2 childhood friends face off in Chile elections

The showdown between the top two contenders in the Chilean elections has the country riveted.

Written by Reuters | Santiago | Published:November 19, 2013 2:04 am

While Chile votes to elect its next President,the showdown between the top two contenders in the elections has the country riveted.

In the polls which took place on Sunday,Leftist candidate Michelle Bachelet was the clear winner,although she will have to wait until a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory. Her main opponent was runner-up Evelyn Matthei of the ruling right-wing coalition,who came second with 25 per cent.

But the two have a connection that goes back decades,and that has revived memories of darker days when socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet in a 1973 coup that ushered in 17 years of dictatorship in Chile.

Bachelet and her father were victims of torture during the Pinochet years,while Matthei’s father was a general in the dictator’s junta. But the two men became friends when they were posted to the same airforce base in the 1950s,and where their daughters played together as children.As a young leftist,Bachelet’s life was deeply marked by the coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973 and ushered in the brutal 17-year Pinochet rule.

Bachelet’s father,an air force general loyal to Allende,was arrested the day of the coup and later tortured by Pinochet’s agents. He died in prison in 1974.

Meanwhile,Matthei’s father was a senior official at the military academy where Bachelet’s father was tortured.

The following year,two secret police officers burst into the flat where Bachelet and her mother lived. The women were whisked away blindfolded to Villa Grimaldi,an infamous military-run center on the outskirts of Santiago where they were tortured.

Once freed,she and her mother fled to Australia and later on to what was then East Germany. She returned to Chile in 1979.

According to an Associated Press report,both families have said Gen. Matthei had no direct involvement in Bachelet’s father’s death and the two women have remained cordial over the years while they rose through political ranks on the right and left.

Bachelet said she spontaneously called former general Fernando Matthei ‘uncle,’ a common term of endearment in Chile,when she saw him again recently.

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