Chile: President Ricardo Lagos Names Woman Defense Minister in New Cabinet

Article excerpt

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos' Cabinet changes in the aftermath of recent legislative elections have left his economic team unchanged. The most notable appointment was Michelle Bachelet as minister of defense, the first time a woman has held that position.

One of the most significant outcomes of the Dec. 16 elections was the dramatic rise of the far-right Union Democrata Independiente (UDI), which displaced the Democracia Cristiana (DC) as the largest party in Chile.

The gains by the UDI, coupled with losses by the DC that could threaten Lagos' fragile Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia coalition, made Cabinet changes imperative for Lagos to advance his legislative and political agenda (see NotiSur, 2001-12-21).

In the elections, the governing Concertacion took 61 seats in the lower house, while the rightist Alianza por Chile, which includes the UDI and the Renovacion Nacional, took 56. In the new legislature, which begins March 11, the Concertacion will have 20 elected senators, plus three nonelected senators, while the Alianza will have 18 elected and four nonelected senators.

The DC dropped three points, to 20% of the total vote, but lost 14 seats in the lower house. Other parties in the Concertacion, the Partido Socialista (PS), the Partido Radical Socialdemocrata (PRSD), and the Partido por la Democracia (PPD), all either maintained their share of the vote or increased it, which put the burden of the lost seats squarely on the DC.

A major concern for the Lagos administration is the possibility that the DC could abandon the Concertacion. The possibility was confirmed Dec. 23 by former president Patricio Alywin (1990-1994), who heads the DC.

The DC has been the principal party within the Concertacion since it was formed at the end of the military dictatorship, and the first two elected presidents following the end of military rule, Alywin and Eduardo Frei Ruiz Tagle (1994-2000), came from the DC.

The new configuration in Congress will make it more difficult for Lagos to get his legislative agenda passed, especially those bills that touch the "vestiges of the dictatorship," such as the appointed senators and the relationship between the civilian government and the military. Those changes require approval by 72 deputies and 29 senators.

Despite that reality, Lagos said after the elections that his legislative agenda had not changed.

"The government has its agenda clear, it is clear in what is it going to do, and those who want to support us are welcome," said Lagos. "And those who want to continue with their confrontation, well I feel sorry for them."

New Cabinet announced

On Jan. 7, Lagos announced his new Cabinet and said he would "do everything possible to make things better" for Chileans. "The world has changed and Chile is also in a new place, which calls for more and better work."

The new Cabinet maintains the same political balance as before, with six members of the DC, four from the PPD, three from the PS, two members of the PRSD, plus two independents. Only four ministers will leave the government, although several will change posts. The new Cabinet will include:

- Interior: Jose Miguel Insulza

- Foreign Relations: Maria Soledad Alvear

- Secretary General of the Presidency: Mario Fernandez

- Secretary General of Government: Heraldo Munoz

- National Defense: Michelle Bachelet

- Treasury: Nicolas Eyzaguirre

- Economy: Jorge Rodriguez

- Education: Mariana Aylwin

- Justice: Jose Antonio Gomez

- Health: Osvaldo Artaza

- Agriculture: Jaime Campos

- Labor: Ricardo Solari

- Public Works, Transportation, and Telecommunications: Javier Etcheberry

- Housing: Jaime Ravinet

- Mining: Alfonso Dulanto

- Planning and Cooperation: Cecilia Perez

- National Service of Women: Adriana del Piano

Bachelet makes history

Bachelet was changed from minister of health to defense. …