The women presidents of Latin America

Dilma Rousseff has just been elected President of Brazil, making her the country’s first female president. She is the latest woman in Latin America to take up the top job. Here is a profile of the women presidents of the region – both past and present.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil 2010-

Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers’ Party has just been elected president of Brazil – a nation of almost 200 million people, and a rising global power.

She is a career diplomat, and was – until running for the presidency – chief of staff to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva; before that she was energy minister.

Lula gave her his full backing during the campaign and she has promised to continue his policies.

Those who know Rousseff describe her as a “tough cookie”, and as a determined, pragmatic woman who likes to get things done. One of her nick-names is ‘the iron lady’.

She is said to be astute, with a strategic, logical mind.

Her father was an immigrant from Bulgaria, and her mother a school teacher.

While a student in the 1960s, she joined the left-wing armed resistance against the military dictatorship.

Although she says she was never involved in violence herself, she was seen as a key figure within the movement.

She was arrested and held for three years, during which time she was tortured.

Ms Rousseff was released in 1973, resumed her studies in economics, and then joined the civil service.

Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica 2010-

Laura Chinchilla was sworn in as president of Costa Rica in May of this year, after a conclusive victory in elections in February.

She is with the centrist National Liberation Party, and was vice-president under her predecessor, Oscar Arias.

Ms Chinchilla has held several government posts and comes from a political family.

She studied in Costa Rica and at Georgetown University in the US.

Ms Chinchilla is regarded as a social conservative, and is opposed to gay marriage and abortion.

She has promised to continue with the free-market policies of former president Arias, and to expand on Costa Rica’s free trade deals.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina 2007-

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner swept to victory in the first round of Argentina’s presidential election in October 2007.

She took over the presidency from her husband Nestor Kirchner.

The two worked closely together, and were dubbed “the Clintons of the South”.

Mr Kirchner died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in October 2010.

Christina Fernandez has a long track-record in politics dating back to the late 1980s. She has worked in the regional parliament, the national parliament, and as a senator.

She studied law at university, and is known for her work campaigning on human rights and women’s rights.

Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile 2006-2010

Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated as president of Chile for the Socialist Party in March 2006.

She had previously been Chile’s Defence Minister – the first woman to hold that post in Latin America – and also health minister.

She studied military strategy and is trained as a pediatrician and an epidemiologist.

In 1970s, in the early days of Augusto Pinochet’s rule, her father was held on charges of treason. Ms Bachelet and her mother were also detained and tortured, before going into exile.

As health minister Ms Bachelet caused a stir in staunchly Catholic Chile by allowing the free distribution of the morning after pill for victims of sexual abuse.

She stepped down in March 2010 with a popularity rating of more than 80%, as the Chilean constitution does not allow a second consecutive presidential term.

She is currently head of a new United Nations agency working on gender issues, called UN Women.

Mireya Moscoso, President of Panama 1999-2004

Mireya Moscoso won presidential elections in May 1999, and was in charge a year later for the US handover of the Panama canal.

She is the widow of three-time president Arnulfo Arias.

She began her political career after her husband’s death.

Ms Moscoso came from a poor, rural background, and trained as an interior designer.

She promised to work to reduce poverty in Panama. However, her presidency was dogged by allegations of corruption.

Rosalia Arteaga, interim President of Ecuador 1997

Rosalia Arteaga acted as interim president of Ecuador for just two days in February 1997, when the former leader, Abdala Bucaram, was declared unfit to govern.

She was vice-president before that.

Ms Arteaga ran for the presidency in elections in 1998, but got only a small share of the vote.

Violeta Chamorro, President of Nicaragua 1990-1997

Violetta Chamorro beat the incumbent Daniel Ortega in elections, to become president of Nicaragua in April 1990.

She was the candidate for the National Opposition Union – a coalition of parties that ran against the Sandinistas.

Her bid was backed by the US, who lifted sanctions on the country after her election.

Ms Chamorro comes from a wealthy family and was educated abroad, including in the US.

She entered politics after her husband Pedro Joaquin Chamorro – who had been editor of an anti-government newspaper – was assassinated. She took over as editor of the paper after his murder.

She is credited for helping bring stability and peace to Nicaragua.

Lidia Gueiler Tejada, interim President of Bolivia, 1979-1980

Lidia Gueiler Tejada was interim president of Bolivia from 1979 to 1980.

She was chosen to run the country after inconclusive elections and the ousting of the temporary president Walter Guevara.

She was to lead Bolivia until fresh elections, but she herself was removed in a coup before they were held.

She trained as an accountant, and worked as a Member of Congress and as president of the Chamber of Deputies before being interim leader.

She later worked as Bolivian Ambassador to a number of countries.

Isabel Peron, President of Argentina 1974-1976

Isabel Peron was the first woman president in Latin America.

She took over as president of Argentina when her husband – the three-time president Juan Domingo Peron – died in office in 1974.

Isabel Peron was his third wife, and they married several years after the death of the much-loved First Lady Eva Peron.

Known to Argentineans as “Isabelita”, Ms Peron was a former cabaret dancer.

During her presidency, there were numerous labor strikes, and hundreds of political murders.

Isabel Peron was removed in a military coup in 1976, and held under house arrest for several years before moving to Spain.

In 2007, Argentina issued an international arrest warrant for her, over her alleged links to a right-wing paramilitary group, which operated during her rule.

Argentinean authorities also wanted to question her over the disappearance of two men.

Spain rejected the extradition request; the court there ruled that there was insufficient evidence against her.

About the Author: Manzie Vincent Doh is Assistant Editor at M4 Media Group in Beijing.

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