Chile: Ricardo Lagos and the Return of the Living Dead

Ricardo Lagos signing the 2005 constitution which many believe maintained much from the Pinochet era.

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – The recent public appearance by former president Ricardo Lagos, criticizing the approval of dissolving the Senate and creating a Plurinational State, by Chile’s Constitutional Convention, would seem like it came from somebody who hadn’t been present in the country during the past ten years, instead of a politician based in the times we’re living in today.

I’m pointing this out because it seems like Ricardo Lagos hasn’t integrated anything into his ideological views, after what happened in Chile with student protests in 2011 onwards, which really catches your attention as it comes from an important figure from the Socialist Party, who fought against Pinochet’s dictatorship, and was later the co-founder of the Party of Democracy (PPD) and leader of the former Concertacion (1988 to 2010).

While his statements shouldn’t surprise anyone, being one of the guides of the so-called Third Way in the ‘90s and signing the Pinochet Constitution in 2005, his problem isn’t so much believing in the end of history and the Washington Consensus, but thinking that what he thinks today has anything to do with leftist, progressive and even transformative thought, even going as far as the delusion of saying that the post-dictatorship Concertacion governments weren’t neoliberal.

That’s when we need to ask if Ricardo Lagos really believes that Concertacion governments weren’t neoliberal, just because they increased the State’s social spending, increasing enrollments in education and reducing levels of poverty and homelessness in Chile.

It would seem like the answer is yes, beyond the fact that wealth concentration and family debts grew under his government to be able to cover basic needs.

Luckily, groups of both his parties (PS and PPD), were able to take away a basic reading of the multiple uprisings during Sebastian Piñera’s first government (2010-2014), creating a new government coalition (Nueva Mayoria) and pushing through certain reforms that allowed to reverse some of the neoliberal past.

Nevertheless, unlike Michelle Bachelet during her second term in office (2014-2018), Ricardo Lagos carried on with his ideological blindness, moving away from the reformist spin his own parties took when they came back into office, since 2014, as if all time had stood still and the political climate hadn’t changed.

His inability to position himself in the new political landscape, took him to the extreme of wanting to run for president in 2017, understanding very little about what was happening in Chile socially, and not having anything to offer the parties that once followed him during the Concertacion governments.

Finally, when it would seem like Ricardo Lagos had nothing else to say in public affairs, he appears on mass media, after the social uprising in 2019, saying that social unrest was justified, which opened up a small window of possibility of him changing his discourse, in response to the political situation we found ourselves in at the time.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and he’s once again counter-attacking what the Constitutional Convention approved, from a position of alleged wisdom and intellectual authority, which is completely timeless and the heir of authoritarian Portarian State discourse, saying from the worst conservativism, that if Chile is to be proud of anything, it’s its constitutional history.

Meanwhile, making a point of not having a Plurinational State as part of the new Constitution that is being drafted up, as we have always had a flag and national anthem as a Republic, coming from a 19th century mentality, which is completely far-removed from the historic discussion that the world and even the UN has about integrating indigenous communities in countries.

Humberto Maturana said that reflection involved letting go of our own certainties in order to move forward, but it seems that Ricardo Lagos is clinging to his same old discourse that he’s had ever since he was president in Chile, like the living dead in political terms, despite all of the signs and changes in Chilean society.

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