A Conversation With Michelle Bachelet

Friday, September 22, 2017
Ivan Alvarado/Reuters
Michelle Bachelet

President, Republic of Chile

David M. Rubenstein

Cofounder and Co-Chief Executive Officer, The Carlyle Group; Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations

President Michelle Bachelet discusses the importance of Chile's regional integration in South America. 

RUBENSTEIN: OK. Can I have your attention, please? Everybody put off their cellphones and pay attention. OK. Thank you. (Laughter.) Thank you.

So I’m David Rubenstein. I have the honor of serving as the presiding official at this event. I am also the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and have the honor of doing that.

Today our special guest is Michelle Bachelet, who is now in her second term as president of Chile. She served for four years a number of years ago, then went to the U.N. and became the executive director of the U.N. women’s organization and then was re-elected a few years ago, is now six months before her second term is over.

She is a native of Santiago, grew up there and was educated, though, also in the United States and ultimately went back to Chile and was training as a medical doctor. And then, because of the Pinochet regime, she left the country in exile. Ultimately came back to Chile, finished her medical training and then ultimately was involved in the health care world. Later came to the United States when she was studying here in the military area and became a military strategist as well. She previously served as health care minister of—to our country and later as defense minister and then several years ago became elected president of the country.

Today what she is going to do is talk for about 15 minutes or so about some subjects on her mind. I will then ask her a few seconds about her talk. And then subsequent to that, we’ll have an opportunity for all of you to ask questions.

Our members here know the rules, but to make sure everybody remembers them: Please, when you have a question, make sure it’s a question, not a statement. Please make it a simple question, one that people can understand. And it’s maybe in 10 seconds or 15 seconds time of question, not a 30-second, 40-second question. Identify yourself when you are called upon. And then we’ll have the president respond to those questions.

OK, so now it’s my honor to introduce the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. (Applause.)

BACHELET: Well, Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Mr. David Rubenstein, chairman of the Council; Ms. Mary Boies, a member board; distinguished members of the Council, distinguished members of the Chilean delegation, dear friends:

I want to thank, first of all, the Council on Foreign Relations for this opportunity to share with you some reflections on the growing challenges we face from the southern perspective from a middle-income country that has traditionally been an active player in foreign affairs.

Let me begin by briefly sketching the world we are seeing form Chile.

The current international order, if we can call it that way, is no longer that relatively predictable one of the postwar, when the United Nations and the Bretton Woods organizations were created. We’re witnesses of a post-Cold War world, one in which humanity is facing mounting threats, such as terrorism, cyberterrorism, climate change, pandemics, and even what we thought Cold War has left behind, the threat of nuclear warfare, as exemplified by North Korea’s last actions.

We live in a digital area that has accelerated the future at an amazing speed. We have incredible advances in many new fields, such as the Internet, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, driverless transport, among others. Technological progress has transformed the world economy. It is innovation, knowledge and new products, services and business models that drive success, not cheap labor or physical capital. It is digital over the financial or physical capital.

A growing middle class has arisen because of progress thanks to open trade, interconnectivity and technological acceleration. However, discrimination, nationalism, and xenophobia are also on the rise, leaving many behind. Globalization continues to have many discontent because the fruits of progress and innovation has been unevenly distributed.

Borders disappear as millions worldwide connect around the world at much lower cost, lining up through multiple social networks, allowing us to experience the hopes, frustration, despair and rage of others directly and in real time and empowering citizens to question institutions and political leaders.

In Latin America, as all over the world, citizens are taking to the streets to demand change, citing the lack of response by the traditional political structure as the detonator. Corruption has aggravated this scenario.

The current international context increases the complexity we face. There is justifiable concern about the slowdown of the world economy and the falling of commodity prices which still drive the economy of most Latin American countries. Security concerns and lack of opportunities drive thousands of people to migrate to neighboring countries, placing an additional strain on public services. The impact of climate change on more frequent and severe natural disasters leave thousands without homes or livelihood.

What can Chile do? In the face of these global challenges, we have identified four priority areas for Chile’s foreign policy.

First, to counter protectionism, we have decided to deepen our openness to the world, adding value to our exports and updating our trade agreements to ensure the new issues are covered. It is an imperative for Chile to make a transition from an economic model based on the extraction and export of natural resources to one focused on creativity and innovation. Thus, we must have the capacity to generate good ideas and new technologies. And at the same time we must ensure inclusive society to avoid an unequal distribution of benefits.

Second, we have to contribute to global governance to build a world with clear rules and vigorous multilateralism, one in which all sectors—state, civil society, the private sector—have a role to play and alliances to make. As a relatively small country, respect for international law and governance are key factors.

Third, we must promote a pragmatic regionalism, what we can—we used to call convergence in diversity. Latin America and the Caribbean is from where we should speak to the world and offer as much as possible a common vision, one which reflects our realities, needs and challenges. We understand that diverse economic and political perspectives co-exist in a region. However, we’re also sure that we can find a common agenda on the issues where consensus is possible.

Fourth, democracy and human rights must be protected and strengthened. The promotion and protection of human rights as well as respect for the rule of law, the democratic system and due process constitute a permanent goal of our foreign policy.

Our actions: Then what have we done to pursue these objectives? Since 1990 Chile’s integration into the international community has been characterized by an open trade policy. The result is 26 trade agreements with 34 countries representing over 60 of the world’s population and over 85 percent of global GDP. This strategy has boosted economic growth—our economic growth, created jobs and reduced poverty.

However, today we need to make another leap forward to diversify our productive matrix, to broaden the scope of our trade agreements and to boost of productivity agenda.

Last year we negotiated a free trade agreement with Uruguay and modernized our longstanding and successful trade agreement with Canada, introducing in both cases new issues, such as a chapter of women and trade, focusing on empowering women economically. We are also finishing a trade liberalization agreement with Argentina, which we are certain will boost our bilateral trade as well as open up new opportunities for investors.

