Chile earthquake: A political storm brews
Saturday's 8.8 Chile earthquake came days before next week's landmark transition from outgoing President Michelle Bachelet to conservative President-elect Sebastian Piñera. Are the two playing politics with quake relief?
Mexico City; and Santiago, Chile
Chile's political transition next week – in which conservative President-elect Sebastian Piñera will take office, ending 20 years of rule by the Concertacion leftist alliance – would have been a landmark event even without Saturday's magnitude-8.8 Chile earthquake.Skip to next paragraph
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But the massive temblor that rocked this nation 13 days before President Michelle Bachelet leaves office has added more political strife as the transition nears.
By and large, Chile has come together in the midst of its worst natural disaster in decades – a relief to residents who are seeking a unified voice as they begin to rebuild their lives. But the jockeying for power between Ms. Bachelet and Mr. Piñera, who criticized the lack of security in the immediate aftermath of the quake, hints at tougher political times ahead.
“Bachelet has 11 more days in government. It is logical that from the beginning of the earthquake, she should have asked Piñera to be a part of [recovery efforts] for continuity,” says Oscar Godoy, a political science professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. “In her first public appearance, when so many people hoped that she said, ‘you can count on the [incoming] president,’ she did not.”
Piñera frozen out at the beginning?
After not receiving an invitation to partake in the first discussions after the Feb. 27 quake, says Mr. Godoy, Piñera and Bachelet finally met on Sunday. Since then, ministers from both governments' cabinets have been meeting to discuss recovery operations – after the quake, and a tsunami moments afterward, left more than 700 people dead and up to 2 million displaced.
Many Chileans expressed relief that political differences seemed to be placed on hold for now. “Most do not want the topic to be politicized,” says Camilo Navarro, a resident of Santiago. “We all have to be on the same side, supporter or opponent. We are all Chileans.”
Their cooperation today is an effort to unify the country in the midst of disaster, but also a practical matter. “They arrived at the [conclusion] that all the energies should be focused on reconstruction,” says Ricardo Israel, a political expert at the Autonomous University of Chile.