Former Chilean President Talks At Texas Union

This story was written by Susan Peterson, Daily Texan
Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos discussed leftist political beliefs and the importance of a new vision for governance in a globalized world Thursday at the Texas Union.

Lagos credited the people of Chile with the country's progress since the 16-year military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet ended in 1990.

"The Chilean people have been wise enough to know what it means to be in government after a period of very dark dictatorship," Lagos said.

Lagos, a member of the Socialist Party, was elected president of Chile in 2000 as the nominee of the Concertación coalition, which united left-of-center parties. He left office in 2006 with a 70-percent public approval rating.

Political questions have to do with who makes decisions about the society they are building, he said.

"You cannot have the market make a definition of the society we are going to live in because then consumers will define society," Lagos said.

He said society should be shaped by citizens and being left politically has to do with change and social justice, as well as sharing power with citizens. He also said that society is defined by the kind of public goods a government provides for its citizens, like compulsory education and drinkable water in rural areas.

"If you want to have more public goods and more services, you have to have growth," he said.

Lagos also discussed the changes governments will have to make to adapt to globalization.

"Globalization is here to stay. We need rules at the global level," he said. "The big question when you are No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 in the world, when you are in the position to shape the world is: What kind of world would I like to be living in when I am no longer No. 1?"

Paloma Diaz, a Chilean program coordinator at the Language and Area Center for Latin American Studies, helped bring Lagos to UT.

"He opened the door for many important cultural changes in our country," Diaz said. "We never imagined we would [later] have a woman president - a single mother, agnostic and a socialist."

Sebastián Valenzuela, a journalism graduate student who attended the talk, worked as a reporter in Santiago during Lagos' presidency. He said journalists criticized Lagos for being autocratic.

"But since he was a very popular president, even people who opposed him recognized that he was a good leader," Valenzuela said.

Lagos' talk was the second in the annual Sterling Clark Holloway Centennial Lectureship in Liberal Arts series. Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso gave last year's lecture. The Lagos talk was also a part of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies conference on leftist Latin American governments.
© 2008 Daily Texan via U-WIRE