Consuela Saavedra is the anchor for the evening news for Chilean public television, and wife of Finance Minister Andres Velasco. At the time of the interview, late January, she was on her last evening of maternity leave following the birth of her second daughter.
JL: Tomorrow you return to work. How long were you away?
CS: We have very long maternity leaves in Chile—eighteen weeks. Six weeks before, and twelve after, standard, and I enjoyed it very much. Until then that I’d thought that maternity leaves were too long, a burden for the system. Having just had one I think it's a very good idea.
JL: Who funds the leaves?
CS: Generally, the public system subsidizes them, up to a certain amount, and then it's up to one’s employer to provide additional subsidies.
JL: Michelle Bachelet has been president for more than a year now. Was it surprising to people for a woman to be elected? Was the country simply ready for that?
CS: It was a very particular phenomenon. She became a massive figure, everybody loved her and everyone was talking about her; but the coalition actually had two women competing for the post. She hadn’t had any traditional political career at all. The other half of the coalition decided to put up another woman to compete to see if they could win too, and the other candidate had been in politics for longer, was more traditional. But the first election of a woman wasn't a process as much as a leap. Perhaps people were tired of traditional politicians.
JL: Remarkable… but not controversial?
CS: Everyone talked about it, but no. Interestingly, to compete with a woman candidate the right-wing parties put up a businessman who was supposedly very in touch with people; in a sense not a traditional political candidate either. That election was a different kind of political theater.
JL: How did you and Andres meet?
CS: We had friends in common but the first time we actually met was on TV during an interview.
CS: Inflation, the price of lettuces and tomatoes. It was an interview about economics for a current events program. He was this newly-appointed Harvard professor, some kind of the golden boy, and I had to talk with him about macroeconomics and microeconomics.
JL: For the benefit of other economists, would a discussion of macroeconomics or microeconomics be a better topic in such a situation?
CS: It wasn’t a date, and we didn’t see each other again for years… but I’d say microeconomics definitely, it’s more fun. That said, Andres’s specialty is macro.
JL: Andres tells me you're more recognized here than he is.
CS: Well, I've been on TV here in Chile since '95. My first job, as anchor, was in 1995 at a new TV station for young people, called Rock and Pop. It was fun, but an economical disaster. All of the people who worked there were very close friends, and all are still in the media, now doing fine. Did Andres not tell you that when he went to the Central Market a while ago, someone did recognize him. The man insisted he’d seen him on a certain soap opera.
JL: Did you ever have a chance to interview Pinochet?
CS: Unfortunately not. I tried very hard.
JL: And you were on maternity leave when he died.
CS: The big story. All those years I covered him. I’d even traveled to London when he was arrested, and covered the extradition trial. It would have actually been illegal for me to go to work during my maternity leave to cover his funeral, so I had to sit still and watch it on TV. Of course, I go back to work tomorrow, and now we’re waiting for Fidel to die. News people, we’re all the time waiting for someone to die.
JL: Chile is doing well. Does that make things less interesting for journalists?
CS: For journalists? We can find stuff everywhere.
JL: Is it fair to say that the better job he and his colleagues in the government do, the more challenging it becomes for you journalists?
CS: Exactly right.
Interview by James Scott Linville