SANTIAGO, June 1 Chilean President Michelle
Bachelet announced plans on Thursday for new infrastructure
including an underground railway line and copper smelter, and
said she would push forward on her promise to get a law passed
that would allow for same-sex marriage.
Her wide-ranging annual state-of-the-union speech to
Congress in the port city of Valparaiso, which lasted over two
hours, largely emphasized what she saw as the achievements of
her center-left government in its first three years.
As her term enters its final stretch, fresh announcements
included plans to begin work on a new underground railway line
for fast-growing capital Santiago, which local media estimated
would cost some $2.9 billion, and to study the viability of a
badly-needed new copper smelter.
The president also said her government would send a bill to
Congress in the second half of 2017 to allow marriage between
same-sex couples, and confirmed plans to submit a pension reform
bill in July.
Bachelet first led Chile between 2006 and 2010, and returned
in 2014 with a more ambitious tax-and-spend agenda to try to
address the country's deep inequalities.
But opposition to those reforms, including from within her
own coalition, missteps in the execution of the reforms, and
declining investment amid weak economic growth, have crimped
those ambitions and saw approval ratings of the once-popular
"This is the last state-of-the-nation address of my term,
and the eighth I have given," said Bachelet in her broadcast
speech. "It has been a painful story, but also one with much
She emphasized her flagship education reform, which has seen
an expansion of free schooling, with some 60 percent of poorest
students expected to attend university for free by next year.
Student organizations, however, say reforms have not gone
far enough. They organized protests in Valparaiso and elsewhere
in the country on Thursday.
Bachelet's approval ratings have been creeping back up
recently, standing at 31 percent in May, her strongest showing
in two years, according to pollsters GfK Adimark on Thursday.
Under Chile's constitution, Bachelet is barred from seeking
a consecutive term in elections slated for November. The
frontrunner to win the vote is center-right Sebastian Pinera
from the opposition coalition, who ran the country from 2010 to
2014 and has also promised infrastructure spending.
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Diane Craft)