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Ricardo Lagos: 1938—: Chilean President

Appointed Minister In New Democratic Government

In 1990 Chile enjoyed its first free elections in two decades. Patricio Aylwin, a Concertación member from the Christian Democrat party was elected president. Despite his prominent role in the return of democracy, Lagos was unable to obtain a senate seat in Aylwin's government. The problem was his socialist leanings. Despite the atrocities with which Pinochet governed, he had brought economic competition to Chile, resulting in what Institutional Investor called, "Chile's 'free-market miracle,' some two decades of extraordinary economic success." With that success had risen powerful middle- and upper-classes dependent on private business and enterprise. They feared that Lagos would work to limit the free market. Unable to gain an elected seat, Lagos accepted an appointment as minister of education. Lagos began initiating reforms to reduce the educational gap between poor and rich schools. Lagos wrote in Socialist Affairs Online, "I believe that the future of Chile depends to a large degree on deeper educational reform. We must discriminate in favor of those who have less in their access to education and training." He also reversed a law banning pregnant girls from attending school.

As Chile's second free presidential elections rolled around, Lagos put in his bid for the Concertación candidacy with the backing of the Party for Democracy. However, in the primary Concertación members chose Eduardo Frei, another Christian Democrat, as their candidate. After winning the presidency, Frei appointed Lagos his minister of public works in 1994. During this appointment Lagos was able to alleviate some of the fears of the business world by demonstrating he was not bound to socialist dogma. For example, Institutional Investor noted, "[Lagos] won plaudits for privatizing Chile's highway system." In 1998 Lagos left his government post to gear up for the 2000 presidential elections. The same year, a Spanish judge learned that Pinochet was in London and issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of human rights violations. British officials detained the aging dictator and an international media frenzy ensued. Chileans were hysterical. Many took to the streets in support of Pinochet's arrest, brandishing pictures of loved ones who died or disappeared under the dictator. Others, mainly from the conservative right and the business realm, decried the arrest as illegal and demanded Pinochet be returned to Chile. It was in this environment that Lagos won the Concertación's candidacy by over 70%. Unfortunately his run for the presidency would not be so easy.

Under the two Concertación presidencies, Chile enjoyed some remarkable growth. Neither Aylwin nor Frei altered the country's successful free market system. Instead they instituted "a mixture of gentle social reform," according to The Washington Quarterly with the result being "Per capita income has almost doubled, the business neighborhoods of Santiago have filled with opulent glass-and-marble office blocks, and even the roads—always a blot on Chile's copybook—improved, thanks to a private concessions program." Nonetheless, voters had lost confidence in the party. The source of this loss stretched back once more to Pinochet. The nine senatorial seats he had installed during his reign were preventing the Concertación government from reforming the military-focused constitution. "This failure has fueled voter frustration and helped to discredit politicians and the government." Nearly a decade after stepping down, Pinochet was still manipulating Chile. The opposition's presidential candidate, conservative Joaquin Lavin, took advantage of this irony to promote his campaign under the slogan of "Change." Lavin's strategy almost worked. He forced Lagos into a run-off election which Lagos won by barely 30,000 votes.

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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