Chile president pledges new infrastructure, gay marriage in final year
SANTIAGO: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced plans on Thursday for new infrastructure including an underground railway line and copper smelter, and said she would push forward on her promise to get a law passed that would allow for same-sex marriage.
Her wide-ranging annual state-of-the-union speech to Congress in the port city of Valparaiso, which lasted over two hours, largely emphasized what she saw as the achievements of her center-left government in its first three years.
As her term enters its final stretch, fresh announcements included plans to begin work on a new underground railway line for fast-growing capital Santiago, which local media estimated would cost some $2.9 billion, and to study the viability of a badly-needed new copper smelter.
The president also said her government would send a bill to Congress in the second half of 2017 to allow marriage between same-sex couples, and confirmed plans to submit a pension reform bill in July.
Bachelet first led Chile between 2006 and 2010, and returned in 2014 with a more ambitious tax-and-spend agenda to try to address the country's deep inequalities.
But opposition to those reforms, including from within her own coalition, missteps in the execution of the reforms, and declining investment amid weak economic growth, have crimped those ambitions and saw approval ratings of the once-popular Bachelet plummet.
"This is the last state-of-the-nation address of my term, and the eighth I have given," said Bachelet in her broadcast speech. "It has been a painful story, but also one with much joy."
She emphasized her flagship education reform, which has seen an expansion of free schooling, with some 60 percent of poorest students expected to attend university for free by next year.
Student organizations, however, say reforms have not gone far enough. They organized protests in Valparaiso and elsewhere in the country on Thursday.
Bachelet's approval ratings have been creeping back up recently, standing at 31 percent in May, her strongest showing in two years, according to pollsters GfK Adimark on Thursday.
Under Chile's constitution, Bachelet is barred from seeking a consecutive term in elections slated for November. The frontrunner to win the vote is center-right Sebastian Pinera from the opposition coalition, who ran the country from 2010 to 2014 and has also promised infrastructure spending.