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Michelle Bachelet: “Of the 12 countries that best faced the pandemic, nine are managed by women”

Women are in the first line of fire of covid-19, confinement exposes them to family violence and they suffer the economic crisis more than men. Even so, “of the 12 countries that best faced the pandemic, nine are managed by women,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, Michelle Bachelet. The two-time president of Chile spoke by videoconference with the director of EL PAÍS, Javier Moreno, on the closing day of the Hay Festival de Querétaro 2020, which this year has been held virtually. She referred to the situation of violence in Colombia, highlighted the release of 110 political and persecuted prisoners in Venezuela and drew attention to the need to recognize that gender violence is a problem in Mexico.

“In a country where there has been violence for a long time, violence against women may be naturalized. But it is key that leaders take charge that femicide is a dramatic reality in our region, ”said Bachelet, consulted by Moreno about the refusal of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to recognize femicides as a structural problem. “As a former head of state I think it is better to take charge and say that we have a problem and that we are going to see how we deal with it.” Part of the solution is to “revalue the role of women and change the culture” from the first years in school. “Everyone must recognize equal rights, but that must be instilled from a young age, defending equal opportunities in everyday things, in kindergartens, when children talk to parents,” recommended Bachelet.

The role of women in society flew over the responses of the former Chilean president, without overshadowing the political dimension of the role assigned to her in the UN. Bachelet warned about the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, in a region that will emerge poorer and more unequal and with high unemployment rates. She called on States to support the most vulnerable in the race for survival and regretted what she considered a “lack of coordination” between countries to confront the virus. “We have seen in this pandemic a lack of political leadership, each country has looked for itself. I understand it, but any Minister of Health knows that there is no virus that respects borders and that we must cooperate, “he said.

The situation in Venezuela occupied a good part of the conversation. His office has written six reports with harsh criticisms of the human rights situation in that country. Bachelet highlighted, however, the pardon and release of 110 political prisoners decreed by President Nicolás Maduro last week. He said that, in his opinion, Caracas has taken “a significant step in the improvement of Human Rights” and that the releases, together with the request of electoral observers from the UN and the EU, can help to generate a climate of trust towards the parliamentary elections in December. “It is important that if the Maduro government wants to demonstrate that it will be a transparent, reliable election, it seeks the maximum guarantees so that the largest number of people can participate,” he said.

Regarding the situation of violence in Colombia, where the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has followed a series of massacres perpetrated by armed gangs linked to drug trafficking, Bachelet pointed to the disputes over the territories abandoned by the guerrillas. “Many have murdered peasants to keep their lands and we have seen an increase in massacres, 34 massacres to date, and on the other hand, the murders of social leaders and ex-combatants of the FARC continue. Since the signing of the agreement, 215 demobilized people have died ”, he summarized. At the origin of the problem, Bachelet finds impunity. Given the difficulty of prosecutors to find those guilty of the killings, the idea that extreme violence has no cost prevails. “We must try to improve the systems that allow the search for the truth, otherwise it will be very difficult, especially in societies where violence has been entrenched for a long time,” said the former president.

“What happens when violence is carried out by the security forces themselves,” Moreno asked. “In Colombia and in any other part of the world, when one has come after a war where it was to live or die, there are certain ways of establishing how you relate to the other force that are different from peacetime,” Bachelet replied. For this reason, “as an office, we propose manuals to carry out this work, complying with basic human rights regulations.”