Date: Sat, 1 May 1999 13:21:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <email@example.com>
Subject: Left Reappears in Chile
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
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
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
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