Ricardo Lagos, GHF Board Member

Ricardo Lagos
President of Chile (2000-2006)
Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change
President, Club of Madrid

The first Socialist President of Chile since the 1973 coup d’état overthrew Salvador Allende, Ricardo Lagos will be remembered by the Chilean people for his courageous televised criticism of General Augusto Pinochet. He denounced Pinochet for his "years of torture, murder and human rights violations" at a time when the dictator was still in power. Many people were convinced that Lagos would not be alive the next day.

During his Presidency, from 2000 to 2006, Lagos created programmes to provide national unemployment insurance and monetary compensation to victims of torture under the Pinochet regime.

He also oversaw the signing of free trade agreements between Chile and the European Community, the United States of America, South Korea, the People’s Republic of China, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei.

Lagos has been an influential advocate of the need of multilateral institutions and rules to shape a globalized world with a human face. This was the reason why Chile, in the Security Council, said no to war in Iraq because it was an action outside the UN.

Lagos was the son of a farmer who died when Lagos himself was just eight years old. His mother lived to the age of 108.

A moderate Socialist who described himself as “an independent of the left,” and what was unusual in Chile, an agnostic, Lagos received a law degree from the University of Chile and a doctorate in economics from Duke University in North Carolina.

Lagos returned to Chile in 1978 and began working there as an economist for the United Nations. In the 1980s he became politically active and emerged as a leader of the opposition to Pinochet. He declined to run for President in 1989 and supported Patricio Aylwin. When Aylwin won, Lagos was appointed Minister of Education. After two years in that position he became Minister of Public Works for a further four years. In 2000 he was elected President of Chile in a tightly competed election.

Simultaneously, Lagos was named one of the “12 Distinguished Members” of the Socialist International, along with Felipe Gonzalez of Spain and Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. This committee was set up to consider proposals for reviving and updating social democratic thought for the 21st century.

During his term of office Lagos had to confront a high level of unemployment. Notwithstanding, he enjoyed great popular support, bordering on 55% and around 60%-70% at the end of his presidency. One of the policies which increased his popularity was his ‘closeness to the people,’ reflected in his opening of the doors of the Palacio de la Moneda, which had been closed to the public since Pinochet’s seizure of power there in 1973.

His presidency was also characterized by improvements in the country’s infrastructure and transport system, the creation of unemployment insurance, a health programme guaranteeing coverage for a number of medical conditions, the ‘Chile Barrio’ housing programme, extending compulsory schooling to 12 years, the signing of a revamped constitution, and the approval of Chile’s first divorce law.        

After his presidency in 2006, Lagos established a foundation in Santiago called Democracia y Desarrollo (Democracy and Development). Three days later he began a two-year term as President of the Club of Madrid, an organization of 66 former heads of state and government created to strengthen democracy across the world. He also assumed the co-chairmanship of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Board of Directors.

In May of 2007 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Lagos one of his Special Envoys on climate change. In this capacity, Lagos helped organize the September 2007 high-level event on climate change. A follow-up on the event produced an influential document used as input in post-Kyoto negotiations on climate change that have taken place in Bali and Poznan. 


Lagos also teaches at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in Rhode Island. (P.Ress)



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