World welcomes Chile's first female president

Chile’s historical rivals and long-time allies joined yesterday in congratulating president-elect Michelle Bachelet, with one South American leader saying women were more than qualified to rule in the region.

Chile’s historical rivals and long-time allies joined yesterday in congratulating president-elect Michelle Bachelet, with one South American leader saying women were more than qualified to rule in the region.

Socialist Bachelet, a former political prisoner and defence minister, won Chile’s presidential election on Sunday, becoming the country’s first female president. She is also the first woman directly elected president of a Latin American country not to follow a powerful husband to power.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he telephoned Bachelet yesterday and took the opportunity to ”congratulate the women of Chile and Latin America”.

Uribe, whose cabinet includes four women, added: “Matters put in women’s hands generally turn out well.”

Bolivia’s leftist president-elect Evo Morales invited Bachelet to attend his January 22 inauguration, saying he hoped to start talks with a country he has criticised in the past.

Chile and Bolivia have not had diplomatic relations since 1978 and Bolivia has long demanded Chile return its Pacific coast access, which it lost in an 1879 war.

Current Presidents Eduardo Rodriguez of Bolivia and Ricardo Lagos of Chile have eased tensions, signing several economic and cultural accords.

Morales said that if Lagos and Bachelet are on hand “it will be a historic moment to start dialogue about historic themes, as well as economic and commercial ones”.

The Bolivian president-elect has suggested that his nation would not sell natural gas to Chile unless that country grants sea access.

Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo said he hoped Bachelet’s election would “fortify the high level of friendly relations and cooperation” between the two countries.

Relations between Chile and Peru, however, grew tense in recent months after a dispute over maritime boundaries.

European leaders also joined the chorus welcoming Bachelet.

“It is my wish that we develop our political, cultural and economic relations together,” French President Jacques Chirac said. The conservative president also said he wants to work with Bachelet, a socialist, for “a more balanced world”.

Piero Fassino, leader of Italy’s opposition Democrats of the Left party, said Bachelet’s election “consolidates the strength and consensus of Latin America’s progressive forces”.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Christie Parell said the Bachelet’s election demonstrated Chile’s strong commitment to democracy.

“We have an excellent, long-standing relationship with Chile and look forward to working with the new president and her team,” Parell said.

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