Interview: Ricardo Lagos

Interview: Ricardo Lagos


Wendt`s interview with Chile`s president-elect, Mr Ricardo Lagos.


Dateline 23/2/00

Mr Lagos,

welcome to Dateline.

Thank you.

How important

as a symbol do you think it is that you have been elected the first socialist

President of Chile in 27 years?

Well, to some extent

you could say that probably a circle of history has been closed. I mean

President Allende died in the presidential palace. He was loyal to his

people and even though circumstances are absolutely different, I belong

to a coalition that is much broader than the coalition of President Allende.

. We learned the hard lesson that if you want to lead a country you need

a substantial majority.

Okay, and

so what difference will you make as a socialist president?

The world is different.

The world of 1970 was the Cold War. The world of the year 2000 is 10 years

or 11 years after the Berlin Wall came to an end. But then the other difference

I would say is that 30 years ago, to be socialist meant that the means

of production had to be in control of the state. Today, if you want to

explain why Mr Gates is so rich, its not because he owns the means of

production, he has this. And this means that today, to be a socialist

in this century, the 21st century has much more to do with

education and what kind of education are you going to provide for everybody,

rather than what`s happened with the means of production.

I`m sure there

are people in your party, or socialists around the world who will say

this is heresy. This is a move towards the centre, it`s not socialism

at all. What do you say?

No, I don`t think

so. I think that to be socialist means that you want to preserve freedom

with increasing degrees of equality. How are you going to get more equality,

how are you going to get a society that is much more equitable than the

one that we have today. We have a very uneven distribution of income in

Chile. I don`t want that. And I think that if Chile is going to be a developed

country, and we can do that in the next ten years, I want to have a more

equitable country.

Is it true

Mr Lago, that the biggest political stick that your right

wing opponents could beat you with is your association with the radical

socialism of Allende?

Well, there are some

people that remain in the past and they would like to present some kind

of a ghost. They don`t understand history, they don`t understand the

Sir, can I

ask you bluntly in a theoretical sense, do you think those Allende years

were a failure?

Well, let me put it

this way. I disagree with that, because during those Allende years, we

kept our freedom, congress was functioning, we had free press. It`s a

different story that probably the economic policy was not ruled in the

right way. We commit a lot of mistakes, but as I say the mistakes does

not justify the horrors of what came later.

But mistakes

they were?

Mistakes they were.

There is no question of that.

Back in 1988,

during a television appearance, you looked straight into the camera as

if you were addressing General Pinochet. You told him that Chile didn`t

want any more of the oppression and the assassinations and the torture.

It was such a bold move by you. What led you at that moment to that point?

The most difficult

question in 1988 was to convince to the Chilean people that it was possible,

through Pinochet`s legislation, to defeat Pinochet. I have a sense of

duty to all those thousands of Chileans that decided to sign to have a

party against Pinochet. So I addressed straight to Pinochet to demonstrate

to them that it was possible to defeat Pinochet.

That it could

be done?

That it could be done.

The young people didn`t want to. They thought it was not possible.

You said on

that occasion that you were speaking after 15 years of silence. Can you

give me an impression of what those 15 years of silence were like for


Well, we are fortunate

enough because we were able to live in Chile since 1978. I was imprisoned

in a very short time – only three weeks. We have fear – for me, for my

family, my kids. It was not easy to live during those days.

What about

that period when you were at the University of Chile just after the coup?

What was that like?

Well I was expelled

from the University of Chile. I was professor, I was a very young professor

at the university. At the age of 25 I was member of the faculty at the

University of Chile. I was expelled right after the coup.

Were there

colleagues of yours that disappeared, who were taken away? Do you have

that experience?

I have a close friends

of mine that disappeared here in the presidential palace. The remains

of one of them was discovered four years ago, and we were able to bury

him, but two others of my friends it has been impossible to recover the

bones. When you are talking about the people that disappeared, you are

talking about at least 1,000 people that disappeared and you never know

where they are.

And that friends

of yours, you say, whose remains were recovered, do you know who was responsible

for his death?

No. I do not know.

Would you

like to know?

I know that he was

murdered two days after the coup. He was tortured. It was possible to

discover the kind of torture through the bones of his body, but I think

that also we should be able to look what we have ahead in our future.

I asked the

question I suppose, because you have said that the issue of the disappeared

people is a wound, I think you say, that won`t heal until Chile confronts

that problem. What tools will you as president need to tackle that problem?

I think it is important

to realise that this is a task for the judicial power. Those people that

disappeared, technically if you don`t discover their remains, it is an

open investigation for the tribunals.

You must need

the assistance of the military in getting to the bottom of this issue,

don`t you?

I think so.

How will you

set about persuading them to help you in this task?

