Ricardo Lagos

This article is about the former president of Chile. For his son, a former minister, see Ricardo Lagos Weber.
This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Lagos and the second or maternal family name is Escobar.
Ricardo Lagos
34th President of Chile
In office
11 March 2000  11 March 2006
Preceded by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
Succeeded by Michelle Bachelet
Minister of Public Works
In office
11 March 1994  1 August 1998
President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
Preceded by Carlos Hurtado Ruiz-Tagle
Succeeded by Jaime Tohá
Minister of Education
In office
11 March 1990  28 September 1992
President Patricio Aylwin
Preceded by René Salamé Martín
Succeeded by Jorge Arrate
Personal details
Born (1938-03-02) 2 March 1938
Santiago, Chile
Political party Party for Democracy
Other political
Radical Party
Socialist Party of Chile
Spouse(s) Luisa Durán
Children Ricardo
Alma mater University of Chile
Duke University
Occupation Lawyer

Ricardo Froilán Lagos Escobar (Spanish pronunciation: [riˈkaɾðo fɾoiˈlanˈlaɣos eskoˈβaɾ]; March 2, 1938) is a lawyer, economist and social democrat politician, who served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. He won the 1999-2000 presidential election by a narrow margin in a runoff over Independent Democrat Union (UDI) candidate Joaquín Lavín. Lagos was the third president from the center-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy to have ruled Chile since 1990. He was succeeded on March 11, 2006 by Socialist Michelle Bachelet, from the same coalition. Since May 2007 he has served as a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.[1]

He teaches political and economic development at Brown University in the United States.[2]

Early years

Lagos was born in Santiago, Chile. He was the only child of Froilán Lagos Sepúlveda (a farmer who died when his son was eight years old) and Emma Escobar Morales (who died in April 2005 at age 108). He attended primary school at Liceo Experimental Manuel de Salas and high school at the prestigious Instituto Nacional.

In 1961 Lagos married Carmen Weber, with whom he had two children, Ricardo and Ximena. In 1969, he met Luisa Durán and they married in 1971. The couple shared the parenting of the children of Lagos' first marriage, the children of Durán's first marriage, Hernán and Alejandro, and their only child together, Francisca.

While in university Ricardo Lagos attended the lectures of historian Jaime Eyzaguirre whom he held in high esteem.[3]

Academic and diplomatic career

After obtaining his law degree from the University of Chile in 1960, Lagos pursued a Ph.D. in Economics from Duke University, which he completed in 1966. During that time he became a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the political science department until 1965. After his time in North Carolina, he kept ties with both universities. On his return to Chile, he was employed at the Institute of Economy of the University of Chile, directed by Carlos Massad. In 1967, he was named Director of the School of Political and Administrative Sciences, a position he held until 1973, when he became Secretary General of the University of Chile. Lagos subsequently began work as a professor of economics in the School of Law of the University, and between 1971 and 1972 he was Director of the Institute of Economy. He was later named Director of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.

During the 1970s, Lagos declared himself an "independent of the left" and abandoned the Radical Party of Chile, which he had joined in 1961, when this party supported Jorge Alessandri's government. Although he did not possess great diplomatic experience, he worked with Hernán Santa Cruz as an ambassador to the United Nations, where he presented an outstanding speech on the international financial crisis. During the speech, he strongly criticized the decision of U.S. President Richard Nixon on the nonconvertibility of the U.S. dollar into gold, a measurement that would end in the rounding up the Asian crisis. In 1972, President Salvador Allende appointed Lagos as the Chilean Ambassador to the Soviet Union in Moscow, but the appointment was never ratified by Congress. As a Regional Director of the training program of post graduate studies in social sciences, he was later put in charge of Project UNESCO, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Buenos Aires. As a public servant he also served Chile as a United Nations delegate with rank of ambassador at the 26th United Nations General Assembly. In addition, he was a delegate to the UN's 3rd Conference of Commerce and Development (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development).