Following the departure of United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, Chile convened a successful ministerial meeting with the participation of 15 countries of the Pacific Rim to discuss on how to proceed. As a result of the initiative, the 11 remaining signatories of the TPP have met on a number of occasions. And at the November APEC meeting this year, we will make a decision on the road forward.

Within the Pacific Alliance—you know, the four members are, from north to south, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile—decided to take a major step beginning negotiations as a bloc with Asia-Pacific countries, which will become associated states of the alliance once high-standard trade agreements have been reached. The first four candidates are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore, and the negotiating process will begin this October.

In addition, the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur are implementing—we said convergence in diversity—they have—we’re implementing—Pacific Alliance and Mercosur—we’re implementing an action plan that seeks to bridge the divide between the Pacific and Atlantic shores, opening up and facilitating trade in the region.

There is also common road map for forging stronger links between the Pacific Alliance and ASEAN.

Additionally, Chile is working to become a platform country between Asia and Latin America. With that purpose, in May of the year, we participated in the high-level dialogue of the One Belt One Road OBOR forum, what people have called the Silk Road. And only two Latin American countries were invited to that forum. It was Chile and Argentina. And why is that so? Because at that time I was the president pro tempore of the Pacific Alliance, and Argentina was the president pro tempore of Mercosur. So we both—President Macri and me—participated in this—in this activity.

China, as you probably well know, is our main trade partner, and bilateral ties have deepened considerably in recent years. We’re members of the APEC, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. We will be organizing the 2019 summit. And in 2016 we adhered to the peace and cooperation treaty of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

With the European Union, we’re longtime partners and allies on issues such as human rights, democracy, transparency, gender, sustainable development and protection of the environment. And the European Union is our third-largest trading partner and investor. And the U.S. is our second partner and investor. Maybe in investment, the U.S. is the first.

The modernization of our 14-year-old association agreement with the EU is a priority. And we expect to hold the first round of negotiations before the end of this year.

But what have we been doing to contribute to global governance? Chile has made a strong contribution to multilateralism and global governance in important areas such as climate change, oceans and Antarctica, among other issues. In the past we were active actors in the decolonization process and in the creation of the human rights system.

We believe that reducing emissions and increasing our adaptation capacities is not only urgent; it’s essential. The best available science indicates that at this rate of emissions, current levels of prosperity and well-being will be severely affected by future climate scenarios, creating costs and causing damages that far outweigh any investment.

Political will and collaborative work are the best tools for dealing with climate change. We must discard the notion that the money spent on addressing climate change is somehow a cost that goes against economic growth. On the contrary, we need to understand how this funding will promote new growth, one which is sustainable and respectful of the environment.

Chine is among the 146 states that have ratified the Paris Agreement to fight the dangers of climate change. Through our nationally determined contribution, we undertook the commitment to reduce by 30 percent the country’s intensity of emission per unit of GDP by 2030 and up to 45 percent if we can count with the international support.

Our commitment and clear public policies have led to a surge of clean energy source, especially from solar and wind. We have benefited from declining prices of the associated technologies. But we have also done our part by generating the right incentives in that industry, widening the market opportunities for new investors and implementing policies based on transparency and clear rules.

The transformation is happening very quickly. Solar energy has evolved from being almost insignificant in our energy production in 2014 to become 7 percent of all of the energy produced in Chile. And our case is particularly significant. While energy production represents 35 (percent) of global emissions, in Chile the energy sector represents 70 percent of our emissions, twice as much.

So the Paris Agreement is an ambitious result of the realization that the world cannot continue relying on fossil fuels. The current levels of concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make almost certain that we will keep witnessing the disruption in the climate patterns and extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and in Florida. So these trends are a clear indication that we need to work in our resilience and adaptive capacities.

Any climate change strategy needs to be seen as an opportunity of advancing towards a new social pact, one that points to achieving sustainable patterns of production and consumption and is based in social justice. With this in mind, alliance and partnership are fundamental. The Paris Agreement is a victory for all of us. Nevertheless, at the same time we would like to see it as a global framework for new agreements that respond to specific needs that can come from regions, countries or communities.

And Chile is working in this direction. We look forward to contribute to the 2019 climate summit under the leadership of the secretary-general of the U.N. to generate further actions and to embrace the opportunity to advance to a cleaner and more prosperous future. And we have recently presented the national action plan on climate change, which include 16 specific objectives. Its corresponding lines of action will be materialized in 96 measures.

In this environmental framework, ocean protection is also a key concern for Chile. I don’t know how many of you have been in our country, but we have a very long coastal area, very long. (Laughter.) And a little bit cold, I have to say, but very long. So oceans for us are very important, and on the (effects ?) So, throughout our history, we have always had a maritime vocation. And we’re certain that in the ocean and its resources lays a great proportion of our future.

So the role of the ocean has been largely neglected in international climate discussions, this despite the fact that the ocean provides for all—for half of the oxygen we breathe, and the ocean captures almost one-third of global emissions.

To counter this, we have actively participated in the Our Ocean initiative, hosting its second version and making commitments and joining the 1995 New York agreement on struggling and highly migratory fish stocks. Last June we participated in a U.N. high-level conference on the implementation of SDG 14, and we recently hosted the fourth International Marine Protected Areas Congress. In addition, Chile led, along with France and Monaco, the Because the Ocean declaration, recognizing the importance of the ocean in implementing the Paris Agreement and urging countries to include efforts of ocean conservation in the framework of the climate policies. Close to 30 countries have signed to this declaration.

And regarding marine-protected areas, I’m proud to say that under my government, we have increased by 10 times the areas protected. Or if you prefer, the size of our protected exclusive economic zone has grown from 4.3 to 46 percent. This has transformed Chile into the country with the highest percentage of protected marine spaces in the world. And I’m not saying this to say, OK, we are the first. It’s that I hope this incentivates a lot of other countries to do the same.

