Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 18:04:18 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: ELECTIONS-CHILE: Lagos, Modern-Day Heir to Allende's Socialism
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Lagos, Modern-day heir to Allende's Socialism
By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
9 December 1999
SANTIAGO, Dec 9 (IPS) - Ricardo Lagos hopes to become the second
Socialist president in the history of Chile, but in a context that
has little to do with the one in which the late Salvador Allende
was elected in 1970.
If Lagos, the front-runner in the polls, wins the presidential
elections, the first - and perhaps only - round of which takes
place Sunday, his would be the third Coalition for Democracy
administration, after those headed by Christian Democrats Patricio
Aylwin (1990-94) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000).
The 61-year-old lawyer and economist broke the Christian
Democratic Party's hold over the ruling coalition in the May 30
primaries, beating out that party's hopeful, Andrés Zaldívar, with
more than 71 percent of the vote.
Lagos thus became the candidate of the alliance formed by the
parties known as the "democratic opposition" in the early 1980s,
under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).
Today, the centre-left coalition is comprised of the Christian
Democratic Party (PDC), the Socialist Party (PS), the Party for
Democracy and the Radical Social Democratic Party. The Communist
Party (PC) is not part of the alliance.
"I was a supporter of Allende, and am proud of it. But today's
historical conditions are different," says Lagos, who objects to
his candidacy being likened to the Popular Unity (UP), the
coalition made up of the PS, PC and other leftist currents, at the
head of which Allende governed until he was overthrown by Pinochet
in a coup during which he died, refusing to flee the country.
In the campaign, Lagos has not only had to fight against the
right and against conservative sectors of the PDC, which have
insistently raised the "spectre of the UP," but has also had to
fight against the wear-and-tear that the ruling coalition has
suffered after 10 years in power.
The impact of the international financial crisis at the end of
Frei's six-year term led to a rise in apathy among today's youth,
and a loss of support for the governing coalition, on either end
of the spectrum.
The right-wing candidate, Joaquín Lavín, with his youthful
image and promises of change, will give Lagos a tough run for his
money, according to opinion polls.
Meanwhile, PC secretary-general and presidential candidate
Gladys Marín has drawn support away from the governing coalition
among voters farther to the left.
Analysts say Lagos is unlikely to obtain an absolute majority
of votes on Sunday, which means he will face off with Lavín in a
second round of voting on Jan 16.
The race is expected to be the tightest since Allende defeated
conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri and Christian Democratic
candidate Radomiro Tomic in 1970.
Lagos' opinion poll ratings stood at 48 percent Tuesday,
compared to Lavín's 41 percent and Marín's seven percent.
The ruling coalition candidate is counting on voters
identifying Lavín - despite his attempts to distance himself from
the country's dictatorial past - with Pinochet, who even while in
custody in Britain as a result of an extradition request from
Spain has continued to polarise Chile, where polls indicate that
60 percent of the population rejects him.
Marín, as well as two other progressive candidates - humanist
Tomás Hirsch (with 2.5 percent poll ratings) and ecologist Sara
Larraín (0.4 percent) - have already announced they will not
support Lagos in an eventual runoff, saying they refuse to back a
continuation of the neo-liberal economic model.
But analysts say their voters will largely come out in favour
The socialist candidate has not expressed interest in
negotiating with Marín, Hirsch and Larraín, while he refutes those
who describe his platform, based on growth with equality, as "neo-
The key elements of Lagos' platform are equity, social justice,
modernisation, the strengthening of education and the deepening of
Lagos, a former education and public works minister,
personifies the controversial modern-day socialism which since the
late 1970s has moved gradually away from the tenets of Marxism-
Leninism, while embracing multi-party politics and representative
democracy, as well as the free market.
Lagos served as an adviser to Allende, while holding the post
of secretary-general of the country's leading university, the
University of Chile. After the 1973 coup, Lagos, who has a
doctorate in economy from Duke University, pursued post-graduate
studies in the United States, and served as a senior official in
the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
In 1983 and 1984 he was president of the Democratic Alliance,
the germ of today's ruling coalition, and in 1987 founded the
Party for Democracy, conceived of as a front for the PS and other
movements banned by the dictatorship.
Lagos shot into the limelight on Apr 25, 1988, when on a
popular TV show he pointed his finger at the screen, demanding
that Pinochet put an end to the military regime.
His rival, Lavín, had not yet turned 20 at the time of the
coup. But he already identified himself with "gremialismo", a
neo-conservative movement that provided the dictatorship with
With a masters degree in economics from the University of
Chicago, Lavín became dean of the faculty of economy in the
University of Concepción, 215 kms south of Santiago, at age 26.
During the dictatorship he also served as a high-level official
in the Office of National Planning, and helped found the right-
wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party.
In the later stages of the de facto regime, Lavín wrote books
praising the dictatorship's economic policy, which sold by the
dozens to government agencies.
Neither his membership in the ultra-conservative Opus Dei nor
his past as a government official under Pinochet have been
mentioned during the campaign.
Also absent from his platform are the pending issues of the
transition to democracy, such as authoritarian laws and
constitutional clauses, holdovers from the dictatorship, and
thousands of pending cases of human rights violations.
In 1992, Lavín was elected mayor of the posh Santiago
neighbourhood of Las Condes, where he organised consultations in
which local residents set their own priorities for spending
His 1996 reelection with 78.5 percent of the vote set a new
record in local elections in Chile.
But the right-wing candidate's opponents wonder whether he
would have been as effective at the head of one of the country's
hundreds of impoverished districts, rather than of Las Condes, the
most powerful municipality in Chile.
Lavín's opponents criticise him for putting the installation of
a stoplight up to plebiscite, while rejecting the use of that
mechanism to allow voters to decide whether or not to amend the
constitution put into effect by Pinochet.
During the campaign, he has refused to discuss Pinochet,
arguing that Chile is not interested in dredging up the past. In
the end, no one benefited more from Pinochet's October 1998 arrest
in London, which allowed the right-wing candidate to largely evade
the issue of the dictatorship.
After a major drive to collect suggestions by telephone, e-mail
and door-to-door visits, Lavín drew up a list of 60 solutions to
what he found to be the country's most pressing problems, such as
drug use, crime, public safety, health services and education. He
also promises to create 100,000 jobs in his first year in office,
and one million throughout his six-year term.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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