Soon after the 1973 coup d'état, he and his family were sent into exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he took the position of Secretary General of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). He moved for a year to the United States, where he became visiting professor of the William R. Kenan chair for Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1975, he worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme.

Lagos returned to Chile in 1978, and worked for the Regional Program of Employment of the United Nations, PREALC. During the implementation of policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund his mission was to advise all the governments in the South American continent on the matter of employment.

Political career

During the 1980s, Lagos assumed a fundamental role in the fight for the recovery of democracy. In addition to being one of the leaders of the Socialist Party of Chile, he became President of the Democratic Alliance, a force that grouped the majority of the democratic parties opposing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. In 1983, he decided to leave his position as international civil employee in the United Nations. In December of that year, he became president of the Democratic Alliance. In 1987, as the president of the Committee of the Left for Free Elections, he called on all citizens and parties to enroll in the electoral registries to vote "no" in a 1988 national plebiscite on whether Pinochet should be allowed to remain president of Chile.

Lagos became the undisputed leader of Pinochet's opponents after appearing in Canal 13's first political debate show since the 1973 coup d'état, De cara al país (towards the country), where he stated; "With the triumph of "No", the country will prevent General Pinochet from being 25 years in power, it will mark the start of the end of the dictatorship." Lagos then looked directly into the camera and accusingly raised his index finger to say directly to all viewers:

General Pinochet has not been honest with the country... So I will remind you, General Pinochet, that on the day of the 1980 plebiscite you said that "President Pinochet would not be a candidate in 1989". ... And now, you promise the country another eight years, with tortures, murders, and human rights violations. It seems to me inadmissible, that a Chilean can have so much hunger for power, to aim to stay 25 years in power! Never before has a Chilean done so. Please excuse me, Raquel, but I'm speaking after being silent for 15 years already!
Ricardo Lagos

To this day, in Chile the phrase "Lagos' finger" refers to this memorable event; on that night, many people were convinced that the man would not survive to see the next day.

After the triumph of the No alternative and the subsequent resignation of Pinochet, Lagos declined to be a candidate for the presidency in spite of being the main leader of the opposition. Instead, he supported Patricio Aylwin's candidacy and ran for a seat in the Senate for the Santiago-West district. On December 11, 1989, the day of the elections, he obtained the district's second majority. Nevertheless, he did not win a seat because his alliance's list did not double the vote of the second most voted list; this being a requisite in the Chilean electoral system created by Pinochet.

In 1990, Lagos was named Minister of Education by President Patricio Aylwin. In this position, he initiated reform aimed at increasing equality in access and improving education levels. In June 1993, he pushed for the notion of using primary elections in order to select the Concertación coalition's candidate for the following presidential election. He lost this primary to Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who went on to become President of Chile. In 1994, Frei himself named Lagos Minister of Public Works. In this role, he developed an innovating system of road concessions, integrated the private sector in the construction of works and its later operation. During the Frei administration, he continued to be a leader of opinion and was a sure option for the following presidential election. His status was later ratified by his appointment as one of the members of the Committee of Twelve Distinguished Members of the Socialist International, which he shared with such personalities as Felipe González and Gro Harlem Brundtland. This committee was set up to process proposals for the renovation of the social democratic thought for the 21st century.

In 1999, Lagos resigned as minister in order to begin his presidential campaign. In the primaries, he defeated senator Andrés Zaldívar, of the Christian Democratic Party to become the Concertación's sole presidential candidate. In the first round of the presidential election in December of the same year, he defeated right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín, by only 30,000 votes. Since he failed to obtain an absolute majority, as is required to be elected President, a presidential runoff was subsequently held in January 2000 for the first time ever in Chile. Winning 51.3 percent of the vote, Lagos became the new President of Chile.


Internal issues

During the first year of his term in office, Lagos had to confront a high level of unemployment, generated by the political instability of the region, in a process that began to revert during the end of 2003 . In spite of this, Lagos enjoyed great popular support, bordering on 55%, and ending around 60-70% during the last six months of his term. The policy of proximity with people was pronounced in the opening of the doors of the Palacio de La Moneda, that had remained closed since the 1973 coup d'état.

