GEORGE NEGUS: Mr President, thanks very much for your time, I realise you’ve got a very busy schedule.
Could I ask you a question that’s almost personal as well as political, when you were talking with John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, as an avowed Latin American socialist, was it difficult because he’s not exactly a socialist?
RICARDO LAGOS, CHILEAN PRESIDENT: Well, we are good friends. We have met almost every July for the APEC meetings but we share some views about the world – how can you make a free and fair trade at the international level?
GEORGE NEGUS: So that’s an area where you definitely agree on, free trade?
RICARDO LAGOS: We agree on free trade and we agree that rules are going to be needed. It’s not possible to have the kind of agricultural subsidies to compete in today’s world and therefore you have some common ground there.
GEORGE NEGUS: In the aftermath of the bombings in London, did the whole question of Iraq, George Bush, the war on terrorism come up with the Prime Minister because you and Chile voted against the war in Iraq at the UN Security Council.
RICARDO LAGOS: No, no, no, we never discussed the issue. We discussed the issue of security and terrorism and the new face of terrorism today but we never went back to the issue of Iraq and the decision of the Security Council.
In those days we disagreed with the council and, let me tell you, it was not an easy decision, but, on the other hand, it seems to me that still was necessary to give more time.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think the invasion of Iraq was right or wrong?
RICARDO LAGOS: I think that it was wrong because it was taken outside the United Nations, outside the Security Council. When you are in a small country, you want to live in a world with rules. The rule of law is essential.
GEORGE NEGUS: Most of the rules are out the window at moment, aren’t they?
RICARDO LAGOS: Well, that’s right but then the question is that… and the rules are supposed to be given by United Nations. Probably sounds too idealistic, but we have to fight for what we believe.
GEORGE NEGUS: Because it would appear too many people that the US have decided to replace the UN as the world’s police and Australia, as part of the coalition of willing, has gone along with that.
Do you think we’re wrong to be involved in with Americans and the coalition of the willing the way we are?
RICARDO LAGOS: No, I think that this country takes its own decision and I respect what Prime Minister Howard did. But, in our case, for instance, 10 months later of what happened in Iraq, there was a unanimous decision of United Nations asking to send troops to Haiti. And we sent troops to Haiti in 72 hours and I call that to be coherent in terms of foreign policy.
GEORGE NEGUS: You say you respect Mr Howard’s decision but you don’t agree with it?
RICARDO LAGOS: I mean, we took a different position, you know, we took a different position because I felt it was necessary to be within the United Nations.
GEORGE NEGUS: Latin America has had decades, until recently, anyway, decades of terrorism. Has anybody asked the leaders of South America what they think about the war on terror?
RICARDO LAGOS: I don’t think that it is possible to link both things because the kind of terrorism that we’re observing today has to do with religious fanaticism to some extent, and, therefore, to think about the person, a human being, can be a suicide bomber, you know, it’s so difficult to understand that and, therefore, I would say it’s quite a different story.
GEORGE NEGUS: How do you think, though, that the war on terror is being handled, given things like London occurring, given now here in this country people are fearful we might be the next target? Do you think the war on terror is being handled properly?
RICARDO LAGOS: I think there’s some kind of understanding of civilisation is going to be necessary and I think that, in order to accomplish that, we have to agree that violence, whatever it is, is not possible. So Islam is such an important part in today’s world.
GEORGE NEGUS: A quarter of the world’s population.
RICARDO LAGOS: Yeah, but the Islam doesn’t agree with that kind of method. For them the big question is how, can we arrange a system by which you can isolate it – those elements that want to produce that kind of violence.
GEORGE NEGUS: Tell me about being a socialist in an era in history where people tell us ideology is dead. Do you feel like an ideological dinosaur, a blast?
RICARDO LAGOS: No, not at all no, not at all. Let me tell you this. 300 years ago to be socialist probably was meant to make a division of land because land was the source of wealth.
150 years ago the owner of the means of production and factory, so socialists would say let’s replace that. In today’s world, knowledge is the only important thing and therefore to be socialist today is how, are you going to address the issue that every kid has access to similar education no matter how much money the father or mother has.
GEORGE NEGUS: Can you explain to me why it’s been that so many countries in Latin and South America have been moving to the left. Why is that when the rest of the world is going in the other direction ideologically?
RICARDO LAGOS: I think the reason has to do that Latin America did all the tasks that were supposed to be done – you privatise, you open economy, etc, etc, etc and you have growth.
The big issue is that, if you have growth and no equity and growth remains only according to the lines of the market, then that kind of growth are going to produce a division in society.
GEORGE NEGUS: But it is curious, isn’t it, that Latin America is moving to the left?
RICARDO LAGOS: But why? Because during the ’90s there was growth with no equity.
In our case, we were able to reduce people living under the poverty line from 40% to 18%. And, therefore, the fact that now in – I shouldn’t say this – but the fact that we have a rate of approval very high in Chile from my citizens is simply because they perceive that growth means delivery.
I think the public policies are going to be essential to redress the inequities that are produced by the market because the market produce for those that has money in their pockets.
GEORGE NEGUS: We can’t talk to you without raising the “P word”, General Pinochet. At this stage, people are confused about what the end point of the game is going to be.
Some of your critics are saying that you haven’t been stern enough, that they want to see a closure to the whole Pinochet thing. You stared the man down, you accused him of torture and murder and human rights violations, and now, so many years later, you seem to be so close, but yet still so far away from resolving that very dark period in your country’s history.
RICARDO LAGOS: Let me tell you something, Chile is the only country in the world, as far as I know, that has been able to set up a presidential commission to investigate all reports of political prisoners and torture.
The presidential commission came out with a result last year, 35,000 Chileans making a statement to the commission. 28,000 or 29,000 were accepted as a true report.
The statement were made in Chile, from many Chileans living abroad, like here in this country. All those people, I wouldn’t say there has been… solved the problem, we never solve when you have been tortured, but at least the State recognise what happened and they will have a modest pension for life.
Now, with regard to Pinochet, Pinochet has been tried in Chile for several issues. He has been stripped of his immunity, and now he’s facing several judges on several tribunals. He’s 89 years old, he’s not a political actor anymore, of course.
GEORGE NEGUS: Maybe the humanist in you says maybe – and this sounds insensitive – that the easy way out would be for him to quietly die one night and maybe that could be closed. Is that possible?
RICARDO LAGOS: Well that depends of somebody else, you know.
GEORGE NEGUS: Not up to you.
RICARDO LAGOS: Of course not, of course not.