Mapuche: Agos Criticized in Chile for Electioneering
“President Lagos, once and for all, stop intervening in the presidential campaign,” Piñera said. “Chileans, both male and female, are free people and we have the right to choose with liberty. To all Chileans, I say, don’t be intimidated; on Sunday we will have a tremendous triumph for Chile.”
Piñera’s criticism followed a decision by Lagos
to indirectly campaign for Bachelet in
Chile’s Region IX, the region of Chile where support for the center-left Concertación coalition presidential candidate is the weakest.
Lagos, whose approval rating is well over 60 percent as he completes his six-year term of office, has tried to avoid direct involvement in the presidential race, but has pointedly responded to what he calls “populist” proposals made by Chile’s rightist presidential candidate. These include Piñera’s professed support for Chile’s indigenous populations, and for subcontracted workers now striking at the state-owned Codelco copper company.
Responding to Piñera’s call for action on these two issues, Lagos convened a special session of Congress this week to pass legislation no both topics.
Speaking to the indigenous issue, Lagos said last week, “Every time that we have sent this (law) project to parliament, the opposition has voted against it. And when the opposition candidate goes to Temuco and says, ‘yes, recognition (for the indigenous is very important.’ This is what I don’t like.”
Lagos had very similar comments to make about Piñera’s support for the striking Codelco workers, saying the rightist parties supporting Piñera had for three years consistently torpedoed his government’s effort to improve conditions for subcontracted workers.
Many political observers suggest this indirect intervention by Lagos in the election process has effectively changed the focus of the presidential race, pitting Piñera against a very popular president.
Both the indigenous and the subcontracting laws were taken up by Congress on Tuesday, under a special “urgent” designation that had been assigned by president Lagos and thus requires a Congressional vote before the Jan. 15 election. No definitive action was taken before press time, but should rightist parties reject the two initiatives, it will necessarily reflect on their presidential candidate.
The subcontracting law was first brought forward to the Senate in 2002, but was dramatically altered in a rightist controlled Senate. The proposal now before Congress parallels the original 2002 legislation, and rightist senators may again insist that important elements of the legislation be amended. (Ed. Note: See today’s feature for more information on the subcontracting law.)
The indigenous law that is once again before Congress would add a new clause to current law, guaranteeing indigenous groups the right “to conserve, develop and strengthen the identity, languages, institutions and the spiritual, social and cultural traditions of the indigenous peoples who form part of the Chilean nation.”
Some indigenous leaders discounted the government’s rekindled interest in the indigenous law, saying this week’s debate in Congress is purely for show and for political purposes.
Indeed, although important indigenous laws were passed during the first Concertación government led by President Patricio Aylwin, the Concertación’s concern for indigenous issues has always been muted or contradicted by its concern for destruction of property owned by forestry companies in Regions IX and X carried out by dissident Mapuche groups.
Most recent polls have given a slight edge to Bachelet, who,
if elected, would become Chile’s first female president. The polls show
that Bachelet is strongest in the Metropolitan Region and with women, while
Piñera’s greatest strength is with rural men and high income Santiaguinos.
Bachelet will hold her final campaign act, a star-studded event with over 100,000
people expected to attend, on Thursday in Santiago. Piñera, however,
has opted to close his campaign in Valparaíso.