Wendt`s interview with Chile`s president-elect, Mr Ricardo Lagos.
welcome to Dateline.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
colleagues of yours that disappeared, who were taken away? Do you have
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
thank you very much for your time.