Bachelet sworn in as Chile's first woman president

Pediatrician Michelle Bachelet suffered prison, torture, and exile under Chile's military dictatorship.

michelle bachelet 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
michelle bachelet 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Socialist pediatrician Michelle Bachelet, who suffered prison, torture and exile under Chile's military dictatorship, was sworn in as the nation's first female president on Saturday. Bachelet took her oath before Senate President Eduardo Frei at the crowded Hall of Honor of Chile's Congress in this port city near Santiago. The 54-year-old president appeared relaxed, and waved her right hand in response to greetings from some people in the stands. More than 1,000 guests attended the ceremony, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. At times, the exuberance of Bachelet's supporters burst through the solemnity. A group of mostly young people in the stands chanted, "Ole, Ole, Ole, Michelle, Michelle, Michelle!" After Lagos - who ended his six-year term with an approval rating of more than 70 percent - left, Bachelet swore in her 20-member Cabinet of 10 men and 10 women. She has promised to have equal numbers of men and women in some 300 decision-making posts. Bachelet, a separated mother of three, is the first directly elected Latin American leader who didn't rise to power with the help of a powerful husband and she has promised to bring more women into Chilean politics. Her election has excited women's rights activists not only in Chile but abroad. "There is no doubt that the United States has leaders of Bachelet's caliber to put up for high-office," said Marie C. Wilson, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit US group that works for the advancement of women. Bachelet plans legislation that would require political parties to include a certain percentage of women in their lists of candidates in congressional and municipal elections. Bachelet is the daughter of an air force general who was tortured and died in prison for opposing the 1973 military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Then a 22-year-old medical student, she herself was briefly imprisoned and tortured along with her mother before being forced into exile. On January 15, she won a runoff election for the four-year term of president, defeating Sebastian Pinera, a multimillionaire businessman who attended Saturday's ceremony.