At the national level, we’re designing a national ocean policy, which should be completed by the end of the year. And regarding Antarctica, last year we had the honor of hosting the 39th Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting. On that opportunity, we adopted the declaration of Santiago, a firm commitment to take care of the Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems. Another very important achievement was the approval of the establishment of a marine-protected area in Antarctica covering an area of 1.5 million square kilometers—that is, twice the size of mainland Chile—creating the largest reserve of the planet and enjoying protection for a period of 35 years from 2017.

Let me mention some things about regional—I might mention too because we did this with an American citizen, Douglas Tompkins—who unfortunately died a couple of years ago—because they had lots of parks in Chile, so we made a deal that they put one-third of a very important park, we put two-thirds, and so we created huge national parks that will conserve the parks but also will be for the joy of the people.

Let me mention something about regional integration and convergence in diversity. I mentioned already—talked a little bit about Pacific Alliance. And the Pacific Alliance has allowed us to put into practice the concept of convergence into diversity. That is, that instead of emphasizing our differences, we focus on our commonalities. As I mentioned before, Chile put this into effect by promoting a joint agenda between the Pacific Alliance and the southern common market Mercosur.

But we also sought to implement this pragmatic approach at the bilateral level. Last July, for the first time in our history, we held a binational cabinet of ministers of Chile and Peru. We are also cooperating at the subregional level on migratory and security issues. We’re working closely with Argentina on infrastructure, energy, trade, migration and other issues.

With Bolivia, we’re settling our differences in the International Court of Justice. Notwithstanding this, we have carried out what we call a silent integration because trade has increased. Chilean investment in Bolivia has arisen. There is a new Bolivian airline that’s been authorized to operate in Chile. Bolivian students come, many of them with our government scholarships, to study in our university. And the Bolivian community is one of the largest that has made Chile its second home.

With Brazil and Paraguay, we are advancing in the implementation of bio-oceanic corridors between Porto Murtinho and the ports of northern Chile while migratory and mobility issues have been central to our discussions with Ecuador.

We’re committed to supporting—to continue supporting, if I would say, the implementation of Colombian peace process. After accompanying the negotiations with the FARC for years, we now participate with more than 60 observers—I mean, they’re militaries, but they’re called observers—in the U.N. political mission that is verifying the implementation of the peace accord. We’re also guarantors on the ongoing negotiations between the government and the smaller guerilla group, the ELN. And after 13 years, we just have withdrawn our troops from Haiti, although we will continue to cooperate with their authorities to achieve security and stability in the island.

In fact, we’re active south-south cooperation donors and also—well, also with Central America—but our strategy for international cooperation for development 2015-2018 prioritizes Latin America and the Caribbean in human capital formation and technical assistance. We have also closely worked with the United States, Japan and Mexico in projects for Central American countries and with CARICOM, implementing series of initiatives aimed at protecting its marine areas and creating greater resilience to natural disaster.

But we also have developed our cooperation plan with African countries. And we have created the Nelson Mandela scholarship that permits that people who want to do master degrees can go to Chile in areas where they need it—of course, paid by Chilean government.

So a little bit about democracy and human rights. Chile has a deep concern for fundamental norms and values of democracy and human rights, particularly in our region. This focus does not affect, in our view, the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries. This is why we see with great concern what happens in Venezuela. We have individually and collectively declared ourself in favor of a negotiated solution to the current crisis with full restoration of the democratic constitutional order and the rule of law and based on a credible dialogue with Venezuela but with the support of the international community.

Chile has been active in defending sexual minorities, promoting gender equality and addressing emerging human rights problems. By the way, just in case, Chile is candidate to the Human Rights Council for the period 2018-2020.

Our country agrees with—that was a commercial, anyway—(laughter)—our country agrees with the U.N. secretary-general’s mission in regard to the pillars of peace, sustainable development and human rights, which form a triad that is inextricably linked to the progress in the 2030 sustainable development agenda.

At the national level, we have implemented the first national human rights plan as well as the first action plan on business and human rights.

So let me end by saying that there are—some of our main actions in the foreign policy arena. We have much more, but this I will try to not take so long. Underlying our initiatives is the recognition that we live in an increasingly interconnected and complex world, which presents us with challenges that can be addressed only in a concerted fashion. Chile has the fundamental goal of being present and aware of world challenges and to work closely with others to develop common solutions to global challenges. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

RUBENSTEIN: Thank you very much. Everything is on the record, so if you have a question and you don’t want it to be on the record, don’t ask that question. (Laughter.)

For those of us who have not been in the halls of the U.N. this week, can you tell us what the atmosphere is like? Are people talking about rocket man and dotards—(laughter)—or are they basically talking about other issues? What’s been the atmosphere? And is it optimistic or pessimistic compared to your previous experiences being here?

BACHELET: So we’re on record now? OK, yeah. (Laughter.)

So the answer should be I haven’t heard anything about it. But the thing is that, if I may say, in all international activities that I’ve been in the last time, the U.S. has been the conversation, the U.S. government has been in the conversation, trying to know where it will go. I mean, stepping out of TPP, stepping out of Paris Agreement is something that people have been concerned because the U.S. is a very important actor.

And of course, I would say this part of the message of President Trump was—I mean, some people like and some people didn’t like it. I wasn’t there because I had—we had our national day, so I just arrived on the 20th. I just read on the newspaper. But I will have to say there is some concern. There is some concern because I think people, the majority of people prefers dialogue and negotiation than to think on some other kind of relation with countries. I mean, it’s not that people liked what North Korea is doing, of course not. But they would prefer try to solve it through more diplomatic ways.

