TOPICS > Politics

Confronting the Past in Chile

March 2, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


RICARDO LAGOS: As a president I have to guarantee that the tribunals are independent. As a president I am nobody to say who is guilty and who is not. This is not my duty. My duty is to allow the judges to perform their duties; that’s all.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think there’s a chance he could ever be tried here — because a lot of human rights lawyers are awfully skeptical about whether they could ever really get to him.

RICARDO LAGOS: That has something to do with the kind of society that we’re going to build. I mean, as a president, I have to be able to demonstrate to the world that we are living in a society where anybody can be judged in Chile, no matter how important and how humble he is, or she is.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In a more general sense we’ve talked to people here — for example we went to Villa Grimaldi, the torture center. We went with somebody who was really, I mean, horribly tortured there. We’ve spoken to people whose family members have been executed, have been disappeared, all the things you know because you lost friends too.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: These people want justice; they don’t want reconciliation; they don’t want just the truth about what happened to their family members, although that would be nice too. They want somebody to be tried. What do you say to those people?

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, there have been some of them that have been tried.



ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. The former head of the secret police.

RICARDO LAGOS: The former head of the secret police is still in jail. And, therefore, we have been able to go in that direction. Nevertheless, still we have 1,000 people, 1,000 people that disappeared, and their relatives still today, they have no idea where they are or where they are, or where they are buried if they are dead. And this I would say is the major problem that we have, and I hope that this, so-called mesa de dialogo —

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Round table of negotiating — this is civilians, human rights lawyers, military.

RICARDO LAGOS: That’s right, which I think is an important step forward because the fact that you have lawyers from the human rights spectrum and military from the other side — plus a moral institution like the church — to some extent they have been able to accomplish a few things, and if it’s possible to know where they are — this part of them — I think that this is going to be very important. During the Aylwin presidency —

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The first president after the dictatorship.

RICARDO LAGOS: We were able to have this commission of truth and reconciliation. It was to some extent a white book of what happened in Chile, and after that, nobody questioned what happened in Chile. The question is that are we going to be able to prosecute and to know total truth and then justice.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you answer that question?

RICARDO LAGOS: I would like to be optimistic in the sense that I think that after what happened in Chile after these 10 years — Chilean society is mature now — to realize that the only way to discuss future is to be able to seal our wounds of the past. We have two very different sides in Chilean society. Now, I understand as a president I should try to build some bridges between those two different sides, but the question is that we have to recognize that some crimes were committed and it’s essential for the relatives of those victims, but they also want to know where they are.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You said something interesting in your victory speech right out here in the square.

RICARDO LAGOS: That’s right, yes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You said, ‘I am aware of what a solemn moment this is, what it means for many people in this square.’ Who were you referring to and what does it mean for them?

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, among the people in the square was Tentia Allende, the widow of Salvador Allende. And like her, in the square were many people that were supporters of Salvador Allende and to some extent were all those people — was a very moving moment that after 30 years a Socialist in the year 2000 is back in power — even though in a different coalition.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to ask you about that. What does it mean to be a Socialist in Chile now? And I ask this because in the United States now many people think of Chile as the place where free-market principles were applied very successfully by economists trained in the United States, some of them at the University of Chicago. So, given that, the very high growth rate that occurred here in the ’90s, until just recently when there’s been a recession, given that, what does it mean to b a Socialist? What does a Socialist do in Chile now?

RICARDO LAGOS: I think that the most important thing is how you’re going to guarantee freedom, perhaps increasing, increasing equality in the distribution of income, in access to food, health, education. You can use a free market economy, but the question is how are you going to be able to guarantee that in the area of education for instance every Chilean child has access to education? In other words, to be a Socialist in the 21st century, is how are you going to guarantee access of education of similar quality to everybody.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How are you going to do that? Take education as an example.

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, the only way that if you want to provide people to access to education, you have to discriminate and to give them more resources — financial resources, material resources — to those kids that have smaller incomes. We are planning to have, for instance, a special scholarship in order to retain the poorer students in high school, because otherwise those kids are going to go to the work force.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, in this way of looking at it, the role of the state is to try to equalize, a little bit, opportunity.

RICARDO LAGOS: Let me put it this way, I think that you are right. The role of the state is how are you going to guarantee equal opportunities to everybody? And those who have less have to receive more.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is your election the completion of Chile’s transition to democracy? There was a dictatorship here under General Pinochet, there’s been two Christian Democratic presidents, and this has been referred to as a transition to democracy. Is yours the completion, or is there still a lot to be done?

RICARDO LAGOS: I think that the transition is going to be fulfilled once we have a constitution where everybody would agree upon. The main problem today in Chile is that the constitution that we have is not the constitution that every Chilean would accept.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me for interrupting, that’s because this was the constitution that was negotiated with General Pinochet, no?

RICARDO LAGOS: Yes, but in that negotiation there was a lot of things that we thought that was necessary to change, and we have been unable to do it because the Congress is not willing, for the moment, to change those things. I hope that during the next period we are going to be able to do that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What, for example?

RICARDO LAGOS: The fact that you are in a situation that where you will have appointed senators.


RICARDO LAGOS: Appointed by different councils. We would like to have like in the U.S., all senators being elected. We have appointed senators, those appointed normally would introduce some sort of misleading representation in the upper chamber. And the upper chamber in Chile is like in the U.S. extremely important. In the second place, I think that it is also important to have a National Security Council, nothing to do with the National Security Council that you have, but where you have the four members of the armed forces, plus four civilian members — president of the Supreme Court, of the Congress and some other members — and I think that those situations and those institutions are not really very democratic ones.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some people call what you’re talking about here and other changes that you’ve mentioned this despinochetizacion. Un-Pinochet-izing the culture and the economy and the political system. Is that what you’d call it?

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, some people have to perceive that my election to some extent presents something in that direction. I was a quite well-known opponent to the dictatorship in Chile, and I opposed General Pinochet very strongly. I spent a few days in jail because of that. And the question is yes, I think this a one step in that direction. But I wouldn’t say that the road has been completed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, onto some questions about the United States. The United States has had a long history of a lot of involvement in Chile — during the first government of the first fray, lots of money from the Alliance for Progress — a lot of involvement against President Allende. Here you are a socialist president, it’s the year 2000, what should the U.S. role be here?

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, I think that there has to an evolution in the relationship between Chile and the U.S. We are in a very good situation, from the point of view of our relationship. I think the you in the States, even though you live in a society with a market institutions, you have been able to provide a lot of umbrellas, a social security net to many people. This is the kind of thing that we are trying to look for our own people. Now we are in a situation where we want trade, not aid. And to say we want trade, we say look, we have very low tariffs in Chile, and we would like to have access to the U.S. market, it’s true.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, Mr. President-elect, you’ve not only written about in the world’s press as being important because it’s Chile and Chile’s often been the leader in Latin America, but you represent for some people a kind of third way for other parts of the world too, somewhere between the left and the right. Does that weigh heavily on you?

RICARDO LAGOS: Well, I had the feeling that in this campaign is — in so many eyes of the people, some hope that something has to be changed. And I think that what is essential is in order to answer to them, to those people, and to say, ‘Look, it is possible to find a way by which we are going to have growth, but growth is going to reach different sectors of the Chilean society,’ because market forces alone means that society is going to be as uneven as it is the market. You can have a market economy, but not a market society. If you’re going to have a market society, that society’s going to be uneven, and I want a more egalitarian society, so that every Chilean has an opportunity in this century.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well President-elect Lagos, thank you very much for being with us.

RICARDO LAGOS: Thanks to you.