Viva la presidenta!

14 March 2006
7:45 PM

Throngs of people at a concert celebrating Bachelet’s inauguration.

Just two months ago, Michelle Bachelet was elected president of Chile. She’s a change for the country in many ways—a woman in a position dominated by men, an agnostic in a historically Catholic country, a single mother—but above all, wildly popular. Most people thought she would win the run-off election easily. According to all indications, she has plenty of plans for the country.

This past weekend was inauguration weekend and it was filled with festivities. On Saturday, Bachelet took her oath of office to become the presidenta (a word that people like to use because previously there have only been presidentes, male presidents). Later she made various public appearances and gave an electrifying inaugural speech outlining her plans for Chile. From what I gather, one major goal is to build a better social services network by 2010.

Sunday night there was a concert to celebrate at La Moneda, the Chilean government building. The list of performers at the concert read like a hit list of popular music in Chile. And it was free. So we dutifully attended: walk to subway, blue line to Tobalaba, switch to red line, red line to La Moneda. When we exited the subway there were thousands of people everywhere. Some were close enough to see the performers, but many others like us were content to watch a gigantic TV screen and listen to the live music. Vendors had set up impromptu stands where they sold posters, flags, food, and drinks. More than one intrepid entrepreneur walked through the crowds with a large backpack shouting, “Cerveza! Cerveza helada!” (Beer! Ice cold beer!). People were remarkably calm given the sheer size of the crowd.

The concert ran for hours, and although I don’t know the Latin American music scene well enough to name many artists, I recognized several songs and liked much of what I heard. It was unusual being part of a large gathering related to politics without being connected to the country’s history. Fr. Diego, one of the Holy Cross priests here, said he hasn’t seen such a celebration since the election of Salvador Allende in the early 1970s. (Though the details aren’t well known, Allende was assassinated as part of the Pinochet coup on September 11, 1973). During the concert, people danced and sang. At one point, everyone started chanting and jumping: El que no salta, Pinochet! (basically, if you don’t jump, you’re for Pinochet).

After music, music, more music, and a closing speech by Bachelet, we plod our way back to the subway and returned to the associate house in Santiago. It’s exciting to be here for what appears to be a new era in Chilean politics.