RUBENSTEIN: Let me ask a couple questions about your life story, which is quite interesting. Your father was imprisoned under Pinochet, and he died of a cardiac arrest in prison. You left the country. Did you ever think that you would be able to come back to the country and rise up to president at that time you left the country? Or you didn’t know what would happen in the future?

BACHELET: Well, I was imprisoned too. And then they expelled my mother, and I went with her too.

I never thought of being president in my life until it appeared for the public opinion that I would be a president of the republic. I would never look for it, no. So of course I didn’t know what was going to happen because when I left Chile at that time, nobody knew how long the dictatorship will be there, you know. So nobody will know exactly. But I knew something: I was going to come back to Chile. So as soon as possible, I came back. And that’s why I stayed in Europe, like, four years, and then I went back to Chile.

RUBENSTEIN: And when you came back, you became—you finished your medical training, is that right? And you are a medical doctor.


RUBENSTEIN: And what caused you to abandon that profession for the political world?

BACHELET: Well, I’ve always been in politics, since I was young, since I was in school. I mean, it was not linked to a political party, but always organizing things, you know, trying to move people and so on. And then at the university I participated in politics, more, if I may say, more organized way.

So part of the reason why we went out of the country, the dictatorship, was because we did not—I mean, we did not agree with what the dictatorship was doing. So in exile, I also worked on politics, trying to, you know, create awareness of what was happening in Chile, what the dictatorship was, how they were violating human rights and so on. And after I came back, I continued on that.

So it has been—and why should I—so I was a doctor and also a politician. But I was always under the stage and not over the stage. So what happens is that I still was a doctor until some years ago, but when I became a minister, it really was not possible to continue doing pediatrics and to be a minister. So that I stopped with the medical.

RUBENSTEIN: So when you—

BACHELET: But one thing—sorry—there is this Virchow—Virchow is a German scientist. He said that science, or medical science, and politics, it’s very similar: At the end, you care for people, and you treat societies or people.

RUBENSTEIN: So you were a pediatrician.

BACHELET: I’m a pediatrician.

RUBENSTEIN: So you tell people their child is crying, just give them a little aspirin and come back tomorrow? (Laughter.) Or what was the—what was your specialty?

BACHELET: I was a good pediatrician. (Laughter.)


So when you ran for president—

BACHELET: But I wouldn't recommend me now because I’ve been out of practice for some time.

RUBENSTEIN: So when you ran for president and you were elected, you were the first woman in Latin America to have been elected president who was not succeeding a husband, essentially. So when you were running, did you actually think Latin Americans, who are often macho in many of their voting styles, I’d say, would ever elect a women president whose husband had not previously been president?

BACHELET: Well, I think one good thing for me was that I didn’t have a husband. (Laughter.) So I didn’t have the danger of being on—as other women, you know. No, but what I mean to say—it’s a joke, of course—(laughter)—but what happens is that why I decided to be a candidate, it was because when I was minister of health, they gave me a task, and the president said publicly, if you don’t fulfill this task in 90 days, you have to resign. He said it publicly. So I just—I mean, and when he asked me and told me to be a minister of health, I said to him, you know, who told you that was possible is wrong. In 90 days you cannot solve the problem because—if a structure is not good enough to solve a problem and you don’t have so and so and so. So I want to work hard, but in 90 days I’m going to resign. I have no problem because I’m not going to be able to fulfill 100 percent of the task. So what happened is that before the public segment, when we were finished in the 90 days, I went to see the president and I said, look—I mean, my people told me we have reached 90 percent. I did not believe it, so I said—I discounted 10 percent; I said, look, we are reaching 80 or 82 percent, not more than that, so here is my resignation. So he said to me, oh, no, no, not at all. This is a great success, et cetera.

And then being defense minister, also that was very new—I was the first defense minister in Latin America, the fifth in the world at that time. And of course that changed the views because as a minister of health, it’s like, you know, caregiver, right? Sort of more girly thing, could be. (Laughter.) Because women always take care of everyone, you know. But in defense, it looked like more powerful position, and also, with my history, that we can have very good relationships with the militaries and so on. So then people start looking at me. And I’m saying that we saw in the—you know, in the polls that I could be a president. So even before I was thinking on that, people started thinking. So I could win because you could see it on the polls.

But that doesn’t mean that the machist culture, the sexism has changed. It has changed a little bit. But still we have that. And we need to continue working so that kind of culture changes forever.

RUBENSTEIN: Have you ever thought about the unusual situation, back when you were a health minister, trained as a doctor and healing people, but you’re also trained as a defense specialist, and defense specialists are not usually healing people as much as doctors. So have you ever thought about the strangeness of those two backgrounds?

BACHELET: But on the other hand—I mean, in both situations, you need to make decisions. And you need to make hard decisions, not only—not only, you know, healing decisions, so—because you need to prioritize. You need to say this is what I’m going to say, this is not what I’m going to do. And you know that that can hurt people—I mean, not people, but you will prioritize things. And—but on defense issue, it also gives you a way of making decisions, a form to deal with issues that they both are, I think, a good background to be a president.

RUBENSTEIN: So what country is the most important to your country? Is it what happens in the United States? Is it your major trading partner, China? Or is it Brazil or Argentina or Peru? What country is the most important to your country?

BACHELET: I mean, I would say—I mean, because—I’m so convinced that we are so interconnected, that they’re all important. And we want to have the best relationship with all of the countries. And of course it’s—in some the trade is more important. In some others—for example, of course for us, our neighbors are very important because we have had in the past histories of issues in the past, but many of them are completely solved. But we still have some issues.

And of course—and the region is important for us because we are—we are also important—we have trade with the region. We have cultural, political relations. We—and we believe that also—I mean, because—we have a great relationship with the U.S. historically and we want it to continue in that way. But of course, if I may say, as I mentioned in the—my speech in the General Assembly, you see the world differently from the south, of course, because you’re still in Latin America, there’s a lot of inequality, there’s a lot of problems. So you can be a very modern person, you can love the west side or the north, but you have to look at it from the south.

