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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed Mar 15 06:08:50 2000
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:39:57 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POLITICS/RIGHTS: Lagos, Chile's Second Socialist President
Organization: ?
Article: 91111
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Lagos, Chile's Second Socialist President

By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
11 March 2000

SANTIAGO, Mar 11 (IPS) - Ricardo Lagos, sworn in as Chile's new president Saturday, faces the pressing challenges of completing this Southern Cone country's transition to democracy and dealing with the "Pinochet case."

The swearing-in ceremony in which outgoing president Eduardo Frei passed the mantle to Lagos, Chile's 46th president, took place in the Hall of Honour in the seat of Congress in Valpara¡so, 120 kms west of Santiago.

More than 150 foreign guests, including Prince Felipe de Asturias of Spain, presidents Fernando de la Rua of Argentina, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Gustavo Noboa of Ecuador and Jorge Batlle of Uruguay, attended the ceremony.

Also present were prime ministers Massimo D'Alema of Italy, Antonio Guterres of Portugal, and Helen Clark of New Zealand, as well as presidents Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Costa Rica and Carlos Flores of Honduras. Cuban President Fidel Castro declined the invitation, and sent Vice-President Carlos Lage in his place.

Lagos, a 62-year-old lawyer and economist, became the second socialist president in the history of Chile nearly 30 years after president Salvador Allende took office, but in a radically different context.

Chile's first leftist governing coalition was toppled by a bloody coup led by General Augusto Pinochet on Sep 11, 1973, in which Allende died.

"I can't help feeling greatly moved," said Socialist parliamentary Deputy Isabel Allende, daughter of the late president. "This is a great democratic moment which brings back memories of when my father became president in November 1970."

Unlike the leftist coalition headed by Allende, in which the chief ally of the Socialist Party was the Communist Party, Lagos heads a centre-left coalition made up of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the For Democracy Party (PPD), the Socialist Party (PS) and the Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD).

The Coalition for Democracy has governed the country since the end of the Pinochet regime (1973-90), but now the leadership is in the hands of a Socialist, after the administrations of two Christian Democrats, Patricio Aylwin (1990-94) and Frei.

International interest in the political process of this Southern Cone country - also considered a model economy in Latin America - runs high.

It has peaked in the past two years, when Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 on the order of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who tried to extradite him to Spain to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

The former dictator, now senator-for-life, did not participate in the swearing-in ceremony, somewhat easing the controversy surrounding his figure, which flared up Mar 3 when he returned to Chile after being released by British Home Secretary Jack Straw on humanitarian grounds.

A major challenge facing Lagos is completing Chile's transition to democracy, which has been blocked by the existence of designated senators representing the armed forces and other authoritarian holdovers from the dictatorship.

But perhaps the greatest challenge is the "Pinochet case" and making good on the claim that the former dictator "should and can" be tried in Chile for human rights violations - the argument used by Frei to oppose the retired army chief's arrest in London and extradition to Spain.

The Santiago appeals court may pronounce itself within the next month on the question of lifting the immunity Pinochet enjoys as a member of parliament, as requested by Judge Juan Guzm n, who is investigating 72 lawsuits against the 84-year-old retired general.

On Mar 25, Congress is expected to approve a controversial constitutional amendment that would permit life senators to resign while retaining the title - and hefty pension - of former presidents, as well as parliamentary immunity.

The organisation linking relatives of disappeared and assassinated victims of the dictatorship - who totalled just over 3,000, according to a government truth commission - held a peaceful demonstration outside Congress Saturday demanding that Lagos do everything possible to bring Pinochet to justice in Chile.

Political observers agree that the other big pressing challenge facing Lagos are the ethnic and environmental conflicts in southern Chile.

For the past 15 months, indigenous Mapuche communities have been mobilising to demand the return of what they claim as "ancestral" lands, being exploited by logging companies. Meanwhile, Pehuenche communities are fighting the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam on the upper Biobio river, 500 kms south of Santiago.

Lagos has promised to adopt a national policy to address the series of disputes involving indigenous communities.

One of the government's first measures will be to launch a special plan for generating jobs, to tackle the most critical consequence of the international financial crisis, which triggered an unprecedented rise in Chile's unemployment rate last year.

Lagos is taking over a country in a process of economic recovery after the heavy impact caused by the international crisis, which led to a major slump in the price of copper - Chile's main export - and to a 1.3 percent drop in gross domestic product.

The new government has apparently already eased the mistrust of business associations. They met with Lagos last week to discuss his economic policy, which should largely be a continuation of the current free market and open economy model.

On the labour front, the government will have to come up with an immediate response to pending demands by teachers, transport and public health workers unions.

To confront this complex series of issues on the human rights, social policy and labour fronts, Lagos has set up a ministerial team to be headed by Jos‚ Miguel Insulza as Interior Minister.

As foreign minister and later as secretary-general to the president, Insulza, a member of the Socialist Party, was considered one of the Frei administration's most highly skilled negotiators.

Lagos' cabinet will also contain five women, an unprecedented number in the history of Chile. Soledad Alvear, Frei's former justice minister, will now serve as Foreign Minister.

The other women are Mariana Aylwin as Education Minister, Alejandra Krauss in Planning and Cooperation, Michelle Bachelet in Health and Adriana Delpiano at the head of the National Women's Service.

Eight women have also been named deputy ministers, and four of the 13 regional governorships are held by women, who were designated by Lagos.

"This is democracy; all angles, all visions and all hopes must be represented," said Minister Aylwin.


Origin: Montevideo/POLITICS/RIGHTS/

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