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?
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But Mr. Israel notes that it is in neither leader's political interest to be criticizing the other. Depending on who is asked, Bachelet is either a hero – a woman who has reportedly driven herself to the national operation response office and to affected communities to assess damage – or a president who waited too long to send in troops to restore order and oversee the distribution of aid.Skip to next paragraph
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Critics slam Bachelet's 'slow' response
For her critics, Bachelet is under pressure for a slow response. She waited for more than 48 hours to accept offers of foreign assistance, preferring to study the actual needs before welcoming the aid. Many supporters thought this was a wise response. Others said it wasted valuable time to help people buried or left homeless without food or water.
The Chilean Navy also apologized to the nation Sunday for not immediately issuing a tsunami warning, a move that could have spared the lives of residents in coastal villages submerged underwater. She is leaving office with an approval rating of around 80 percent, but criticism of her handling of the crisis could chip away at some of that support.
Piñera withholds criticism
Piñera will have to depend on the opposition to get anything done in his new administration, whose first years will be marked by the tragedy. “In practical terms, no one is criticizing the other. [Piñera] wants to start a political truce, because he will have to go to Congress to get resources for reconstruction,” says Israel. Some estimates put the price tag of rebuilding the nation at $30 billion.
“This is going to be a big weight for the president who begins next week, he’s going to have to move [the nation] forward,” says Hector Moraga, a newspaper vendor in Santiago.
Despite the appearance of truce, political conspiracies abound: One young man said a conversation he had Sunday evening with friends centered on the idea that the current administration was not handling the situation well so that blame will be placed on the new incoming government.
That might be a radical position. But more political fodder is bound to emerge as the Concertacion wraps up 20 years of governance and a right-leaning party takes over, testing the unity of Chileans across the country.