bachelet.

Others accuse her of being a "marketing product," and a "populist media star with a hidden agenda up her sleeve." In the clip from the film La Hija del General on the left, she ably responds to these accusations of empty sensationalism and media populism: "Saying that I have wide popular support because I am nice is not an insult to me, but to the Chilean people... I represent this country's capacity to revisit itself. I represent people's resilience and their ability to accept their history from a constructive instead of a negative and aggressive point of view. In my conviction and in my personal history, intolerance, arrogance and condemnation have led us to what had happened. And I won't repeat that."

With her deep convictions and distinct style of leadership, Bachelet has had a rocky start in her first two years of office. Time will tell whether Señora Presidenta is able to move Chile beyond its painful past into an era of true democracy.

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