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Ricardo  Lagos

Ricardo Lagos

Former President of Chile


Ricardo Lagos Escobar was born in Santiago de Chile on March 2, 1938, into a politically active, firmly middle class family. His mother, Emma Escobar, was a musician, and his father, Froilán Lagos, was a farmer who died when Lagos was very young. Read More >

He began his studies in Law at the University of Chile at the age of 16, at which time he also began his political career in the leadership ranks of the University’s student government. His thesis, “The Concentration of Economic Power,” received highest honors and became a publishing success, with five published editions. He then received a scholarship from Duke University, in the United States, and left to study there with his wife, Carmen Weber. By 1964, they had had two children, Ricardo and Ximena. After two years in the United States, Lagos received his PhD. The Lagos-Weber family returned to Chile, and Ricardo and Carmen divorced not long afterward.

Back in Chile, Lagos worked as tenured professor of Economics at the University of Chile, and also served in various administrative and research positions in Chilean and international organizations. In 1969, he met Luisa Durán, who was studying social work at the time; they were married in 1971. Each brought two children to the family from previous marriages, and Francisca Lagos Durán, Ricardo and Luisa's only child together, was born in 1975.

When dictatorship broke out in Chile in 1973, Lagos—a member of Salvador Allende's overthrown socialist government—left Chile and served in a series of jobs abroad. First, he taught at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and later worked as an economist for the United Nations.

However, throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had sadly observed from afar the economic crisis and the internal divisions that Chile was experiencing. Eventually, he left his job as an international official for the UN and returned home.

Back in Chile, he played an important role in the struggle for the recovery of democracy. Aside from being one of the leaders of the Socialist Party and founding the Party for Democracy, he became the president of the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of all parties opposing the Pinochet regime. On September 7, 1986, hours after General Pinochet suffered an attack that left five of his guards dead, he was arrested and submitted to interrogation about an event with which he had no involvement whatsoever. Following an intense international campaign demanding his freedom, Lagos was freed without charges after being in lockdown for 19 days. In 1988, Lagos campaigned actively for a “NO” vote in the plebiscite to decide whether Pinochet should remain in power for eight more years, as a way to defeat the dictatorship under Pinochet’s own rules. The opposition to the dictatorship won with 57.8% of the vote.

The Presidents in the aftermath of the dictatorship have all been from the Concertation, a coalition of center and left-wing political parties. During the Presidency of Patricio Aylwin, the first Concertation administration, Lagos was named Minister of Education. In that position he was able to institute a series of important reforms, such as equal opportunity and access to education, and a fund to encourage cultural and artistic creation and development in Chile. During the next democratic administration, in President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle’s government, Lagos served as Minister of Public Works from 1994 to 1998. While in that position, he introduced an innovative highway concessions plan, in which high-quality highways were built in Chile with the collaboration of the private sector. These new highways were coupled with vast improvements to Chile’s regional and rural infrastructure.

In January of 2000, after a run-off election, Lagos defeated the right-wing Alliance for Chile coalition candidate Joaquín Lavín to become the third President from the Concertation coalition. His term recently ended in March of 2006. Read Less ^

Speech Topics

The Changing Dynamic of Latin America

The Challenges for Democracy in South & Central America