Sebastián Piñera at his inauguration in Valparaíso, Chile.
Today in Latin America

Chile Swears in Sebastián Piñera as New President; Aftershocks Rumble Ceremony

March 12, 2010 By Staff
Sebastián Piñera at his inauguration in Valparaíso, Chile.

Sebastián Piñera at his inauguration in Valparaíso, Chile.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — Chile swore in new President Sebastián Piñera Thursday amidst a 6.9 magnitude aftershock from the Feb. 27  earthquake.

Piñera, along with visiting dignitaries such Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, felt the tremors from the aftershock as they gathered in the National Congress in the coastal city of Valparaíso. The aftershock was centered in Chile’s O’Higgins region, about 90 miles south of Valparaíso and 95 miles south of the capital, Santiago, where windows rattled and cellphone lines temporarily cut-off.

After the inauguration, Piñera announced that troops, supplies and the newly inaugurated president himself would head to the quake zone. Chile’s navy issued a tsunami warning and many coastal residents fled to higher ground, although no tsunami was expected, according to the United States Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The quick response by Piñera contrasted with former President Michelle Bachelet’s 36-hour delay in dispatching the military to restore order and distribute aid following to the Feb. 27 earthquake. Bachelet drew criticism for her response to the earthquake, but left office with an 84 percent approval rating.

“This government will not hesitate one instant, nor wait one second to act,” Piñera said, according to the New York Times. “But at the same time, we call on everyone to remain calm.”

Reports of damage and casualties were limited, although a highway overpass collapsed near the city of Rancagua.

The inauguration of Piñera signals a political shift in Chile. Piñera’s election is the first time since 1990, when the country transitioned back to democracy at the end of the General Augusto Pinochet regime, that Chile has elected a president from a party outside the center-left Concertación coalition.

Piñera, a billionaire who owns the television channel Chilevisión and stakes in LAN airlines and the Colo-Colo football club, ran as a center-right candidate, promising one million new jobs, six percent in annual economic growth and crime reduction.

He said he plans to overhaul the country’s emergency management and response teams and modify his administration’s plans with respect to the reconstruction efforts after the Feb. 27 earthquake.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • The Gulf cartel in Mexico is bribing journalists to work as spies and “blackout” stories relating to the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Mexico asked the International Monetary Fund for the renewal of a $48 billion credit line in case of unexpected problems in global markets.

Caribbean

  • Activists called on Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño to delay a law changing the system for issuing birth certificates to combat identity theft. One million mainland residents born on Puerto Rico may be affected if the new law invalidates their current birth certificates in July, as currently planned.
  • The European Union voted Thursday to condemn Cuba for permitting Orlando Zapata Tamayo to die from a hunger strike, calling the death “avoidable and cruel.”

Central America

  • Honduras plans to play Azerbaijan, Belarus and Romania in friendly matches as preparation for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
  • El Salvador and the United States extended an agreement this week  to protect the Central American nation’s archeological heritage.

Andes

  • President Barack Obama praised  Colombian President Álvaro Uribe in a letter for accepting the Feb. 26 court decision preventing Uribe from running for a third presidential term.
  • A riot broke out at a Metallica concert Wednesday night in Bogotá as fans without tickets tried to get in to the concert venue.
  • According to a report by the the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, the homicide rate in the country quadrupled during President Hugo Chávez’s 11 years in power.
  • The proposed corporate tax reform in Ecuador could create $600 million in new investments in 2010, according to Ecuador’s production minister.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales’ political party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), is leading the polls in the run-up to April’s regional elections.

Southern Cone

  • BP became the latest company to invest in Brazil’s recent oil rush, with a $7 billion deal to develop deep-sea reserves.
  • Chilean students smoke more marijuana and tobacco than their South American neighbors, according to a recent study by the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
  • Retired Uruguayan colonel Manuel Cordero was brought to trial in Argentina Thursday on charges of kidnapping, torture, and murder.  Cordero was extradited from Brazil, where he lived in hiding. (Spanish)

Image: Globovisión @ Flickr.

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