Michelle Bachelet Jeria
miércoles, 12 de agosto de 2009
Michelle Bachelet was born in Santiago, Chile on September 29, 1951. She has three children: Sebastián, age 26; Francisca, age 21; and Sofía, age 12. She is trained as a doctor, with graduate studies in Military Sciences. She speaks English, German, French and Portuguese, in addition to Spanish. Her mother, Ángela Jeria, is an archaeologist. Her father, Alberto Bachelet, was a General in the Chilean Air Force.
Her childhood and family
Due to the fact that her father was stationed in a variety of places, Michelle Bachelet attended many different schools. In Chile, she studied in Quintero, Cerro Moreno, Antofagasta, and Santiago (San Bernardo district), and also in the United States, from 1962-3.
For most of high school, she attended the Javiera Carrera Lyceum No. 1, an all-girls public school in Santiago. There, she participated in the chorus, the volleyball team and a theater group called "Aleph," in conjunction with the Instituto Nacional, a neighboring all-boys public school.
She was class representative and president, and also formed the "Las Clap Clap" musical group along with some of her classmates, and performed with them at several multi-school festivals.
In 1970, Michelle Bachelet accompanied a friend to the Posta Central, a major public hospital in Santiago. Although she had previously been thinking about studying Sociology or Economics, her time at the hospital led her to study Medicine at the University of Chile, as a concrete way to relieve people’s pain and improve healthcare in Chile.
A leader in student political affairs, during the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) government of Salvador Allende she participated in the Socialist Youth movement. This group was led by Carlos Lorca, a young doctor who became a member of Congress and who was later disappeared by the military government.
Coup and exile
Known for exceptional organizational talents developed during his time in the Air Force, General Bachelet was asked by President Allende in 1972 to head the government’s Price and Supply Committees (Juntas de Abastecimiento y Precios), and remained there until General Augusto Pinochet led a coup against Allende’s government on September 11, 1973 and bombed La Moneda Palace. Early that morning, Michelle Bachelet had gone to the University of Chile’s Medical Campus in the Santiago-area district of Independencia and had watched the bombing of the palace from the school’s rooftop.
General Bachelet was arrested that same day and held captive in the Air War Academy, accused of "treason against the homeland." He was later moved from the Air War Academy to a public prison. He died there on March 12, 1974, having suffered a heart attack as a result of the strain on his body from the torture to which he was submitted.
Despite the traumatic events that affected her family and her country, Michelle Bachelet continued studying and participating in Chile’s Socialist Party, helping to hide those who were wanted by the regime. However, on January 10, 1975, two agents from the DINA (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia, the Pinochet regime’s secret police force) came to the apartment she shared with her mother, blindfolded both of them, and took them to the Villa Grimaldi, the DINA’s main torture and detention center.
Michelle Bachelet and Ángela Jeria were then separated from each other and submitted to interrogation and torture. Michelle Bachelet was held along with eight other female prisoners in a cell with bunk-beds, while her mother was held in "the tower," an infamous area within the camp. Later, both mother and daughter were moved to the Cuatro Álamos detention center, where they remained until the end of January.
Once freed, Bachelet and Jeria traveled to Australia as exiles. From there, they continued on to East Germany, where Michelle Bachelet studied German, in Leipzig, and then enrolled at Humboldt University medical school in Berlin.
While living in Germany, she married a fellow Chilean exile, architect Jorge Dávalos. Dávalos is the father of her two older children: Sebastián, who was born in 1978 in Leipzig, and Francisca, who was born in 1984, once the family had returned to Chile.
The return to Chile
Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979, and continued her studies in medicine at the University of Chile. She graduated as a surgeon in 1982, and applied to work in the public health system, where she felt the greatest need lay.
Despite the fact that her application was rejected "for political reasons"—the military regime was still in power then—she qualified for a scholarship from the Chilean Medical College to continue her studies. She thus spent four years specializing in pediatrics and public health at the Roberto del Río Hospital.
She also joined different political organizations working to restore democracy to Chile, and was later hired to work in the medical section of PIDEE, an NGO that offered different types of treatment to children traumatized by dictatorship in Santiago and Chillán.
Once democracy was restored in 1990, there was immediately a great need for professionals to help restore the country’s public health system, which had been neglected by the dictatorship on a massive scale. She was hired as an epidemiologist at the Metropolitan Health Service in western Santiago, and later moved to CONASIDA, the National AIDS Commission. During this time, she consulted for the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ). Her youngest daughter, Sofía Henríquez, was born during this period as well.
In 1994, she joined the Health Ministry as a consultant on Primary Care and Healthcare Services Management issues. By then, she felt that although the country had made progress in consolidating democracy, there were still impediments to the full normalization of relations between the civilian and military sectors of the country. Her experiences both as a member of a military family and a member of the civilian political sector led her to feel that prevailing political sentiment did not sufficiently value defense policies and their institutional, political and cultural implications.
