Pinochet’s great-niece assumes office as new Chilean minister

SANTIAGO – President Sebastián Piñera yesterday administered oath to the new Minister of Women and Gender Equity, Macarena Santelices, who is a relative of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“It is a simple ceremony, but with a lot of meaning. I am sure that Macarena (Santelices) and Carolina (Cuevas, undersecretary) are going to meet and are going to rise to this tremendous challenge,” said the president during the swearing-in ceremony at the Palacio de La Moneda.

The new Minister for Women has a degree in communication sciences from the University of Viña del Mar and was also mayor (mayor) of Olmué (north) between 2012 and 2019 and comes to replace Isabel Plá, who resigned from the post on March 13.

Santelices is the great-niece of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and it was she herself who defended the former dictatorship in a television interview on the Quintavisión channel last October.

“I believe that life is made of rigor, of effort and I am the woman of merit. I have not been charged as the daughter or granddaughter of … I have been charged because of the work I have demonstrated to my neighbors. I really think that segmenting people because they are on one side or the other is out of fashion,” said Santelices in an interview with Quintavisión last October 15, when she was leaving her position as mayor to run as candidate for governor of the Valparaíso region, 159 kilometers from Santiago.

In the interview, she defended that the Pinochet dictatorship was “a government that had many economic advances, but its great karma will always be the violation of human rights. That is something that nobody could cover the sun. Yes, there were human rights violations and that is the great karma that the military government has, but there was also an economic reactivation.”

During the 1973-90 military dictatorship, more than 3,000 people were murdered or disappeared by security forces and many thousands more imprisoned and tortured.

Santelices’s appointment comes amid a growing wave of women’s activism in Chile, two months after more than a million women marched in Santiago on International Women’s Day.

So far this year, Chile has seen 14 femicides and 34 cases of attempted femicide. Calls to a domestic violence helpline increased 125% over the final 10 days of March after the imposition of a coronavirus lockdown.

In March, Piñera signed a new law that broadened the definition of femicide to include perpetrators known to the victim rather than just formal partners or cohabiters.