...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Michelle Bachelet = least Chilean name ever?

Recently, walking around downtown Viña del Mar and taking the micro between Viña and Valparaíso reminds me of that old Onion article: ´´It was the eighth subscription card that convinced me´´ written by a guy who only decided to subscribe to Sports Illustrated after the eighth card fell out of his magazine. Anymore, any grassy area or spare wall has been covered, no, plastered with posters and graffiti bearing the names and faces of Chile´s presidential candidates. Just around the Plaza de Viña area, the Puente Libertad, and Avenida Española, there are literally hundreds of 3x4 foot placards with headshots of the presidential and senatorial candidates. But the thing about these photos is that they have all the finesse and professional technique of my second-grade LifeTouch school portrait, in which the photographer snapped the picture just as I blinked, meaning that two months later my parents received several 5x7s and wallet-sized shots of an adorable, pink-headbanded little girl who appeared to be fast asleep. I mean, I´m pretty sure that the background behind Jaquín Lavín´s head is the same one we used in sixth grade at Roosevelt Middle School.

In any case, it is exciting to be here in Chile as the country gears up for the presidential elections on December 11, especially considering that this president will only be the third since the end of the dictatorship--the democratic tradition, formerly a point of pride for Chileans who looked down on their neighboring ´´banana republics,´´ was suspended between 1973 and 1990. Pinochet, or at least, the shadow of Pinochet, is still very much a public figure and is frequently in the news. (Also, as a side note, Chileans pronounce the ´´t´´ at the end of his name--something like Pee-no-shet. Just FYI.)

There are four presidential candidates, representing the entire spectrum from the communists to the ultra-right. From left to right, they are:

1. Tomás Hirsch, the Junto PODEMOS candidate, from the Communist Party. He´s a little like the Ralph Nader of the 2000 US election, or the Dennis Kucinich of the 2004 Democratic primaries: he´s not a viable candidate and he knows that, so he can say whatever the hell he wants without having to back it up. (I´m not criticizing him for that, though. Remember I voted for Kucinich in the primaries.)

2. Michelle Bachelet, from the Concertación, an alliance of center-left parties that has been governing since the end of the dictatorship. She herself is from the Socialist Party, I believe, but the Concertación encompasses everyone from the Socialists to the Christian Democrats. If elected, Bachelet would be Chile´s first woman president. It was widely accepted that she was going to win, but recently she dropped about 6 points in the polls, so now it looks like the election will probably go to a segunda vuelta (second round) between her and...

3. Sebastián Piñera, from the Renovación Nacional (National Renewal), the center-right alliance. Piñera´s a little like the Chilean Bill Gates: he owns one of the major airlines, one of the major newspapers, one of the major TV channels, and a ton of land. He´s one of the richest people in South America. However, that didn´t stop him from calling himself a ´´small-business owner´´ in the debate last night, upon which Hirsch quickly called bullshit. He is charismatic and intelligent, though, and most of the Chileans I know with whom I talk about politics are voting for him.

4. Jaquín Lavín, from the far-right UDI, or Unión Democrática Independiente (Independent Democratic Union). Lavín is a very conservative Catholic (he´s a member of Opus Dei) and according to Ambar has some sort of link to the dictatorship and Pinochet. My host father Carlos is very conservative and I think he might be voting for Lavín.

Last night was the second presidential debate. The candidates were asked questions by journalists from the four major TV networks about the ongoing maritime conflict between Perú and Chile; Perú´s ex-president/dictator Alberto Fujimori, who was extradited from Perú years ago but recently showed up in Chile; the role of moral values and religion in the country; gay marriage and adoption rights for gay couples; small and medium-sized businesses; the indigenous populations; delincuency; and other issues like that. Based solely on what the candidates had to say, I would have voted for Hirsch. He impressed me with his firm stance in support of gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples, as well as his fearlessness in pointing out the ridiculousness of some of the postures of the other candidates--for instance, Piñera calling himself a small-business owner and Bachelet´s habit of talking around the questions rather than answering them. (For example, while I don´t like Lavín ´´God says marriage is between one man and one woman´´ and Piñera´s ´´absolutely no gay marriage, but maybe civil unions´´ stance is only slightly better, at least they answered the question. Bachelet just talked for a minute about gay marriage wasn´t in her agenda for Chile.) Then, during his closing statement at the end of the debate, Hirsch held up a sheet of paper on which he had written DERECHOS HUMANOS (human rights) and said something like, ´´What a pity you didn´t ask Lavín what he thinks about human rights,´´ clearly referencing the atrocities commited against human rights by Pinochet´s regime.

Yesterday we had a mock election in my Moral Social class, and Bachelet won with 50% of the vote, just barely enough to not have to go to a segunda vuelta. Out of 28 people in the class, she got 14 votes, Piñera got 7, Lavín got 4, Hirsch got 2, and one person voted null. I guess we´ll have to wait until December 12 to see for sure, but I wouldn´t be surprised if the results of the actual election follow the same breakdown.