Ricardo Lagos

From Academic Kids

Ricardo Froilán Lagos Escobar (born March 2, 1938) is a Socialist politician and the president of Chile since 2000. He won the presidential election of 1999 by a narrow margin in a runoff over Independent Democratic Union (UDI) candidate Joaquín Lavín.

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Ricardo Lagos Escobar
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Ricardo Lagos Escobar

Term of office: March 11, 2000present
Preceded by: Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
Succeeded by: incumbent
Date of birth: March 2, 1938
Place of birth: Santiago, Chile
First Lady: Luisa Durán de la Fuente
Political party: Socialist

Early life

Lagos was born in Santiago, Chile. He was the only child of Froilán Lagos Sepúlveda (who died when he was eight years old) and Emma Escobar Morales (who passed away in April 2005 at age 108). He attended primary school at Liceo Manuel de Salas and high school at the Instituto Nacional.

In 1954, Lagos was admitted into law school at the Universidad de Chile. He took his first steps into politics between 1955 and 1959. He was chosen as student body president and gave his first speech at the same location where Salvador Allende had spoken to the president of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo, just two minutes earlier.

In 1960, Lagos concluded his law studies. The title of his thesis, "The Concentration of the Economic Power," received the highest distinction and became a publishing success, with five published editions. In the paper, he discusses the existence of economic groups, which earned him an interview in Time magazine and an editorial in the newspaper La Nación, which called him "The Mozart of the economy".

Lagos became a lawyer and married Carmen Weber, with whom he had two children, Ricardo and Ximena. After obtaining his Ph.D., and upon returning to Chile, he annulled this marriage.

In 1969, he met Luisa Durán de La Fuente, and they married in 1971. The couple shared the parenting of the children of Lagos' first marriage, the children of Durán's first marriage, Hernán and Alejandro, and their only child together, Francisca.

Academic and diplomatic career

Lagos earned a Ph.D. from Duke University in the United States, where he studied from 1960 to 1962. On his return to Chile, he was employed at the Institute of Economy of the University of Chile, directed by Carlos Massad. In 1967, he was named Director of the School of Political and Administrative Sciences, a position he held until 1969, when he became Secretary General of the University of Chile. Lagos subsequently began work as a professor of economics in the School of Law of the University, and between 1971 and 1972 he was Director of the Institute of Economy. He was later named Director of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.

During the 1970s, Lagos declared himself an "independent of the left" and abandoned the Radical Party of Chile, which he had joined in 1961, when this party supported Jorge Alessandri's government. Although he did not possess great diplomatic experience, he worked with Hernán Santa Cruz as an ambassador to the United Nations, where he presented a outstanding speech on the international financial crisis. During the speech, he barely criticized the decision of U.S. President Richard Nixon on the nonconvertibility of the U.S. dollar into gold, a measurement that would end in the rounding up the Asian crisis. In 1972, President Salvador Allende appointed Lagos as the Chilean Ambassador to the Soviet Union in Moscow, but the appointment was never ratified by Congress. As a Regional Director of the training program of post graduate studeis in social sciences, he was later put in charge of Project UNESCO, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Buenos Aires. As a public servant he also served Chile as a United Nations delegate with rank of ambassador at the 26th United Nations General Assembly. In addition, he was a delegate to the UN's 3rd Conference of Commerce and Development (UNCTAD).

Soon after the 1973 coup d'état, he and his family were sent into exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he took the position of Secretary General of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). He moved for a year to the United States, where he became professor visitor of the William R. Kenan chair for Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1975, he worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme.

Lagos returned to Chile in 1978, and worked for the Regional Program of Employment of the United Nations, PREALC. During the implementation of policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund his mission was to advise all the governments in the South American continent on the matter of employment.

Political race

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 the question as to 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 País 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..."

After the triumph of the No alternative and the subsequent resignation of Pinochet, Lagos declined to be a candidate for the presidency in spite of being the main leader of the opposition. Instead, he supported Patricio Aylwin's candidancy and ran for a seat in the Senate for the Santiago-West district. On December 11, 1989, the day of the elections, he obtained the district's second majority. Nevertheless, he did not win a seat because his alliance's list did not double the vote of the second most voted list; this being a requisite in the Chilean electoral system created by Pinochet.

In 1990, Lagos was named Minister of Education by President Patricio Aylwin. In this position, he initiated reform aimed at increasing equality in access and improving education levels. In June 1993, he pushed for the notion of using primary elections in order to select the Concertación coalition's candidate for the following presidential election. He lost this primary to Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who went on to become President of Chile. In 1994, Frei himself named Lagos Minister of Public Works. In this role, he developed an innovating system of road concessions, integrated the private sector in the construction of works and its later operation. During the Frei administration, he continued to be a leader of opinion and was a sure option for the following presidential election. His status was later ratified by his appointment as one of the members of the Committee of Twelve Distinguished Members of the Socialist International, which he shared with such personalities as Felipe González and Gro Harlem Brundtland. This committee was set up to process proposals for the renovation of the Social-Democratic thought for the 21st century.

In 1999, Lagos resigned as minister in order to begin his presidential campaign. In the primaries, he defeated senator Andrés Zaldívar, of the Christian Democratic Party to become the Concertación's sole presidential candidate. In the first round of the presidential election in December of the same year, he defeated right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín, by only 30,000 votes. Since he failed to obtain an absolute majority, as is required to be elected President, a presidential runoff was subsequently held in January 2000 for the first time ever in Chile. Winning 51.3 percent of the vote, Lagos became the new President of Chile.


Ricardo Lagos in a campaign photograph
Ricardo Lagos in a campaign photograph

During the first year of his term in office, Lagos had to confront a high level of unemployment, generated by the political instability of the region, in a process that began to revert during end of 2003. In spite of this, Lagos enjoyed great popular support, bordering on 55%, according to diverse opinion polls. The policy of proximity with people was pronounced in the opening of the doors of the Palacio de La Moneda, that had remained closed since the 1973 coup d'etat.

Since 2002, his government has had to face suspicions of political corruption, due to the prosecution of one of his ministers, Carlos Cruz, and of other civil employees of the Public Works Ministry, in the denominated MOP-GATE case. Gloria Ana Chévesich, the judge in charge of this case, discovered that ministers, undersecretaries and other officials of exclusive confidence of the President, received additional payments to their regular remuneration: the so-called "extra payments". This irregularity was acknowledged by Lagos, who specified that the practice had also developed during the governments of Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Aylwin. The official position of the government consisted of not acknowledging the criminal nature in these practices and establishing a legal reform that increased the pay of ministers and undersecretaries of the government, a matter that was approved in its legislative proceeding.

Missing image
Ricardo Lagos with George W. Bush

During 2004, Lagos has had to face a series of tensions in his relation with other South American countries, caused by the recurring Bolivian aspiration for access to the sea. This situation was linked with the power crisis taking place in Argentina, who supplies Chile with natural gas. In bilateral meetings between Bolivian President Carlos Mesa and Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, the former agreed to the sale of Bolivian gas to Argentina under the condition that "not a single gas molecule be sold to Chile". Additionally, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, has supported in various instances the Bolivian sea claim, causing a diplomatic impasse between Chile and Venezuela. The tension between both governments had dissipated during July 2004.

Lagos' presidency has been characterized by such achievements as the signing of Free Trade Agreements (with the European Community, the United States and South Korea), the great road works, the creation of an unemployment insurance, the bills to reform the health system, the program Chile Barrio, the increase of compulsory schooling to 12 years, the creation of a cultural institution (National Council of the Arts and the Culture) and the approval of the first divorce law.

On November 28, 2004, the day before the Valech Report was released, President Lagos announced to the Chilean public that the government would provide compensation to approximately 28,000 victims of torture under the Pinochet military regime. Of the 35,868 who testified before the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, about 28,000 accounts were regarded as legitimate.

Preceded by:
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
President of Chile
Succeeded by:

Template:End box

See also

External link

es:Ricardo Lagos eo:Ricardo LAGOS fr:Ricardo Lagos gl:Ricardo Lagos sv:Ricardo Lagos


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