So I think Latin America and the Caribbean region for us is also very important.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, economic growth has slowed down in Chile recently, and income inequality has increased a bit. What are you trying to do to change those situations?

BACHELET: Well, I have to say the economic slowdown started in 2012, and it was much linked to, you know, copper prices were going down. And one other problem that we do have is that productivity is not rising as it should, has been stagnated for some time. And so we have been dealing with many—and at that time, when I came as a second-time candidate and—I spoke with many businessmen and we tried to identify what’s going on with the economy.

And we had different issues there. One is that the copper price—commodity prices have been going down because of the crisis. China was our first buyer, was slowing their buy. Second, we had a problem with productivity. Third, we had a problem with energy cost, too costly. And fourth, we had a problem on lack of enough diversification of our economy and many other things, but I’m mentioning the highest.

And we did not—were not at the—with the innovation, I would say, rhythm that we should be. So what have we done? And some of them will not be seen tomorrow, but it will be—there are things you have to do on the middle- and long-term.

So what have we done? From the—on one hand, on terms of productivity, we realized we had great people but we still needed to improve our human-capital capacities. So we were developing educational reform so we will not only ensure access to education, that—it’s already guaranteed—but quality education. I mean, in our country, you—if you have money, you have better access to better schools, better universities, et cetera, and so on. We’re changing that. So we shouldn’t lose any capacity and potential of people because they don’t have the money to go to continue to study.

So we have developed a very important reform from nurseries to tertiary education. But you don’t see the results in one week or in—so second, we have been—we developed an agenda of economic growth and innovation, and we identified which were the access—the main access of opportunity for Chile. And we work in a PPP, private-public partnership, to leverage money to improve in mining, in tourism, in a lot of the areas, but with innovation included.

Third, on energy, we have pushed very strongly for renewables. And I mentioned that we have, you know, increased the renewable part of the energy matching. We had matches when I arrived in my second term, I would say, not very sustainable. We depend too much on others, dirty and very expensive.

So now we have many—and we have many, many capacities in terms of wind power, in terms of solar power, and we just inaugurated a week ago the first geothermal plant in South America. So we have lots—and I have to say, the majority of them are all international investor, and many of them are U.S. investor who have been developing this.

So we have been dealing with each one of these areas to try to boost—to boost our economy. But I have to say I’m not sure that it’s true that inequality has risen, because our last measurement doesn’t show that on the country.

RUBENSTEIN: Per capita—

BACHELET: What we have is—we have—I mean, my—even though—how do you call that indicator—

Q: Gini.

BACHELET: The Gini—we always—also decreased it.

RUBENSTEIN: Yes, but per-capita net income, I thought, was going down. Is that not true? Maybe I’m misinformed. I thought per-capita net income was going down. But whatever the case, let me ask you one or two other—

BACHELET: I don’t think so, but—

RUBENSTEIN: OK. Let me ask you one or two other questions before we have questions from our members.


RUBENSTEIN: One is, since, I think, 1930, you were the first person in competitive elections in Chile to have a second term. So after the first term was over, you didn’t get tired of being president. And why did you want to go back a second term? And any regrets about going back a second term? And would you consider a third term?

BACHELET: Well, after being president, I came—as you mentioned in your introduction, I was appointed as the first big organization on female—on gender—on women’s empowerment and gender equality, U.N. women. And I lived here for two years, and we sort of built this organization, and I was the first executive director. And I stayed here for two years and a half in New York.

But what happened at that time, that—you know, I was not meaning to go back. I was happy here, doing a lot of jobs, going everywhere, working as hard as possible, trying to get resources. That’s one part of the job nobody explained to me, that when I arrived at the U.N., I had to get the resources because there were no resources. But that was part of the job.

So—but at that time, there were not enough competitive candidates from my sector. So people would come here and say to me, you have to go back to Chile and be a candidate. So at the end, I decided, OK, this is—I have a responsibility I have to go through.

And I went back. But if you say that if I regret it, I will never mention nothing about that. It has been a fantastic, marvelous experience with some issues and some challenges.

RUBENSTEIN: But what about—you could run another term. You have to—you have to be out for a while—

BACHELET: Oh, I could.

RUBENSTEIN: —but would you consider that, or are you definitely not going to do that again?

BACHELET: In Chile, theoretically you cannot run immediately. You have to skip one term, and then you can run. We might change that maybe, I mean, as a country, not tailored to me. But I’m not going to run, never again.

RUBENSTEIN: You’re not going to run. What do you plan to do after your term is up? (Laughter.) After your term is—

BACHELET: No, two times—enough. Enough.

RUBENSTEIN: After your—after your term is up, what do you plan to do?

BACHELET: Oh, I don’t know yet, because, you know, the first thing, I think I want to get a bit of time for myself, a little bit. And then I’m going to think about it. I have received invitation from universities, from other countries and so on, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do.


BACHELET: And I have been appointed recently—but this is not a job—with—not a salary. It’s just a nomination on a high-level panel that the secretary-general has nominated for mediation in conflict—in conflict. So I’m one of them, but it’s not a job. I mean, you can do it—it’s, like, brainstorming and how to help the secretary-general and give recommendations on mediation.

RUBENSTEIN: So let’s suppose somebody is watching you and they hear you and they say: This is a very impressive woman, I want to go know her country better, but I want to maybe go to that part of the world. If I go to Ecuador, I can go to the Galapagos Islands. If I go to Peru, I can go to Machu Picchu. What would be the appeal of flying to Chile? What do you have that I should want to go see in Chile? What’s a great tourist thing that I would want to go see?

BACHELET: Well, in the north, you have the desert of Atacama. San Pedro de Atacama—cities are very beautiful. In the south, you can have—I mean, different things, because Chile has things like any country of the world, something very special. You have, you know, the southernmost part, very beautiful glaciers and mountains. And in the middle, you have lakes and beautiful things. But everywhere we have good wine. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: OK. All right.