If we want to be able

to look to the future, it is going to be necessary for those responsible

to recognise what happened. I know it is very difficult. I know that probably

with many of them, they say that some of them are in the ocean. It is

going to be necessary that somebody says “Look, the following people are

in the ocean.”

And the people

who are going to have to say this will surely come from the military,


I do not know. There

are some people that are thinking the way that you are thinking, but this

is something that will have to be determined by the tribunals, not by

the president.

But, Mr Lagos,

you are going to have to do something, aren`t you, to compel people, if

they are in the military to help you with this, otherwise there will be

no peace for these people?

This is the reason

why the Minister of Defence has been able to set up a so-called dialogue

table and at this dialogue table you have lawyers from the human rights

issues, members of the military and they have been discussing several

ways to establish and to discover what has happened finally.

Of course

there are again critics in your own party who would say “There should

be no more dialogue with the military. The military is there after all

to serve the state. They should be told they must cooperate. Do you think

in those terms?

Well, I think that

it is necessary. Can you have two different sides. How are you going to

make possible for those two different sides to talk to each other. That

is the only way to be able again to see the future.

The issue

of General Pinochet himself. The medical report would seem to suggest

that he is unfit to stand trial. In view of that, what do you think should

happen to him?

No matter how sick

you are, in Chile you have to stand trial.

So, it is

technically possible, despite the fact that medical reports suggest that

he is not fit to stand trial, say in Spain, it is technically possible

for the General to be tried here in Chile?

Oh yes, because the

medical reasons are quite different in Chile than those medical reasons

that exist in Great Britain. In Chile, no matter how ill you may be, you

will stand on trial, unless somebody will certify mental illness, but

in that case you are going to be taken under custody or whatever of the

situation because you are mentally ill.

If the General

comes back to Chile – do you expect that to happen by the way?

Yes, I think so. I

think the General will be back in Chile very soon.

So if he does

come back and sees his days out here, without ever having been brought

to account for the crimes that took place under his term of office, will

that be a satisfactory close to all of this?

The question is, are

we going to be able, as Chileans, to solve in the right way this chapter

of Chilean history, or is it simply a question of the passing of the years.

It is a biological fact that all of us some day are going to die, and

therefore all of us that were part of what happened in that chapter of

Chilean history are going to pass away. I would rather prefer the other

way, that we are able to cope with our past.

If you are

in a way, talking about forgiving and forgetting, it`s necessary isn`t

it to know whom it is that you are forgiving, in other words who is responsible

and specifically what crimes it is that you are going to forgive?

I wonder if you are

going to know specific names. But at least, as somebody told me once,

if I`m going to pardon, I would like to know whom I am pardoning. In Australia

we have 30,000/40,000 Chileans living down there and most of them went

there because your country was generous enough to receive so many Chileans

that were unable to live in Chile because of political considerations.

Now those Chileans are living now in Australia. They would like to perceive

that at least somebody is going to be able to give them a word saying

“Look, those that sent you into exile, at least admitted their error.”

So, the resolution

in your mind now, as president-elect goes how? People responsible from

the military will be tried for their crimes?

I would say that this

is something that is going to be decided by the tribunal. What I should

guarantee is that the tribunals can perform their duties.

And you are

confident that they can, given the influence that the military still has?

I think the military

has to realise that the world is observing what we are going to be able

to do.

So, you think

the fact that the world will be watching will be sufficient caution for

the Chilean military?

No, I think that…I

tell to the Chilean people that I `m going to tell them the truth. If

I see any action, that means some interference in what the tribunals are

going to do, I will tell that straight to the Chilean people.

Okay, so that`s

step one of the solution to the problem, is step two General Pincohet

returning to this country and being seen to be held accountable in some


If a tribunal say

what you have just said.

What about

you, do you want to see that happen as president-elect of this country?

Chilean people knows

what is my political evaluation of Pinochet`s dictatorship, what is my

moral evaluation of what happened in Chile. There is no question I was

an opponent to General Pinochet while he was in power. As a president

of the republic all what I have to do is allow the tribunals to do what

they have to do.

Do you think

there is a national consensus in this country of what is valuable in its

past, or are there as one commentator suggested, two competing versions

of Chile`s history?

Well, let me put it

this way. We are rather proud of our history up until 1970. In the centre

we have just one single history. We were a small country, with democratic

institutions and democratic traditions, we are able to elect our own presidents

during all last century, when many of our neighbours were in more difficult

times. Therefore we have some reasons to be proud of what we did in the

past, but then suddenly we have this confrontation. And it`s true, now

there are two different perspectives. I hope that we are going to be able

again, beginning in the new century, this century to have just one common


Mr Lagos,

thank you very much for your time.

Thank you.