From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Mar 15 06:08:50 2000
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:39:57 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: POLITICS/RIGHTS: Lagos, Chile's Second Socialist President
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
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
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
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
Political observers agree that the other big pressing challenge
facing Lagos are the ethnic and environmental conflicts in
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
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
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
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
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.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
All rights reserved
May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or
service outside of the APC networks, without specific
permission from IPS. This limitation includes distribution
via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists,
print media and broadcast. For information about cross-
posting, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For
information about print or broadcast reproduction please
contact the IPS coordinator at <email@example.com>.