Chile’s Bachelet stands by reform despite slowdown
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Newly inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday that she’ll keep her promises to make profound changes to fight sharp inequality despite Chile’s economic slowdown.
The moderate socialist has promised a $15 billion spending program to overhaul education, improve health care and reduce the vast gap between rich and poor.
“The real threat to Chile would be not carrying out the reforms we’re planning,” Bachelet said at her first news conference after being sworn in a day earlier.
“We’re going to do it as we’ve always done: seriously and responsibly but following the will of the people.”
Chile is the world’s top copper-producing nation and is known for its fast growth and low unemployment. But growth has slowed to a four-year low and prices for copper have plunged. Still, its economy remains strong and is regarded as the best-managed in Latin America.
Bachelet plans to partly finance education reform by increasing corporate taxes gradually to 25 percent from the current 20 percent.
Although “the structural reforms” will stay the course, Bachelet did say that “some budget adjustments” might be needed along the way.
“We’ve said that we need to improve education and it’s vital because unless we do this, we’re not going to improve our productivity, competitiveness and our social condition,” she said.
Bachelet says she is answering the call of millions of students and their families who have staged big protests since 2011 demanding deep changes to an educational system that fails them with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities and loans at high interest that most can’t afford.
During her first presidency in 2006-10, Bachelet won praise for steering Chile through the global economic crisis. Although growth stumbled and unemployment rose, she used government reserves to help the poorest Chileans, and she left office with an 84 percent approval rate.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao