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Ricardo Lagos: 1938—: Chilean President

Returned To Chile To Fight For Democracy

Lagos returned to Chile in 1978 with a U.N. passport. His official job was economist for the U.N.'s Regional Employment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean, however, he began to become more involved in Chile's left wing politics. He was an early founder of the Alianza Democratica, a party that called for Chile's return to democracy. In 1983 Lagos was elected president of this group and became the left's most public figure. The following year Lagos left the United Nations to devote himself full-time to politics. In 1986, after an assassination attempt against Pinochet, the dictator cracked down on the left and conducted massive arrests. Though Lagos had nothing to do with the murder plot, he was detained and interrogated. After a great outcry by the Chilean people as well as pressure from abroad, Lagos was released 20 days later.

In 1987 Lagos founded the Partidos por la Democracia, another party which pressed for Pinochet's ouster. Lagos was also instrumental in forming the Concert-ación para la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy), an alliance made up of several leftist political parties, from the centrist Partido Democracia Cristiana (Christian Democrats) to the Partido Social-ista. This unified opposition, along with international condemnation of Pinochet's human rights violations forced the Chilean government to call for a plebiscite—a national yes/no vote in which the Chilean people could allow Pinochet to remain in power or demand he step down. Lagos called out loudly and defiantly, "No." In a famous television appearance Lagos turned to the camera and thrusting his index finger at it, spoke directly to Pinochet. In front of a Chile long terrified into silence by secret police, midnight arrests, and the constant threat of disappearance, Lagos accused the dictator of "torture, assassinations, and human rights violations," according to the Presidencia de la Republica website. The bold accusation brought Lagos increased political fame and helped break the grip of fear that paralyzed the Chilean people. In October of 1988, the country voted no against Pinochet. He stepped down as requested but he retained his role as commander of the armed forces. In addition during his reign he had created nine seats-for-life on the senate and peopled them with his supporters. Pinochet was also entitled to one of these positions. The seats were protected by the Chilean constitution—also created by Pinochet's government—which provided the senators with immunity from criminal prosecution. Pinochet was not going to give up power easily.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) BiographyRicardo Lagos: 1938—: Chilean President Biography - Established Academic Career As Economist, Returned To Chile To Fight For Democracy, Appointed Minister In New Democratic Government