Chile is respected for its fast-growing economy and transparent institutions. The country has continued to grow under Pinera and enjoys a record-low jobless rate. But it also has the worst inequality rate among the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Millions of Chileans have participated in protests demanding a wider distribution of Chile's copper riches, free education and the return of ancestral lands to Mapuche Indians in a southern region where members of Chile's largest indigenous group often clash with timber companies and landowners.
Bachelet's road to prominence has been a long one.
Her father, air force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, died in 1974 following torture in prison after Pinochet's military convicted him of being a traitor for opposing the coup that ousted Marxist President Salvador Allende. Two Chilean military officers were charged last year with the death.Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975. It's an ordeal that she prefers not to talk about, saying only in her autobiography that she suffered "physical hardships." Using the family's political connections, she went into exile in Australia and the former East Germany. When she returned to Chile in 1979, she studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics. She began working at an organization that helped children with mental health problems whose parents had been victims of the dictatorship. At the same time, Bachelet rose through the ranks of the Socialist party and became a key player in the center-left coalition that dominated Chile's government for almost 20 years after Pinochet gave up power.