Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Tainted Legacy of Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos

Before addressing the issues that have shadowed the government of Ricardo Lagos - who presided as leader of Chile from 2000 to early 2006, it is important to review the historical context leading to his administration.
Chile's reintegration into the democratic world officially began in 1988 following a national plebiscite. The plebiscite provided Chileans with two choices - SI (yes) to have August Pinochet become president of Chile and NO (no) to have open general elections to elect a new democratic government. The Chilean people opted for general elections - with 53.2% of registered voters voting for open general elections. The NO campaign was led by a coalition of political entities and individuals known as the "Concertacion de Partidos por el No". Following the call for general elections the organisation regrouped as the Concertacin de Partidos por la Democracia, putting forward their Cristian Democrat candidate Patricio Aylwin. Aylwin contended with Hernan Buchi, the candidate of the right centre coalition - the former Minster of Finance from 1985-1989 during the Augusto Pinochet rule.
Aylwin became president of Chile on March 11th 1990 ruling until 1994. Aylwin lead a conservative transition government focused on the readjustment and strengthening of its democratic institutions. Case in point, one of Aylwin's first acts as president was the creation of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission - an eight-member commission mandated "to clarify the truth on the violations of human rights" during the military rule.
The Aylwin administration was followed by Eduardo Frei, another Christian Democrat part of the Concertacin de Partidos por la Democracia who presided from 1994 to 2000 - gaining 57.9% of the national vote. Interestingly, Eduardo Frei's father Eduardo Frei Montalva was founder for the National Falange, an independent party based on progressive Christian principles, which in 1957 became the core of the new Christian Democratic party. Eduardo Frei's administration was characterised by strong international relations and strong investment in social and education programs. The Frei administration was followed by Ricardo Lagos. Lagos became the first socialist president since Salvador Allende was deposed by Pinochet in 1973.
Ricardo Lagos served as public works minister in the government of president Eduardo Frei from 1994 to 1998. In this role, he developed an innovating system of road concessions, integrated the private sector in the construction of works and its later operation. Since 2002 his government faced suspicions of political corruption due to the prosecution of one of his ministers and of other employees of the Public Works Ministry, in what has been coined as the "MOP-GATE" case. A comitee investigating the accusations, discovered that ministers, and other officials of exclusive confidence of the President, received additional payments to their regular remuneration: the so-called "extra payments". This irregularity was acknowledged by Lagos, who specified that the practice had also developed during the governments of Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Aylwin. During his administration Lagos experienced increased public questioning of contracts between his friends, relatives and state institutions. Furthermore, a complex fraud scheme involving government deposits was uncovered accidentally in February 2004, when Central Bank President Carlos Massad's secretary was caught sending sensitive financial information to an accomplice in a major investment company, giving the impression that local bond and exchange markets were rigged. Tentative losses to the state treasury where estimated at nearly US$100 million, and the scandal briefly threatened to undermine local capital markets. Massad was forced to resign from the Central Bank on April 1 for negligence.
At the moment when his administration faced increased pressure, a government spokesman, made an astonishing request, stating "Lets not damage Chile's image."
So what where the forces exerting their influence on the Lagos administration and responsible for increased levels of corruption? The first factor is what we define as the "trafficking of influences", a common practice in Latin America where power and influence is used to advance personal objectives. The second factor is the closer relationship between business and politics - with some politicians preferring to be "business politicians" as opposed to "public servants". The third factor is the "prolonged single party rule" - the Lagos administration was the third consecutive presidency of Concertacin de Partidos por la Democracia, leading to increased status quo within the political system (on the other hand it could be argued as a positive situation ensuring the continuity of policies and initiatives).
It is unfortunate the legacy of the Lagos administration, which was responsible for some very positive initiatives including the the creation of an unemployment insurance; the AUGE health program guaranteeing coverage for a number of medical conditions; extending compulsory schooling to 12 years and the approval of the first divorce law in Chile; has been tainted by claims of corruption and misuse of power.

No comments:

Post a Comment