University News

Former Chilean president discusses new book

Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2012

It certainly is “a wonderful life after the presidency” for former Chilean President and Professor-at-Large Ricardo Lagos, as his good friend and former Colombian President Belisario Betancur used to tell him. Lagos spoke at the Watson Institute for International Studies last night about his latest book entitled, “The Southern Tiger: Chile’s Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future.” This is the third book Lagos published this year, which is “pretty admirable, as any professor will tell you,” quipped Richard Snyder, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and professor of political science, in his introductory remarks.

Lagos was good-humored as he addressed the audience of about 25 people. “I discovered that in this country the real dictators are the publishers,” Lagos joked when discussing his difficulty influencing the title of his book.

Lagos described his book as the history of two transitions in Chile – the transition from dictatorship to democracy and the “transition from a rather backward to a more modern country,” Lagos said. “The second transition is much more difficult to achieve.”  

Lagos was a leader in the resistance movement against Augusto Pinochet in the 1980s and played a crucial role in restoring democracy to Chile. He is famous for denouncing the dictator on national television, pointing his finger at the camera lens and addressing Pinochet directly, a historic event dubbed “Lagos’ finger.” Snyder described Lagos as a “pragmatic socialist.” As minister of education and minister of public works, Lagos expanded social services for the poor and improved highway infrastructure with private tolls. Lagos served as president of Chile from 2000-06, during which time he pursued various free trade agreements with the United States. Lagos understood global trade was key to promoting equity and Chile’s future, Snyder said.  

He ended the talk by applauding the student protesters who are now demanding better access to quality education. “A political era came to an end with the demonstrations in Santiago,” Lagos said. 

Matthew Gutmann P’14, vice president for international affairs, said the book will be available at the Brown Bookstore. “I think this is an opportunity for students to hear from an important world leader,” he said.  

Lagos will visit Snyder’s POLS 1240: “Politics, Markets and States in Developing Countries” course this afternoon. Lagos will also attend the upcoming events at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, including a two-day conference, “New Approaches to Poverty and Inequality Reduction in the Global South,” with former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and policymakers from Brazil, India, Mexico and Turkey.  

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