Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ricardo Lagos, first socialist president of Chile since Salvador Alliende, to speak at Vanderbilt Thursday

George W. Bush and Ricardo Lagos
in Santiago, Chile Nov. 20, 2004

Economics Ph.D. from Duke University, finished presidency with 70% approval ratings and a $11.3 billion budget surplus

The face behind the "finger" pointed at Pinochet

Former president of Chile Ricardo Lagos will speak at Vanderbilt on Thursday. His profile at Brown University, where he teaches as a university professor at large, states that "[d]uring his term, Lagos was known for aggressively pursuing free-trade agreements, improving healthcare and education legislation, and addressing the crimes of Augusto Pinochet’s military regime."

Lagos left Chile following the military coup by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, and "[i]n 1978, he returned to Chile, where he became president of the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of parties opposed to Pinochet."

Wikipedia describes Lagos' opposition to Pinochet here, with a reference to the "finger" anecdote:
During the 1980s, Lagos assumed a fundamental role in the fight for the recovery of democracy. In addition to being one of the leaders of the Socialist Party of Chile, he became President of the Democratic Alliance, a force that grouped the majority of the democratic parties opposing the regime of General Augusto Pinochet. In 1983, he decided to leave his position as international civil employee in the United Nations. In December of that year, he became president of the Democratic Alliance. In 1987, as the president of the Committee of the Left for Free Elections, he called on all citizens and parties to enroll in the electoral registries to vote "no" in a 1988 national plebiscite on whether Pinochet should be allowed to remain president of Chile.

Lagos became the undisputed leader of Pinochet's opponents after appearing in the political television show De Cara al PaĆ­s where he indicated that "with the triumph of No, the country will prevent General Pinochet from being 25 years in power." Lagos then looked directly into the camera and accusingly raised his index finger to say directly to all viewers: "General Pinochet has not been honest with the country. I will remind you, General Pinochet, that on the day of the 1980 plebiscite you said that President Pinochet would not be a candidate in 1989. And now, you promise the country another eight years of tortures, murders, and human rights violations. It seems to me inadmissible that a Chilean can have so much hunger for power. You intend to stay in power for 25 years..." To this day, in Chile the phrase "the finger" or "Lagos' finger" refers to this memorable event; on that night, many people were convinced that the man would not survive to see the next day.
The same Wikipedia article describes Lagos' presidential legacy this way:
During Lagos' presidency, Free Trade Agreements were signed with the European Community, the United States, South Korea, the People's Republic of China and New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei (though some of his supporters in the center-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy consider that these agreements may have negative effects on the country); improvements were made in infrastructure and transport; an unemployment insurance was created, as well as the AUGE health program guaranteeing coverage for a number of medical conditions; the Chile Barrio housing program; compulsory schooling was extended to 12 years; the first divorce law in Chile was approved; monetary compensation to victims of torture under the Pinochet regime identified in the Valech Report was authorized; and, recently, a recast constitution was signed. He finished his six-year term with historic approval ratings above 70%.
The Wikipedia article for Chile states that in 2006, at the end of Lagos' term, "In 2006, the Government of Chile ran a surplus of $11.3 billion, equal to almost 8% of GDP."

The fact that Ricardo Lagos was a "socialist" president, and that another socialist president (Michele Bachelet, currently in office) was elected after Lagos' term was up, may not mean what Americans think, according to a 2006 article in the Catholic publication America Magazine:
The Socialist-led government of Bachelet, for example, and the successful administration of Ricardo Lagos before it have fully embraced the market as an engine for economic and social development and pursued friendly relations with the United States, including a free trade agreement in December 2003. Through a more competent state government pursuing an effective set of social policies in education and health, successive Chilean governments have managed to reduce the poverty level from 42 percent in 1992 to roughly 14 percent in 2005. Chile has had sound economic management and been rewarded with impressive economic performance. Much of this success can be attributed to the adoption of the economic reforms associated with the widely criticized Washington consensus.
Here is the press release from Vanderbilt University announcing Lagos' lecture Thursday:
Ricardo Lagos, a former Chilean president whose administration achieved strong economic growth while adopting democratic and social reforms, will address current issues facing Latin America during an Oct. 1 lecture at Vanderbilt University.

Lagos, who served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006, will speak on “Latin American Challanges…After the Crisis” at noon in the Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall at the Blair School of Music. The lecture will be streamed live at VUCast.

The Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt is sponsoring this event, which is free and open to the public. “We are delighted to bring Lagos, one of the most influential and respected political leaders in Latin America, to campus,” Edward Fischer, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, said. “Lagos is a serious economist and human rights advocate who refuses to be confined into one discipline or role – similar to the work of our center.”

Lagos earned a law degree from the University of Chile and a doctorate in economics from Duke University. He then returned to Chile, where he began his political career as a member of Salvador Allende’s Socialist Party during the early 1970s. He spoke out courageously against General Augusto Pinochet’s human rights violations and was forced to flee first to Argentina and then to the United States, where he lived in exile for several years.

During the 1980s he returned to Chile and founded the Party for Democracy, which gained power through its “NO” campaign against the Pinochet legacy. During his time as minister of education, Lagos introduced a major policy to decentralize Chile’s education system. Later, as minister of public works, he engineered a unique and successful plan to revamp Chile’s road system.

In 2000 Lagos was elected the first socialist president of Chile since Allende was overthrown. Despite high unemployment and tensions with other South American nations regarding access to energy resources, Lagos enjoyed widespread popular support with approval ratings over 70 percent when his term ended. In 2007 he was appointed to his current position as the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change.

A reception will precede Lagos’ talk at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the Blair School, which is located at 2400 Blakemore Ave. Parking is available in the South Garage. For more information, call the Center for Latin American Studies at 615-322-2527.

1 comment:

  1. Excelent lecture from one of the best leaders Chile has had in the last years . Lagos will remain in the memory of chilean people forever. He brought a brand fresh beginning to Chile when he was in office.


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