Beginning in 2002, his government had to face suspicions of political corruption due to the prosecution of one of his ministers, Carlos Cruz, and of other civil employees of the Public Works Ministry, in the denominated MOP-GATE case. Gloria Ana Chevesich, the judge in charge of this case, discovered that ministers, undersecretaries and other officials of exclusive confidence of the President, received additional payments to their regular remuneration: the so-called "extra payments". This irregularity was acknowledged by Lagos, who specified that the practice had also developed during the governments of Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Aylwin. The official position of the government consisted of not acknowledging the criminal nature of these practices and establishing a legal reform that increased the pay of ministers and undersecretaries of the government, a matter that was approved in its legislative proceeding.

Foreign relations

Ricardo Lagos with former US president George W. Bush

During 2004, Lagos faced a series of tensions in his relation with other South American countries, caused by recurring Bolivian aspirations for access to the sea. This situation was linked with the power crisis taking place in Argentina, an important supplier of natural gas to Chile. In bilateral meetings between Bolivian President Carlos Mesa and Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, the former agreed to the sale of Bolivian gas to Argentina under the condition that "not a single gas molecule be sold to Chile". Additionally, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, has supported in various instances the Bolivian sea claim, causing a diplomatic impassé between Chile and Venezuela. The tension between both governments had dissipated during July 2004.


During Lagos' presidency, Free Trade Agreements were signed with the European Community, the United States, South Korea, the People's Republic of China and New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei (though some of his supporters in the center-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy consider that these agreements may have negative effects on the country); the incidence of extreme poverty was significantly reduced;[4] the legal workweek was reduced from 48 to 45 hours;[5] improvements were made in infrastructure and transport; an unemployment insurance scheme was created; as well as the AUGE health program guaranteeing coverage for a number of medical conditions; the Chile Barrio housing program; the Chile Solidario program;[6] compulsory schooling was extended to 12 years; the first divorce law in Chile was approved; monetary compensation to victims of torture under the Pinochet regime identified in the Valech Report was authorized; and, recently, a recast constitution was signed. He finished his six-year term with historic approval ratings above 70%.


Office Name/Term
Minister of the Interior José Miguel Insulza (March 11, 2000 – 2005)
Francisco Vidal Salinas (2005-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Soledad Alvear (March 11, 2000 – October 1, 2004)
Ignacio Walker Prieto (October 1, 2004 – March 11, 2006)
Minister of National Defense Mario Fernández Baeza (March 11, 2000 – January 7, 2002)
Michelle Bachelet (January 7, 2002 – October 1, 2004)
Jaime Ravinet de la Fuente (October 1, 2004 – March 11, 2006)
Minister of Finance Nicolás Eyzaguirre (March 11, 2000 – March 11, 2006)
Minister Secretary General of the Presidency Álvaro García Hurtado (March 11, 2000 – 2002)
Mario Fernández Baeza (2002–2003)
Francisco Huenchumilla Jaramillo (2003–2004)
Eduardo Dockendorff Vallejos (2004-March 11, 2006)
Minister Secretary General of Government Claudio Huepe (March 11, 2000 – 2002)
Heraldo Muñoz (2002–2003)
Francisco Vidal Salinas (2003–2005)
Osvaldo Puccio Huidobro (2005-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Economy & Energy José de Gregorio (March 11, 2000 – 2001)
Jorge Rodríguez Grossi (2001-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Planning & Cooperation Alejandra Krauss Valle (March 11, 2000 – 2002)
Cecilia Pérez Díaz (2002–2003)
Andrés Palma Irarrázaval (2003–2004)
Yasna Provoste (2004-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Education Mariana Aylwin Oyarzún (March 11, 2000 – 2003)
Sergio Bitar Chacra (2003–2005)
Marigen Hornkohl Venegas (2005-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Justice José Antonio Gómez Urrutia (March 11, 2000 – March 3, 2003)
Luis Bates Hidalgo (March 3, 2003 – March 11, 2006)
Minister of Labor & Social Security Ricardo Solari Saavedra (March 11, 2000 – 2005)
Yerko Ljubetic Godoy (2005-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Public Works, Transports & Telecommunications Carlos Cruz Lorenzen (March 11, 2000 – 2002)
Javier Etcheverry Celhay (2002–2004)
Jaime Estévez Valencia (2004-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Health Michelle Bachelet (March 11, 2000 – 2002)
Osvaldo Artaza Barrios (2002–2003)
Pedro García Aspillaga (2003-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Housing, Urbanism, & Public Lands Claudio Orrego Larraín (March 11, 2000 – 2001)
Jaime Ravinet de la Fuente (2001–2004)
Sonia Tschorne Berestesky (2004-March 11, 2006)
Minister of Agriculture Jaime Campos Quiroga (March 11, 2000 – March 11, 2006)
Minister of Mining Alfonso Dulanto Rencoret (2002-March 11, 2006)
Minister Director of National Women's Service Adriana Delpiano (March 11, 2000 – 2003)
Cecilia Pérez Díaz (2003-March 11, 2006)
National Council of Culture & the Arts José Weinstein Cayuela (2003-March 11, 2006)
(gained ministerial rank under this government)

