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Latin American Leader, former Chilean President - In May 2007, Mr Lagos was appointed UN special envoy on Climate Change by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Ricardo Lagos Escobar is a lawyer, economist and Socialist politician, who served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. He won the 1999-2000 presidential election by a narrow margin in a runoff over Independent Democrat Union (UDI) candidate.
Lagos earned a Ph.D. from Duke University. On his return to Chile in 1962, he was employed at the Institute of Economy of the University of Chile
During the 1980s, Lagos assumed a fundamental role in the fight for the recovery of democracy. In addition to being one of the leaders of the Socialist Party of Chile, he became President of the Democratic Alliance, a force that grouped the majority of the democratic parties opposing the regime of General Augusto Pinochet. In 1983, he decided to leave his position as international civil employee in the United Nations. In December of that year, he became president of the Democratic Alliance. In 1987, as the president of the Committee of the Left for Free Elections, he called on all citizens and parties to enroll in the electoral registries to vote "no" in a 1988 national plebiscite on whether Pinochet should be allowed to remain president of Chile.
Lagos became the undisputed leader of Pinochet's opponents after appearing in the political television show De Cara al País where he indicated that "with the triumph of No, the country will prevent General Pinochet from being 25 years in power." Lagos then looked directly into the camera and accusingly raised his index finger to say directly to all viewers: "General Pinochet has not been honest with the country. I will remind you, General Pinochet, that on the day of the 1980 plebiscite you said that President Pinochet would not be a candidate in 1989. And now, you promise the country another eight years of tortures, murders, and human rights violations. It seems to me inadmissible that a Chilean can have so much hunger for power. You intend to stay in power for 25 years..." To this day, in Chile the phrase "the finger" or "Lagos' finger" refers to this memorable event; on that night, many people were convinced that the man would not survive to see the next day.
After the triumph of the No alternative and the subsequent resignation of Pinochet, Lagos declined to be a candidate for the presidency in spite of being the main leader of the opposition. Instead, he supported Patricio Aylwin's candidancy and ran for a seat in the Senate for the Santiago-West district. On December 11, 1989, the day of the elections, he obtained the district's second majority. Nevertheless, he did not win a seat because his alliance's list did not double the vote of the second most voted list; this being a requisite in the Chilean electoral system created by Pinochet.
In 1990, Lagos was named Minister of Education by President Patricio Aylwin. In this position, he initiated reform aimed at increasing equality in access and improving education levels. In June 1993, he pushed for the notion of using primary elections in order to select the Concertación coalition's candidate for the following presidential election. He lost this primary to Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who went on to become President of Chile. In 1994, Frei himself named Lagos Minister of Public Works. In this role, he developed an innovating system of road concessions, integrated the private sector in the construction of works and its later operation. During the Frei administration, he continued to be a leader of opinion and was a sure option for the following presidential election. His status was later ratified by his appointment as one of the members of the Committee of Twelve Distinguished Members of the Socialist International, which he shared with such personalities as Felipe González and Gro Harlem Brundtland. This committee was set up to process proposals for the renovation of the social democratic thought for the 21st century.
In 1999, Lagos resigned as minister in order to begin his presidential campaign. In the primaries, he defeated senator Andrés Zaldívar, of the Christian Democratic Party to become the Concertación's sole presidential candidate. In the first round of the presidential election in December of the same year, he defeated right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín, by only 30,000 votes. Since he failed to obtain an absolute majority, as is required to be elected President, a presidential runoff was subsequently held in January 2000 for the first time ever in Chile. Winning 51.3 percent of the vote, Lagos became the new President of Chile.
Lagos' presidency was characterized by such achievements as the signing of Free Trade Agreements with the European Community, the United States, South Korea, the People's Republic of China and New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei (though some of his supporters in the center-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy consider that these agreements contribute to economic globalization and may have negative effects on the country); improvements in infrastructure and transport; the creation of an unemployment insurance; the AUGE health program guaranteeing coverage for a number of medical conditions; the Chile Barrio housing program; extending compulsory schooling to 12 years; the approval of the first divorce law in Chile; monetary compensation to victims of torture under the Pinochet regime identified in the Valech Report; and, recently, the signing of a recast constitution. He finished his six-year term with historic approval ratings above 70%.
On March 24, 2006 Lagos inaugurated his own foundation called Democracia y Desarrollo ("Democracy and Development") in Santiago. Three days later he began a two-year term as President of the Club of Madrid, an exclusive organization of former presidents created to promote democracy across the world.
His book ‘The 21st Century, a view from the South’ explains Ricardo Lagos’ vision for the planet. He places the current geopolitical situation in its historical, political, economic, religious and ethnic context. Written from a South American perspective this book represents his ideas for global harmony.
Mr Lagos was appointed UN special envoys on Climate change by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Former President Lagos said, "The time for diagnosis is over. The time for action is now…..the UN would come to play a vital role as most countries begin to realize that climate change cannot be resolved with a single policy in a single country.
"This is the first time where we’ve had a global problem that has to be faced at the global level," Lagos said. "And therefore it’s here in this institution where we’re going to be able to solve that or we’re going to fail."
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