The New Minister of Women: Ex-Mayor, Journalist, and Grandniece of Pinochet

SANTIAGO – On May 5, President Sebastián Piñera appointed Macarena Santelices as the new Minister of Women and Gender Equality. Santelices takes the position that was vacant for 54 days after Isabel Plá resigned. On her first day, the newly-appointed minister was criticized for being related to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and for having no direct experience in the area.

Just hours after the Chilean government announced Macarena Santelices (UDI) would take the position of Minister of Women and Gender Equality in Chile, the hashtag #NoTenemosMinistra (“We Don’t Have a Minister”) started trending on social media and opposition sectors openly criticized the appointment by President Sebastián Piñera.

Social movements found it incongruous that a minister who is supposed to represent women’s rights can be related to Augusto Pinochet, under whose dictatorship women were violated and tortured. Santalices downplayed the dictatorship in an interview in 2016 with daily El Mercurio, claiming there were good things about the reign of her granduncle. Her father, Luis Santelices Barrera, was also an active politician during the dictatorship: he served as mayor of Los Andes in the Pinochet era.

Journalist and Ex-Mayor

The new minister has an MBA in Communication and graduated a journalist. Her political experience comes from the time she served as mayor of Olmué between 2012 and 2019. She resigned as mayor to become regional governor of the Valparaíso region, but has instead received a promotion to minister.

Her family ties aren’t the only things being criticized. The president of the Observatory Against Street Harassment in Chile, María José Guerrero, called the appointment of Santelices “a lack of respect for all women in this country,” according to Diario and Radio Universidad de Chile. “It is impressive that a person is put in charge who does not have any kind of knowledge about the subject … who does not have any link to working directly towards the international treaties signed and ratified by the State of Chile.”

The post became vacant after prior minister Isabel Plá resigned. Plá was heavily criticized for remaining silent over the violations and abuses of women during the social protests. The post remained open for 54 days, which according to social movements was an indication that the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality has no priority for this administration. These movements argued a minister was urgently needed to address the surging domestic violence during the coronavirus outbreak in Chile.

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