Her opinions on the matter motivated her to take a course on military strategy in the National Academy of Strategic and Political Studies (ANEPE), which she finished at the top of her class. This qualified her for a President of the Republic scholarship to take a course on Continental Defense at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, DC in 1997, along with 35 other civilians and members of the military from all over the Americas. She returned and was immediately hired to work in the Ministry of Defense.
Michelle Bachelet was chosen by the Central Committee of the Socialist Party to run for the city council of the Santiago-area district of Las Condes in 1996. In 1998, she was chosen by the party’s Central Committee to join its Political Committee, where she remained until March 11, 2000.
She worked as Ricardo Lagos’ campaign manager for the Metropolitan Santiago Region during the presidential primaries in 1999, and was his campaign manager for northwest Santiago during the actual presidential campaign.
The Ministry of Health
Michelle Bachelet was named Minister of Health in President Ricardo Lagos’ administration in 2000. She found herself at the head of an organization with more than 70,000 workers and a nationwide network of public health services; it also supervises, either directly or indirectly, autonomous municipal health services and the private healthcare system.
President Lagos gave her two main tasks to complete as Minister. The first was to improve primary care, increasing the quality and coverage of care at the country’s public health clinics and eliminating long wait times for treatment at those clinics within three months.
The second was to begin preparation for a major healthcare reform program. Despite large-scale technical and bureaucratic complexities within the system and powerful corporate interests outside of it, she managed to complete all the tasks in a satisfactory way. She was also able to unite all Ministry officials, primary care professionals and doctor’s organizations behind the singular goal of ending the waiting lists and offering decent, timely medical treatment.
As Minister, Bachelet established a system whereby patients could make appointments over the phone by calling toll-free numbers. She also extended medical and dental coverage for all patients in the public health system and instituted a policy guaranteeing medical treatment within 24 hours to all children under one year old and all seniors over 65.
Medical clinics were opened on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the country during the wintertime, and were kept open later every day of the week, until 8:00 pm. Special medical facilities were created for children and adults with acute respiratory infections, which are common in Chile during the winter months and sometimes fatal.
She also increased awareness of the healthcare system throughout the country via the Vida Chile program and created the CONIS, or Healthcare Research Council, to plan research projects to improve public healthcare.
Meanwhile, the groundwork was laid for the upcoming healthcare reform, through public meetings that solicited input on the process from patients, business interests, technicians, academics and organizations of healthcare professionals. This led to the first component of the reform, the Rights and Responsibilities of all Persons in Healthcare bill.
A National Commission on the Protection of the Rights of Mental Health Patients was created, as well as new policies for women’s health issues. The Hospital Amable (Friendly Hospital) Plan improved care by adding childcare facilities in hospitals and formalizing regulations allowing fathers to be present at childbirth.
Several other new programs were created in the public health system during her tenure as well, such as treatment for depression, new medications to treat schizophrenia, nutrition programs for seniors, treatment for patients suffering from cystic fibrosis and better drug coverage for AIDS patients.
The first woman Minister of Defense in Chile
On January 7, 2002, President Lagos re-shuffled his Cabinet and moved Michelle Bachelet to head of the Defense Ministry. She was the first woman both in Chile and in Latin America to hold such a position.
Despite the unprecedented and surprising nature of the announcement that she would be Defense Minister, the experience turned out to be tremendously stimulating both professionally and personally. The rank and file of the military fully collaborated with her throughout her time there.
She continued with the President’s plans to modernize the organization, making strategic decisions about equipment and preparing for a massive modernization project within the Defense Ministry.
During her tenure as Defense Minister, Chile’s rules about obligatory military service were modified in key ways, the role of the Ministry and the government in military affairs was strengthened, and equal-opportunity policies were instituted for women in the military, the Carabineros Police and the Investigations Police.
Chile also dispatched peacekeeping troops throughout the world and forged closer ties with other Defense Ministries throughout the Americas. The military worked to reach compliance with the Ottawa Convention as well, destroying mine fields in Chile and disposing of its stock of landmines.
While Bachelet was Minister of Defense, Chile commemorated the 30th anniversary of the coup d’état in 1973, and important gestures were made both by civilian politicians and the military to bring about reconciliation within the country. General Alberto Bachelet’s name was re-vindicated as a high-ranking official of the Air Force during this time at the Quintero Military Base, along with the names of countless military officials who were discharged for political reasons following the coup. Bachelet also visited Dawson Island in southern Chile, where a detention facility was set up for political prisoners in 1973. Meanwhile, Army Commander in Chief General Juan Emilio Cheyre made a pronouncement that the Army would "never again" interfere in matters of state.
The presidential campaign
On October 1, 2004, Dr. Bachelet stepped down as Defense Minister to stand as presidential candidate. Following a 438-day presidential campaign, she and her three contenders square off at the polls on December 12, 2005. She received a massive, but not yet decisive, 45.95% of the popular vote.
On January 15, 2006, a final election runoff vote was held, and Michelle Bachelet won with 53.5% percent of the vote. After 476 days on the stump, she became the first woman in Chilean history to hold the highest office in the land.