Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images
Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (right) speaks to a woman Monday during her visit to areas affected by the quake and tsunami in Constitucion, Chile. She faces criticism over how she handled the earthquake's aftermath.
Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (right) speaks to a woman Monday during her visit to areas affected by the quake and tsunami in Constitucion, Chile. She faces criticism over how she handled the earthquake's aftermath. Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images
Chile's powerful earthquake came with the nation on the verge of a presidential transition.
In the aftermath of the Feb. 27 quake, Chile has appeared to be a two-headed state, with the liberal president, Michelle Bachelet, bobbing over one shoulder and conservative President-elect Sebastian Pinera over the other.
The outgoing president is trying to preserve her reputation in the face of criticism over how she handled the quake. And the incoming president, who takes office on Thursday, is trying to establish his reputation as a man who can rebuild the damaged country.
Bachelet and Pinera each diligently visit the relief efforts. Last week, Pinera looked every bit the man in charge as he strode through the earthquake wreckage with his shirt sleeves rolled up and a security detail swirling around him.
Visiting dignitaries make a point of meeting with Bachelet and Pinera separately.
But at a fundraiser over the weekend for earthquake relief efforts, Pinera sat next to Bachelet in the front row. And in part of the elaborate dance between the two of them, he spoke first so as not to upstage her.
Despite criticism by Pinera's people that Bachelet didn't send in the army fast enough to quell looting, Pinera said that his future government is working closely with the current president to confront the emergency.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AFP/Getty Images
Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton join in a group photo with relief aid volunteers at the airport in Santiago on March 2.
Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton join in a group photo with relief aid volunteers at the airport in Santiago on March 2. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AFP/Getty Images
The 60-year-old Pinera is one of the richest men in Chile. Last year, Forbes magazine slotted him at No. 701 on their list of the world's billionaires.
The Harvard-educated businessman made his fortune in various sectors in Chile: airlines, real estate, media and banking — credit cards, in particular. He owns one of the most prominent soccer teams in the country, Colo-Colo.
Pinera also ran for president in 2005 but lost to Bachelet. In the most recent election, the left splintered, and Pinera garnered support from the far right to win.
Particularly since the quake, however, he has vowed that his administration will be one of inclusion and its main focus will be on reconstruction.
Pinera pledged not just to reconstruct what the earthquake and tsunami destroyed, but to tackle the bigger challenge of building a better country.
During his campaign, Pinera vowed to return Chile to the economic boom years of the 1990s. He promised robust annual growth of 6 percent for what is already one of the strongest economies in Latin America.
But now the massive reconstruction is expected to dominate his single four-year term. In Chile, incumbent presidents can't run for re-election.
Political analyst Aldo Cassinelli says the earthquake may help Pinera. Cassinelli points out that Pinera won't have a majority in the National Congress, and that this crisis may buy him some political goodwill that he might not have had otherwise.
"The atmosphere has changed," Cassinelli says. "And a disaster of this magnitude makes the people and particular political parties more amenable to working together."
Frank Smith, with the Christian charity World Vision in Santiago, says that Pinera needs to move quickly in providing aid and basic services to the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
"If you don't have that, you risk creating a situation where people feel abandoned," Smith says.
This was one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, and it rattled the most populous part of Chile.
"We are all feeling a state of existential insecurity. We feel unsure about the world we live in," Smith says. "There are aftershocks every day. Last night there was a terrible one that sent us running outside. Now, to re-establish that sense of safety in the world, people need to feel that they're not alone and that their government is looking after them."