POLITICS

Is the end of Virginia Reginato, “Queen of Viña” near?

SANTIAGO – After 15 years in office, Viña del Mar’s first female mayor, Virginia Reginato, has been socked with deficit report that might knock her out of office. The Unión Demócrata Independiente (UD) militant began her political career in the 1970s and stepped into the political limelight as mayor in 2004.  She’s used to public attention as a longtime mayor and former beauty queen, but it’s doubtful she appreciates the current attention.

In January, the Comptroller General announced that Viña del Mar has a deficit of approximately US $25 million.

The Comptroller’s office tweeted a graphic summary of the report, which notes that, in the public accounts submitted by the municipality for years 2015 through 2017, it was reported that there was a management surplus for the first two years and deficit for only the last year; whereas, according to the Comptroller, the true figures are different and the municipality’s failures in this regard are a breach of Article 67 of Law No. 18,695.

The personal ramifications under the law can only be described as serious. To the extent a municipality’s councilors and mayor err in this regard, they “shall be jointly and severally liable for the deficit part that the annual budget execution yields,” and “[t]here will be public action to demand the fulfillment of this responsibility.”

As reported by Ahora Noticias, the Comptroller also details the fact that the Viña del Mar mayor’s office spent over US $8 million on overtime and $10 million in fees for staff. The total, more than US $18 million, is equivalent to 43.20% of the total personnel expenses and 14.93% of the municipal budget; these expenses also exceed what is disbursed for projects, consultancies, and civil works, about US $5.5 million, equivalent to only about 4.4% of the municipal budget.

End of an era?

In light of the above, four Viña del Mar councilors—Laura Giannici, Marcela Varas, Víctor Andaur, and Sandro Puebla—filed a petition for dismissal with the Regional Electoral Court (TER) of Valparaíso, which seeks to remove Reginato from office for “remarkable abandonment of duties.”

The petition was accepted for review and now it must be investigated, a process that could take approximately 8 months, as reported by El Dinamo.

If the petition is granted, not only would Reginato be removed from office, but she would also be prohibited from holding any public office for 5 years, which means that she could not run for reelection in 2020, and thus her 15-year streak as leader of the so-called “garden city” would come to an abrupt end.

“Die as mayor”

Given the Comptroller’s tweet, it is perhaps fitting that Reginato has been defending herself via Twitter, where she has disputed the Comptroller’s findings and suggested that she has nothing to hide.

In addition, as reported by The Clinic, Reginato has referred to the Comptroller’s report as “a matter of cheap politicking,” and said that next year she wants to run for reelection and that she “wanted to die as mayor.”

Virginia Reginato, mayor

Reginato’s political history did not begin in Viña del Mar. As a person close to the Chilean right-wing, she started her political work during the military dictatorship in 1975 as a volunteer in the now-defunct National Secretariat of women.

After that, in 1981 and 1982, Reginato was the municipal secretary for Viña del Mar and Valparaíso respectively. Then, from 1983 to 1988, she was on Viña del Mar’s Community Development Council.

Reginato became a Viña del Mar councilor in 1992, a position she held until 2004, when she became the municipality’s first female mayor.

According to the municipality’s official website, in the 2008 elections, Reginato obtained almost 80% of the votes, a greater majority than any other candidate in the country that year.

Reginato has remained in office ever since, winning reelection in 2012 and in 2016.

Decentralization of power in Chile will be an electoral test

Education issue

Reginato’s current money problem is not the only political problem that she has had to face. In 2008, she was mired in controversy over her education.

It started with a then-new law that requires mayors to have a complete school education. After the law went into effect, Reginato had to validate her studies, because she had only formally completed third grade.

So far so good, but the problem arose when it was discovered that Reginato had certified the remaining 10 years of education just by taking free exams. This action was questioned and repudiated by several political sectors.

The problem later returned to the debate in 2012 after Representatives Gabriel Silber and Cristina Girardi sued Reginato, accusing her of having submitted false documents to prove her school education. As reported by EMOL, both representatives alleged that the testing carried out by Reginato “was false.”

Specifically, as reported by  24 Horas, the representatives questioned the legality of documents affirming that the mayor took free exams equivalent to 10 years of studies in the municipality of Colina on November 28, 2007. They maintained that the same day she would have participated in two public activities in Viña del Mar, the first in the Las Salinas Tennis Club, and the second, the launch of the Safe Opportunity Program of the Community Development Directorate of the municipality.

In any event, in 2013 the court dismissed Reginato from the case and thereby freed her from the accusations that she had obtained her educational titles in a fraudulent manner.

President Piñera, caught between the two rights

Beauty queen

Not everything is politics in the life of the so-called “Tía Coty” (Aunt Coty). Before embarking on a life in Chilean politics, Reginato was a five-time beauty queen. According to the MercurioValpo, she won the crowns of the “Centennial of the Sixth Company, Bomba Italia,” “the Red Cross Carnival,” “the Societá Canotieri Italiani,” “the Scuola Italiana kermesse,” and “the annual exhibition of the Industrial Association of Valparaíso, Asiva.”

 

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