BACHELET: Everywhere good wine. And of course, friendly people, good gastronomy. We’re improving our food capacity, cooking capacity.

RUBENSTEIN: OK. And great skiing too.

BACHELET: Yes, good skiing. For example, many Brazilians go to ski to Chile because they don’t have, I mean, too much snow.


BACHELET: We have a lot of people coming for different things. And we’re also thinking—and you know what thing—I mentioned that Douglas Tompkins—we did this deal on giving us part of—it’s his park. And the last time I saw him just before he died, we were at the International Convention—Adventure Tourism Congress.


BACHELET: And you know, Chile has won—last year he won—we won the best place in the planet for adventure tourism because we have so many different—I mentioned Rapa Nui is the right land that is great, another place.

RUBENSTEIN: OK. All right.

BACHELET: So—and this year we already won the original one, and we’re hoping to be the candidate for the planet’s best place.


BACHELET: You’re all invited to go to Chile.

RUBENSTEIN: You convinced me. I’m getting on a plane tonight, and I’m going down.

BACHELET: OK, that’s great. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: OK. So right here, first question. Identify yourself, and a simple question.

Q: Hi, I’m Sandeep Kishore from the Arnhold Institute at Mount Sinai. I’m a young medical doctor, so I’m quite inspired by your path to public service and hope more people follow.

One question—I was listening for it, but I didn’t hear your priorities on health and global health. And in particular I was wondering if you could unpack that and describe the tension between emerging epidemics like Zika in your region versus chronic non-communicable diseases that cause economic devastation. Thank you.

BACHELET: Yeah. Well, Chile has a special power that is a little bit different from other countries. In one—I mean, we have reasons that we have a very—if I would say—institutionalized health system, public health system. Of course we have private health system, but public health system with a structure that is pyramidal. We have a very widespread health care facility for primary care and then second level and third level more specialist.

We have—we do have some issues on terms of getting in the public system doctors and specialists, because sometimes private clinics, you know, offer them more money and they go there. So we have challenges, but we have good levels—indicators of health, indicators. We have the same as the OECD or, like, European. Our life expectancy is very high also. It’s, like, 82 percent (sic; years) for women, 78 for men. It’s like in Europe, European countries.

We have very low levels of maternal mortality and infant mortality but still, of course, ensuring that that will continue that way and hopefully even decrease it.

We have very low levels of malnutrition—I mean, under-nutrition. Now we have the other problem, you know, excess of weight and obesity. So we’re working on that. And on that terms, we are working on improving children’s feeding at schools with the, you know, food that is nutritionally good but not so caloric. And on the other hand, we have implemented the—a law that puts on every food product a—if it’s high in calories, if it’s high in salt, and if it’s high on fats. That’s following the WHO recommendation.

We also—when we did the tax reform 2014, we included taxes on, you know, sugar beverage and so on. So we have been trying to—also following recommendations, and we also put green taxes for trying to diminish the contamination that reduces, you know, some cars with—so.

So we try to include in our policies—not only health policies but other policies—elements that will support also the health condition. For example, now we are going to ban plastics—the use of plastic bags on the coastal area, not all the country yet because, you know, there’s SMEs who are producing plastic bags. So we need to go globally to avoid all the contamination that plastic is doing in the world, in the oceans. But also I’ve seen some scientific program that shows something that’s very—we have to be concerned—that this plastic, you know, diminishes to micro-molecules that could be in water, in our foods every day, and that are linked to cancer.

And so we’re trying to work on many different areas and—but also, as I said, forming more specialists, forming more doctors that can go to the public system. We have very good nurses, very good—how you—with midwives. We have a good system, a very good system. But of course we’re not a rich country, and also medicine is every day more expensive. So we need also to improve technology. And so we’re working on those areas, but we still have challenges, of course.

RUBENSTEIN: OK, right here. Right—yes, right here. Right here.

Q: Where is—oh, there she is. I’m Wendy Luers, the president of the Foundation for a Civil Society and the grandmother of three Chilenos.

And I would like to ask you quickly two questions. One is, you are such a leader in renewables. And is Chile going to be able to make—and is Chile going to have it as a política del estado, a politic of the state, rather than a politic—politics of the government? So will your wonderful, extraordinary measures be able to carry over to your successor?

And secondly, would you please expand on what you’re doing about Venezuela?

BACHELET: OK. Well, the first thing I’d have to say I don’t know who my successor will be, because even though my predecessor is in the pole position right now, well, we—I believe that unless very little people participates in the election there will be no president-elect within the first round.

I mean, from—many years from now, everyone has—had to go to a second term—I mean, second round, ballotage, as I mentioned. Because to be elected president immediately, you have to have 50 percent of the vote plus one, and because we have so many candidates it has not been possible for, what, six times? So probably if—if people goes and votes, and we have a problem there because we decided to be very open, modern—we had mandatory voting and we changed it to free voting, and because—and I was with the idea and I feel that I was wrong about that because I thought because we had very high levels of participation that people had civic commitment and what happens was—because it was mandatory. So when we put it as free will, abstention increased a lot and I think that’s not good for democracy.

But having said that, we’re going to have a second round and we do not know how the forces will align for the second round. But having said that, I hope that anyone who comes after me will continue with that because I think this is something—I mean, we don’t have anybody in Chile, I believe, that really—I mean, none of the candidates, I mean, that don’t believe that climate change is a threat.

So I think—and on the other hand, it has—it can be good business, too. I mean, this—the way we are doing things we have been dealing with our climate change commitments but, on the other hand, people have been able to do the green economy, the blue economy, as an opportunity.

Let me give you another example. We were giving to people—we are changing—we have a lot of contamination in some cities, in Santiago, in Chile, so we decided to give from a very low cost people, particularly vulnerable people, heaters that are not so—that have technology that don’t contaminate so much.

