What Is the Role of the First Ladies in Latin America?

The role of first lady is ambiguous, but little by little it is becoming more relevant in Latin America. People like Verónica Alcocer or Manuel Zelaya arouse criticism and support.

Gustavo Petro and Veronica Alcocer

Photo: Telemedellin

Latinamerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: ¿Cuál es el papel de las primeras damas latinoamericanas?

The title of first lady or first gentleman has always had a gap in terms of definition, although the term is used in some republics to refer to the spouse of the head of state, it is not clear what is the role played by whoever has this title. However, and thanks to advances in the area of women's rights, this role is becoming increasingly important and also encompasses more political actions. We even see that on many occasions this position serves as a platform to launch political campaigns for those who are in it, as is the case with Hillary Clinton, who was first lady during Bill Clinton's term. Here we tell you about 5 Latin American first ladies and their role.

Veronica Alcocer, Colombia

In Colombia, the title of first lady is by protocol and has no established functions within the government. However, during the presidential campaign of the current president, Gustavo Petro, Alcocer was quite active and traveled throughout the country. In addition, since Petro's presidential term began, Alcocer has assumed various diplomatic functions under the name of "special mission ambassador", which was given by the country's Foreign Ministry. Although the name seems to be related to social missions, the reality is that she has attended events such as the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the burial of Shintzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan, and the General Assembly of the Nations United in New York. For this reason, she has been widely criticized, since the budget to fulfill her role as ambassador of a special mission has reached 63 million Colombian pesos, that is, around 12,700 dollars.

You can also read: Colombia: ABC of Gustavo Petro's Health Care System

Apart from this, it is traditional that in Colombia the first lady leads different social causes, for example the ICBF board of trustees, the entity in charge of dealing with the instability of the family nucleus and the consequences that this brings to the children of the country. Until now, Alcocer has chaired the board of directors. In addition to this, the first lady is recognized as an activist and philanthropy who has been at the forefront of various social projects.

Gabriela Rodríguez from Bukele, El Salvador

The first lady of El Salvador has maintained an active role in politics since her husband, current President Nayib Bukele, served as mayor of San Salvador. During that period, Rodríguez was in charge of promoting the creation of the first Secretariat for Women and Family, and the first Secretariat for Culture, since she is a professional ballet dancer. Likewise, and thanks to her profession as an educator and psychologist, she implemented an educational, nutritional, and health program for children in San Salvador through the Child Development Centers, which she reopened.

As first lady, Rodríguez presented the National Early Childhood Plan, which has not been fully developed and was criticized for being too ambitious and for not having a clear budget. Likewise, in October of last year, she presented the PrePare program, a prenatal education center in El Salvador and promoted the "Nacer Con Cariño" law , which seeks to dignify the lives of newborns so that they can enjoy a healthy start to life and in accompaniment.

Manuel Zelaya, Honduras

In this case we find a first gentleman, and in fact the first that the country of Honduras has had thanks to the presidency of Xiomara Castro. It must be borne in mind that Zelaya was president from 2006 to 2009 and that his term ended with a coup after he turned to the left. In that order of ideas, Zelaya's presidency was a platform for the then first lady to run for candidacy in 2021.

Currently, Zelaya continues to lead the Libre party, of which he is the founder and the one that helped Castro start his political life. As first gentleman, he has not had much prominence and has played the role of advisor and political strategist throughout Castro's term.

Rosângela da Silva, Brazil

This is the most recent first lady on the list. Lula da Silva's wife assumed her role at the beginning of 2023 after the current president resumed his mandate. Da Silva is a sociologist and is known for having been active in the PT Party long before she met Lula, she is also a political activist.

As First Lady, she has shown her interest in animal welfare and animal protection. Likewise, she has expressed her desire to work for the protection of children, specifically addressing the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. “Janja”, as she is known by the Brazilian people, also actively demonstrates her feminism by expressing that as first lady she does not pretend to be Lula's help, but rather seeks to work with him to make her country a better place.

Irina Karamanos, Chile

Since the end of December 2022, Karamanos resigned from her role as First Lady of Chile after having reviewed the position and having determined that she considered that the presidential foundations of which she was in charge should be left in the hands of different ministries of Boric's cabinet. Although this means the elimination of the institutional role of first lady, the position was not eliminated.

Karamanos has been recognized for her feminist and political activism since her youth. She is the founder and militant of the Social Convergence party and is the head of the Feminist Front. She has also shown a particular interest in working with Aboriginal communities, transgender youth and migrant children, which she says will be easier as she pursues her career. Karamano was severely criticized by feminist sectors when she accepted the role as first lady at the beginning of Boric's presidency.

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