Michelle Bachelet has assumed the Chilean presidency for the second time. She is a socialist, but not a radical, much like Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Evo Morales of Bolivia. She is popular, and she will face tough going as she attempts to fulfill her many promises in a Chile faced with retracting economic growth.
The most interesting thing, in my opinion, about her swearing-in ceremony Tuesday (11 March) was not who attended, but who did not. Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, embattled and barely holding onto power in a country racked by divisions, violence and government corruption and ineptitude, cancelled plans to attend. He claimed it was because of nasty remarks made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden about Maduro's government. Biden has been speaking out more forcefully in Barrack Obama's second term. That's just fine.
I think it more likely that Maduro did not attend the ceremony because he may be worried that were he to leave Venezuela at this time, he might not be allowed to return. It's not an empty fear. He must be worried about those inside the Venezuelan military and civilian sectors -- even those who supported Hugo Chavez when he was in power -- who see Maduro as a clown and a fool, unfit to govern a country in crisis. He must know the writing is on the wall for Chavez Light.
In Chile, Bachelet is faced with economic demands, including radical and powerful student movement, workers who have long felt the harsh reality of the neo-liberal model imposed by former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and grinding poverty. Though little discussed, one of the most important problems she must grapple with is Chile's deplorable history of abuse and systematic marginalization of its Indian inhabitants in the south, the Mapuche.