When we arrived to offer this, there were four companies that developed those heaters. Now we have 60 companies. So something that could have seemed for someone like oh, my goodness, this is a bad thing, has been a good thing for companies. So we’re always trying to push green economy and blue economy. So I believe anyone who comes will continue with that.

And we have a certain tradition. I mean, for example, foreign policy in Chile is a state policy. It doesn’t change dramatically from one person to another. Doesn’t matter where it comes, politically speaking. It’s like a state policy, you know, and that is something good. So there are many things where we have state policies. There are others where my predecessor says he’s going to change what I have done. But in this case, I think it will remain. And the second one—sorry?

RUBENSTEIN: On Venezuela.

BACHELET: On Venezuela. Yeah. Well, we—I mean, I think there is—we are living in a special moment right now because we have been linked to the Venezuelan process in terms of—even the day I—of my inauguration in the afternoon there was this meeting of our foreign ministers for all the countries of UNASUR in Santiago to see how we could support and help a peaceful, you know, response to the crisis.

All this time, I mean, there have been so many efforts by the Vatican, by the three former presidents—you know, the Spain former, the Dominican Republic, and the Panamanian—and sort of nothing has worked, really. But—and we are concerned, of course, about also what people are having—all the problems with, you know, the humanitarian, if I may say, effects of the crisis.

But now we are thinking of a special moment that I have some hope because I don’t know if you know that Dominican Republic is going to be sort of the place where negotiations will start from the parties, and four countries will be the guarantors of that process and it’s Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

So we will be involved directly as we have been involved with Colombia, FARC, ELN, and we hope—we hope—we see signs of hope. I mean, it may be—we don’t know how we will end. But I think there is—that’s why we have been calling for the credible dialogue that we can have concrete results. And I think there has been some talks between the parties but I see some hope that it could be—sort of define a route map that can be agreed by both parties—by the government and the opposition—that could lead to a better solution.

RUBENSTEIN: Other questions right here, right here, and then—well, her and then you. OK. All right. Thank you.

Q: Great. My name is Elmira Bayrasli and I’m the co-founder of an organization called Foreign Policy Interrupted.

Our mission is to increase female voices in the media, and I have to say, over the past few years with the rise of strongmen it’s been increasingly hard to see female voices out there. How would you assess the role of women around the world and what—do you have any recommendations about how we can increase female voices on the world stage?

BACHELET: Well, you know, every APEC meeting we have—APEC meeting we have meetings with an organization of female parliamentarians, on one hand, and on female entrepreneurs, and this is one of the discussions we always do because, you know, we have so many successful stories of women but they are never known.

So when we’re talking about how a female can have a better sort of a voice being heard and have better—how do you call that, presencia—was this presencia?

AUDIENCE: Presence.

BACHELET: Presence. Presence in the—in the world stage and world media. We discovered that we needed to work much more with the media to show a good example, to be able—of course, sometimes the media doesn’t cover anything that women do. But I think—so you need to ponder. First of all, you need to ponder. You need to create organizations, groups, and you need to mentor more women because there are many women who want to do more but they don’t know how to.

There was this great job done by Geena Davis, the former—the actress in Hollywood but that was a little bit different. She was working with the guys who made the scripts of the movies, of the series on television, to change the view of how women act and react and so on. So there’s many things on the cultural level, on one hand, on the media level. So we need to work harder with the media, I would say, to give spaces to women.

RUBENSTEIN: OK. All right. Yes, right here, then the next.

Q: Thank you. Richard Huber of InVina Wine Group.

Thank you for the comment. (Laughter.) We have a medium-sized enterprise in the Maule Valley—agricultural—and as you are certainly aware, the fertility rate in Chile, of course, has plummeted and, traditionally, there has been very, very little immigration. I see that that is changing and we’re pleased to see that because we, like a lot of our companions, we need people to work for us and we can’t find them. So will you comment a little bit about the changing policy as far as immigration is concerned?

BACHELET: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, well, we have a problem that women are more modern. They want to work and get out of home. So they don’t want to have so many kids. And so we—our average, it’s been going down, as you mentioned, the fertility rates.

But that is also because we have improved women’s education so they want to do something else. I mean, they want to have kids. And there is also the young generation who don’t want to have kids at all, I have to say—you know, 30-year-olds, 30 to 40s. But anyway, so we, of course, incentivate the women make their own decisions on that—on that side.

But migration has been increasing on the last years. We have had migration of, you know, neighboring countries. When their—those countries had not an economic good development, they have come to Chile for many years. You know, we have lots of Peruvian, lots of Bolivian. I mentioned that Bolivia was one of the biggest nonoriginal Chilean group, and Chile now is their second home.

We have had also—and the last time we had a big migration of people from Haiti—big, big—and we think by the end of the year we’ll have—I mean, we’re not sure—I mean, at least 80,000 Haitians and—but some people say 100,000 Haitians. And they are very good workers—people—very serious people, very gentlemen. So they are really good workers. The people really appreciate them.

We have also started to see a big migration—I mean, we had, of course, during the war a lot of Colombians coming. But they were not migrants—they were refugees, many of them. We have also refugees coming from—I mean, not from Palestine itself—from Palestine camps in different countries in the Middle East.

But the last time we have had, increasingly, Dominican Republicans coming, looking for better opportunities, and particular, Venezuelan. I mean, you know, yesterday—we were talking all week or yesterday with President Santos. They have, like—I mean, someone told me a million. I don’t know if a million but at least 300,000 Venezuelans coming from across the frontier and, of course, it makes for them very difficult to attend health services and so on because with that numbers that overcomes everything.

RUBENSTEIN: Any increase in Americans coming down or—(laughter.)

