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Chile’s New President Outlines Goals

January 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the newly-elected president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. She is a pediatrician, a socialist and a former minister of health and defense.

Her father, an air force general, was tortured and died in prison. He had been in the government of Salvador Allende, which was overthrown in a 1973 coup led by Augusto Pinochet. Michelle Bachelet and her mother were also imprisoned and tortured.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Welcome to the program, and congratulations.

MICHELLE BACHELET: Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be here with you today.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In your speech, in your victory speech you said, “Because I was the victim of hate, I’ve consecrated my life to turning hate into understanding, tolerance, and why not say it — love.”

As president, what policies will you follow to promote this kind of understanding and tolerance between those who tortured and killed in the past and those who were tortured, like you?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Well, I won’t begin this now. I started it when I was minister of defense, and I will be doing it wherever I am until the day I will die.

It’s the idea of how we’re able to build bases in our society where tolerance, understanding of diversity, integration and not discrimination will be the main policies.

When I’m speaking of love, when I’m speaking of reversing hate, I’m speaking not only of reconciliation – even I don’t use that word — I use another word in Spanish, that’s called “reencuentro”– it’s not reconciliation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It’s more a re-coming together would you say?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Yes. It’s something like that because “reconciliation” is when somebody — it’s related to forgiveness — and that’s very individual. Some people forgive, some people does not.

So that’s why I say — but let’s use reconciliation — we will have to continue advancing in reconciliation between people who were victims and their families and people who were responsible for that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to talk just a little about your own situation. For example, for you, it is important that the people who mistreated you and your mother and who were responsible for the death of your father be tried? Have there been trials of the any of those people who were responsible for those acts?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Well, some of them — not all because, you know, we were blindfolded so we couldn’t recognize who those specific persons were.

But I don’t look at this as a personal issue, you know. I look at it as a process where justice must do the work and the important thing is in our country we do have trials who are going on.

We are advancing and under my government we will still advance on three great principles: truth, justice and reparation for all the victims, all the families of the victims.

We have been walking in that direction. And I will do all my efforts to continue in that direction. I mean — no impunity — no! Because I’m a doctor, I know when you have an injury it will heal if it’s clean enough to heal; if your injury is dirty, it won’t heal.

And so when you are talking in societies, we are also talking in healing processes, and for a good healing process, you need to make things right.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think Augusto Pinochet will ever be tried?

MICHELLE BACHELET: We have some trials in process and in–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Investigations

MICHELLE BACHELET: Yes. I won’t say a specific opinion because I don’t want to influence any decision of the justice, but the important thing is that justice is doing their work.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I was really interested that night in the celebration many people said to me — even people who suffered a lot under the dictatorship — “We really appreciate the fact that Dr. Bachelet is willing to forgive”.

You suffered a lot. You don’t like to talk about it. Your mother was six days in a cage the size of like a square. Your father died because of the tortures — he wrote letters you’ve read I’m sure that are the saddest letters one could imagine, about what happened to him.

MICHELLE BACHELET: Yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you come to this position of being so positive about the possibility for reencuentro – the coming together of the nation?

MICHELLE BACHELET: I wouldn’t be honest if I told you that in some moment of my life I had a lot of rage — probably hate — I’m not sure of hate, but rage.

But you know what happens is that then you realize you cannot do to others what you think nobody has to do to anybody. Life is important for me and not any kind of life, quality too of life.

So probably it’s strange or its difficult to understand, but everything that happened to me made me not only rationally but emotionally get to a deep conviction.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Conviction?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Yes, conviction. And that is that I have to do my best to create all the conditions in our country in order that we will be able to guarantee to further generations that they will never have to live what we had to live.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mentioned that life is very important to you as a doctor, and you’ve spoken a lot about torture. As a doctor who’s treated victims of torture and now president of Chile, are you willing to become an international spokesperson at all to condemn and stop torture?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Chilean has always had a very clear foreign policy about this. And we will always discuss every situation in particular and we will always be a big promoter of the human rights all over the world — I would say wherever violations are, Chile will be clear that we want a world where human rights are respected.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you feel about the United States? You lived in the United States as a child. You know as a person who was a victim of the Pinochet junta that the United States put a lot of money and agents into subverting the Allende government and had very close relations with the secret police under Pinochet. How do you feel about the United States?

MICHELLE BACHELET: First of all I’d say my first contact with United States when I was 12 and my father was in the Air Force Mission there in Washington, DC, and it was very surprising for me to see that in the United States nobody knew anything about Chile. And I was –They thought we lived in – like – Indian houses, things like that.

So it was very strange for me that such a huge and powerful country knew so little about so many, many countries. But I had a wonderful life there; I had good friends. I enjoyed a lot going to public libraries. I read every book of M. Louise Alcott – you know, “Little Women” and so on. I was really happy.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No bitterness about the Allende experience?

MICHELLE BACHELET: First of all I was talking about the people and I think you find people all over the world wonderful at any time in their history.

Second, I think that the great problem is we fell in this Cold War doctrine. I think we shouldn’t do is come into that kind of perspective of the world again.

Because of the Cold War, what happened in Allende regime happened, you know, it was like this Communist struggle and so on. And of course –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean that’s how Nixon Administration saw it — as communism?

MICHELLE BACHELET: Yes but it was a long period when you divided the world between those who were that color and that color and I think life is much more complicated than that, and Latin America has great threats, but the great threats in Latin America are poverty, are the lack of integration of people who don’t have all the benefits, or people who are from the indigenous groups.

And so the thing is not to demonize one person or the other or one government or the other.

Latin America sometimes — I would say realizes that we are not in the main agenda of the big countries. They always look at us as trouble, and they don’t see the great opportunities that in our countries exist.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How are you different from say the newly elected Evo Morales or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? As you know the U.S. press says you’re part of a leftward tilt happening in Latin America. How do you respond to that?

MICHELLE BACHELET: I don’t like stereotypes – no kind of stereotypes. I believe in what I believe, and I will do my best to fulfill the objectives and commitments that I made during my campaign and I –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you’re different from them you’re saying? You should be looked at –

MICHELLE BACHELET: I mean, I am not interested in looking at “Am I different? Am I the same?” And I will work with all the presidents in order to obtain good results for our nations.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Madame President-elect, I thank you very much for being with us.

MICHELLE BACHELET: Thank you very much.