Sunday, February 20, 2022

Chile's New Defense Minister No Friend of the Military

Incoming president Gabriel Boric named Maya Fernandez Allende as his minister of defense, and she will formally take the post on March 11. If that surname sounds familiar, it's because the new minister is the granddaughter of Salvador Allende, the socialist president overthrown in the 1973 military coup. A toddler at the time, she fled with her family to Cuba, where she spent 21 years. She moved back to Chile in 1990 with the return of democracy. She held various political posts and is trained as a veterinarian. The new minister hasn't said much about her plans for her new post, but it is sure to cause friction with the armed forces. Not only is there the obvious antagonism, but her father was a Cuban intelligence official. Although he died in 2016, some worry she still has connections to Cuba's regime, and sensitive Chilean military information could fall into Cuban hands. That said, Fernandez Allende may not be a disaster for Chile's military. While she was a lawmaker, she served on a panel that sought a rapprochement with the armed forces. And she's not the first socialist to be defense secretary. In 2002, Michelle Bachelet — whose Air Force father died while being held for opposing the coup — became the first woman to lead Chile's Ministry of Defense. During her term, the military was able to make important modernization programs, including the replacement of Navy frigates. Bachelet, who was herself imprisoned by the military dictatorship, was able to work with the armed forces despite a hostile past. But his time, Fernandez Allende steps into the top post of the armed forces at a time when a new constitutional assembly is debating changes to the military's role in the country.