BACHELET: No. I don’t know. So—so what I would tell you, and I will finish just a minute—


BACHELET: —so we will have more Venezuelans, and many of them are professionals. But the problem is we don’t have, you know, recognition of title so we—so our migration policy we just sent a new law, a bill, to Congress. So we are trying to do two things, because the former law comes from 1975 under the dictatorship. So migration was seen as a threat.

So we’re changing it to—you know, we still have open frontiers but we’re improving the law. We have been—seeing what we do with Chile, for example. So some things not with the law. It’s just a policy. We have a lot of children who come. The parents are illegal. But children should have access to health, to schools. So we’re providing them with some documents. So even that we’re not demanding their parents to legalize their situation—we’re going to work on that—but to ensure the children will have all the—all the services that they need, and so many other things but he’s in a hurry.

RUBENSTEIN: Final question. Final question right here. Quick question.

Q: Carolyn Maloney.

Thank you for your leadership. Your country recently voted to decriminalize abortion. What has the response been? Has it been a pushback or is there support for more reform? And with your tenure ending and, really, the terms of other female leaders in Latin America, in Bolivia and Argentina, who do you see as the future of female political leadership in Latin America? Do you see a reversion back to the ’90s decades? And in terms of Venezuela, Latin America and you have been speaking out for democracy. Thank you. But in addition to the negotiations, what can we collectively do to support the democracy movement in Venezuela? Thank you for your extraordinary leadership.

BACHELET: Well, in terms of what we—we did approve a bill that we sent—was two years and a half discussing in Congress because this has been a very controversial thing. In Chile, abortion for three causes was legal until December 1989. I mean, the whole military regime it was possible. If you had the sign of three doctors that said that your life was in danger or whatever, you could have an abortion.

But at the end—the dictatorship was finishing so some groups pushed and made it illegal. So we are already how many years in democracy from the ’90s—27 years? Twenty-seven years. We have been trying to change the situation all these years. So this year—of course, I’m a person who believes in sexual reproductive rights.

But the agreement we could get in our coalition was three causes, for three causes. So that’s the one we approved, and it was approved. But, of course, there are—I mean, we have just the (national ?)—(inaudible)—and there was this religious Te Deum—I don’t know how you say that in—a religious sort of ceremony for—for the nation and, of course, this was an issue in both of them. I mean, in the evangelic and in the—in the Christian and in the Catholic one, I mean, because those churches are not for it.

But I think 70 percent, 80 percent of people are with it and I think it’s important because it’s not mandatory. It’s just to give options to women and to give options with accompanying them, giving them support—mental and physical support so women can make choices. That’s it. And not go to jail because of that, you know. So, I mean, many other women don’t want to use it, they don’t use it. But I don’t think anyone should impose to someone a decision, particularly a decision so difficult a decision for women. So I think women should make that decision.

In terms of female leadership in Latin America, I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know. I’m not so hopeful about it. But I think you need to—we need to continue supporting women’s organizations, supporting women’s leadership capacities. And we have great women but I don’t know if they are possible presidents in the future. But we have very good women. So that’s why we work a lot on WIP—Women in Parliament, for example. That’s a—that’s this organization we work on, and with other female organizations to support women leadership.

And the last thing was on Venezuela. If I may say, it’s easier for me to say what you shouldn’t do, and what you shouldn’t do is military intervention.

RUBENSTEIN: Has anybody suggested that?

BACHELET: No, but just in case. Just in case. (Laughter.) But I would tell you, because when a country feels threatened it probably will make stronger the ones who are seen as the defenders of sovereignty. And I’m talking not about the U.S. I mean, I’m talking any country that should—I think anything that can be done to support that the dialogue process has success and that means, for example, having relations, if there are relations, civil society to civil society, but also not cutting all the bridges, because one of the things Chile has done is not to cut bridges.

I mean, we privately said lots of things—because some countries have decided to sort of, you know, get to the neck of the government. But in Chile, we have decided to sort of more work with silent diplomacy because sometimes you need to do different things in different ways, depending on the moment.

So we have been—so that’s why now we have been accepted to be one party, and another country would not have been accepted. So and we hope we can play an important role. So whatever—so but also it’s important to talk to a position, for example. When we talked to them last week—I mean, they visited Chile a couple of weeks ago, and I always mention to them, of course, they can do whatever they want.

But I said, and my recommendation is that when you have a society that is polarized, when you have—I mean, if you ask for paradise and you ask for seven points, probably it won’t work. So privatize a couple of things so you can concretely agree and then you can move forward because you already built some certain level of confidence. When there is no confidence at all, it won’t work.

So you need to build some certain level of confidence that the government and the opposition will agree on something, it will have concrete results, so then you can move forward. And because everyone—every time you spoke with their president they wanted seven points and that’s very difficult for a government to accept, you know.

So I think—I hope that’s going to work next week when the meeting will be there—first meeting. So I think that’s sort of how they are looking at the situation. But because I—I mean, I always had the discussion in here, in the U.N., because in terms of what should be, everybody wanted a very—a country with even no democracy at all they wanted to be Denmark tomorrow. It isn’t possible.

You need to think gradually how you are improving conditions, situation, and so on. And also, of course, maybe we have to put another name because humanitarian is not a name that they like there, but all the help that can be done because I think a lot of people are having a bad time there.

RUBENSTEIN: So a final question is, for all of us who lived through U.N. week here it’s hard to get around. Tell us, if you’re a president of a country can you actually get around New York easier than we do or—(laughter)—it’s no easier for you than us?

BACHELET: Well, it’s easier in terms that the barriers are open when they said who is this because, you know, we are with the police car before us and there’s people from the Secret Service. So that is easier. But I’ve been here as a New York citizen so I know how awful it can be. (Laughter.)

RUBENSTEIN: All right. Well, I want to thank you very much for a great conversation. Thank you. (Applause.)

BACHELET: Thank you. Thank you, David.

RUBENSTEIN: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)


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