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Date: Sat, 1 May 1999 13:21:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Left Reappears in Chile
Organization: ?
Article: 62699
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.1818.19990502181539@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

A Voice of the Left Is Heard Again in the Land

Clifford Krauss, Valparaiso Journal
30 April 1999

VALPARAISO, Chile -- This gritty port of steep cliffs and shantytowns was the domain of the left until Gen. Augusto Pinochet smashed the unions representing the dockworkers, metalworkers, railroad workers and printers in the 1970s.

But this week, with the former dictator in custody in London for possible extradition to Spain to face charges of crimes against humanity, the left was back in Valparaiso with songs, banners and cheers.

Ricardo Lagos, 61, the presidential candidate of the same Socialist Party that brought Salvador Allende Gossens to power nearly 30 years ago, toured the markets and union halls with a former Communist Party congressman by his side. Lagos is well ahead in the polls and expects to win a primary vote on May 30 by a comfortable margin, and the reception he received was mostly exuberant.

Still, there were occasional signs that the polarization of the last three decades endures.

As Lagos and the former congressman, Luis Guastavino, campaigned down Avenida Uruguay, a middle-aged woman greeted them with a stolid look that bordered on anger.

She rolled up her sleeve to show the two politicians the scars left from a torturer's lighted cigarette on her arm. Lagos put his arms around her and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Around the corner, as Lagos questioned street vendors on how sales of their used books and trinkets were going, a well-dressed woman entering her parked sports utility vehicle screamed at the Socialist candidate accusingly, "Tell the truth!" -- a phrase commonly used by right-wingers in Latin America when confronting their opponents.

Lagos took the words as a challenge from a proponent of the free-market policies instituted under the Pinochet dictatorship. And as the vendors listened intently, he said in a modulated voice, "There are different ways of fighting poverty, but my way of fighting poverty is more sure."

Lagos' language is occasionally reminiscent of Allende's earlier socialist experiment, when workers and peasants were encouraged to take over factories and the properties of the rich. At an auditorium packed with 700 students at the Catholic University of Valparaiso, he promised to start an expansive scholarship program so the poor could go to college. "I will discriminate in favor of the poor," he said.

At a copper smelting plant outside Valparaiso, he spoke of the need for unemployment insurance and better health care for the underprivileged. "The market serves for many things like investment and products, but markets don't make a society," he said. "People do."

But even as Lagos called for social justice, he let people know that he is a new kind of socialist, one who understands that Chile must compete in international markets.

He said that he wants to push forward a privatization of parts of the copper industry, and at the smelting plant he went so far as to applaud the "maturity" of the union for allowing the state company to cut employment from 1,500 workers to 1,050 workers since 1990 to cut costs.

"It's a new era," Lagos said in an interview as he complimented much of what more than two decades of privatizations and free market policies have brought to Chile. "In the last 10 years we have doubled our gross national product as the annual inflation rate decreased from 20 to 4 percent. It's been fabulous, but we've also learned there has been no trickle down."

He also said he is confident he will have good relations with Washington, despite the role the Nixon administration played in encouraging the Chilean military to overthrow Allende. "Chileans need to know their history and that our relations with the United States have had their ups and downs," he said. "But they must also understand that the world has changed."

A gardener and rock climber in his spare time, Lagos still displays an academic temperament from his days as chancellor at the University of Chile. He had been picked to be Allende's ambassador to the Soviet Union just before the 1973 Pinochet coup. He then became a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina, and was briefly jailed in Chile for his political activities in 1986.

Since a civilian coalition government led by the Christian Democratic Party and his Socialist Party took power in 1990, Lagos served as education minister and public works minister, positions he used to tour the country and display pragmatism. As education minister he took funds previously budgeted for the universities and put them into primary education, but he also expanded aid to church schools and granted military academies the right to issue master's degrees to civilians.

As public works minister, he worked hard with the military to complete one of Pinochet's pet projects, a highway through Chile's frigid and watery Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego regions.

He says he will be able to coexist with the military as president if he wins the May primary against Andres Zaldivar, the Christian Democratic president of the Senate, and the Christian Democratic-Socialist coalition goes on to defeat at least one right-wing candidate in December.

And he said he would not diverge much from President Eduardo Frei's efforts to bring Pinochet back to Chile, a position that has brought him under sharp criticism from Gladys Marin, the Communist Party presidential candidate, and even some members of his own party.

Nevertheless, he made it clear that he would work to limit the enduring political power of the military by seeking to overturn a law that gives the armed forces 10 percent of the revenues generated by the state copper company and amend the constitution, which gives the military four seats in the Senate.

But while his relationship with the military and how he will deal with the Pinochet case are constant sources of discussion among Chilean political commentators, the subjects almost never come up on the campaign trail. Recent polls indicate that Pinochet's legal predicament has had a very limited impact on voter sentiment toward the candidates.

Never once did the names Pinochet or Allende come up in either Lagos' speeches or in questions posed to him by voters during the entire day of campaigning in Valparaiso, which was not only the center of so much political ferment during the Allende years but also Pinochet's birthplace.

"Pinochet," Lagos said in the interview, "is the past."

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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