Post-presidential career


On March 24, 2006 Lagos inaugurated his own foundation called Democracia y Desarrollo ("Democracy and Development") in Santiago. Three days later he began a two-year term as President of the Club de Madrid— an exclusive organization of former presidents created by a Spanish philanthropist to promote democracy across the world. He also assumed co-chairmanship of the Inter-American Dialogue's Board of Directors.

On May 2, 2007, Lagos, along with Gro Harlem Brundtland and Han Seung-soo, was named by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a Special Envoy on Climate Change. His appointment was and still is very controversial among Chilean environmental groups who questioned his track record on the matter, claiming that he 'showed an utter lack of consideration for the environment, promoted policies against environmental sustainability and favored the interests of big economic groups, even defending crimes against nature internationally', favouring large corporations every single time there was a clash between local communities, environmental concerns and perceived economic benefits.[7][8]


In early 2007, Lagos became a member of the editorial board of Americas Quarterly, a policy publication focused on relations and development in the Western Hemisphere. Lagos contributes regularly.


After abandoning power, Lagos taught a one-month special seminar at UC Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies, called "Democracy and Development in Latin America."

On May 2007, Brown University announced that Lagos would take a teaching position at the Watson Institute for International Studies for a period of five years, starting on July 1, 2007.[9]

In 2013, Lagos was a visiting professor at the University of Sao Paulo assuming the “José Bonifácio Cátedra".[10]

Honours and awards

See also


  1. "UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Appoints Special Envoys on Climate Change". United Nations. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
  2. "Watson Institute for International Studies". Brown University. 2009. Archived from the original on August 18, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  3. Góngora, Álvaro; de la Taille, Alexandrine; Vial, Gonzalo. Jaime Eyzaguirre en su tiempo (in Spanish). Zig-Zag. pp. 173–174.
  4. South America, Central America and the Caribbean 2002
  5. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/workingpapers/2010/twerp_925.pdf
  6. Attacking inequality in the health sector: a synthesis of evidence and tool by Abdo Yazbeck
  7. "Environmentalist Organizations Reject Ricardo Lagos' Appointment as UN Special Envoy for Climate Change". Real World Radio. 2007-05-24. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
  8. "La carta que busca frenar a Lagos ante la ONU". El Mercurio via the Internet Archive. 2007-05-07. Archived from the original on 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
  9. "Ricardo Lagos será profesor en universidad de EE.UU.." EMOL, accessed on May 18, 2007.
  10. "." Política Externa, accessed on March 24, 2014.
  11. Slovak republic website, State honours : 1st Class in 2001 (click on "Holders of the Order of the 1st Class White Double Cross" to see the holders' table)
Political offices
Preceded by
Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
President of Chile
Succeeded by
Michelle Bachelet
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Thaksin Shinawatra
Chairperson of APEC
Succeeded by
Roh Moo-hyun
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