SANTIAGO – Evelyn Matthei announced she would run for president a second time. This could pitch her against party colleague, Joaquín Lavín, in next year’s election. Matthei’s motivation is to represent the conservative currents, while Lavín seems to tack to the center-left.
The mayor of Santiago’s flush Providencia district, Evelyn Matthei, has said she’ll run for president. Over the last weekend she told daily Las Últimas Noticias, “what I am proposing is to start addressing big topics. There are a series of proposals I would like to discuss on education, healthcare, safety, equal opportunities, among others.”
Matthei made the announcement in response to Joaquín Lavín, the mayor of equally flush Las Condes district, saying he was a social democrat. His statement caused a stir because Lavín, like Matthei, is a member of conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party. Despite undergoing transformation, the party still holds nostalgia for the Pinochet years and the reforms implemented during that time. But for Matthei, Lavín’s “political zigzagging has no limits and that is populism,” daily La Segunda reported.
Life and Political Beginnings
Evelyn Matthei was born in Santiago in 1953. She received primary and secondary education at the Colegio Alemán de Santiago, and studied economics at Universidad Católica de Chile, from where she graduated in 1979.
Matthei entered politics in 1988 as a member of National Renewal (RN) party, which supported Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her father, airforce general Fernando Matthei, was health minister under Pinochet. Most prominently, however, he replaced Pinochet’s fellow coup plotter Gustavo Leigh at the junta and led Chile’s efforts during the Falklands War in support of the UK. These efforts were crucial for Chile’s national security and the UK’s victory. Consequently, Margaret Thatcher welcomed Evelyn Matthei as a special guest at the 1999 Conservative Party conference.
In 1989, Matthei was elected to represent District 23, covering the affluent areas of Las Condes, Vitacura, and Lo Barnechea, in parliament. During that time, from 1990-1994, Matthei was part of several commissions in the Finance Ministry and the Labor and Social Security Ministry.
In 1990, Matthei also became deputy chairwoman of National Renewal and a member of the party’s “youth patrol,” which included Sebastián Piñera. In 1992, she and Piñera vied to become the party’s presidential candidates, but the scandal known as Piñeragate ended her aspirations.
Evelyn Matthei & “Piñeragate”
Providing a glimpse into the ferocious internal contest to become candidate, Piñeragate broke in August 1992. During the A eso de show aired by Megavisión, the broadcaster’s head, Ricardo Claro, played a cassette tape with a private conversation between Sebastián Piñera and his friend Pedro Pablo Díaz. Piñera can be heard scheming to make Matthei uncomfortable during the debate by asking questions about divorce and her commitment to Catholicism. He also suggested portraying her as a “clueless girl.”
Piñera withdrew immediately after the airing from the race. Matthei followed in November, after an army intelligence officer said the institution was regularly intercepting conversations among members of any party. She took full responsibility for the release and left RN in 1993 due to this scandal and became an independent parliamentarian.
Society had always accepted these steps. Questions about the army’s practice of intercepting phone calls – violating a fundamental human right and democracy – have never been answered. The question of how Matthei could get hold of the records, that is on her influence in these military circles, has also never been addressed.
Next Political Steps
As an independent, Matthei represented District 15 – Algarrobo, Cartagena, Casablanca, El Quisco, El Tabo, San Antonio, and Santo Domingo – between 1994 and 1998. Again she worked in several commissions during that time, enabling her to establish political connections to get things done. In 1998, Matthei became senator for Coquimbo Region but left the position in 2011, when President Piñera appointed her as Minister for Labor and Social Security.
In early 2013, however, her party, UDI, which she had joined in 1999, nominated her as presidential candidate after Pablo Longueira declined. This made her the first right-wing female candidate in Chile’s history. Although she made it easily to the second round, Matthei was defeated by Michelle Bachelet, who won 60 percent versus Matthei’s 25 percent. Matthei later became a fierce critic of Bachelet’s government.
Years later, Matthei admitted she did not want to accept the nomination, believing she wouldn’t stand a chance. She told Jovino Novoa, a party founding member who persuaded her to run, that the party didn’t have the money and he was offering her “filth.” But in 2016, Matthei was elected mayor for Providencia, with crucial help from Sebastián Piñera who was in campaign mode for his second government already.
Matthei has generated several controversies during her career.
Among the most prominent, is her trip to London in 1998 to protest Pinochet’s arrest, even though she claimed to have opposed the dictatorship. “I was never a Pinochetista,” she told public broadcaster TVN in 2018, adding she protested the UK’s violation of Chile’s sovereignty. This argument was also advanced by many center and left politicians, even by Pinochet’s opponents.
The New Presidential Campaign
Matthei’s announcement “received support from inside and outside UDI,” she told TVN. Party chief Jacqueline van Rysselberghe said, “I think it’s good for UDI to have different leaders running for the presidency,” praising Matthei’s leadership skills and experience. Yet, van Rysselberghe also suggested that the deal’s not sealed. “It is not yet the time to decide the nominations,” she said.
Crucially, Joaquín Lavín also backed the announcement. He said, “Chile would be a much better country if mayors ruled.” On the occasion, he said he will not yet decide if he runs, despite comfortably leading all the polls.
Also read this profile on Joaquín Lavín:
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.