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Ricardo Lagos served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. While in office Lagos was known for pursuing free-trade agreements, improving health care and education, and addressing the crimes of General Augusto Pinochet's military regime.

Lagos was born in 1938 in Santiago, Chile. He earned a law degree from the University of Chile in 1960 and then attended Duke University, where he received a doctorate in economics in 1966. He returned to Chile and served as director of the University of Chile's School of Political and Administrative Sciences and was subsequently appointed secretary general of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

Lagos was nominated by President Salvador Allende to be Chilean ambassador to the Soviet Union. But in 1973, Allende was overthrown in a military coup d’état led by Pinochet, and Lagos was never confirmed in that position.

Like many in the democratic opposition to the dictatorship, Lagos left Chile. While in exile in the United States and Argentina, he served at the United Nations as a consultant and economist at UNESCO and the International Labor Organization.

In 1978, he returned to Chile, where he became president of the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of parties opposed to Pinochet. In 1987, Lagos founded the Party for Democracy (Partido por la Democracia). During the historic 1988 national referendum to end the Pinochet dictatorship, Lagos was a key leader in the grassroots efforts to register voters and encourage them to vote against prolonging the military regime.

After democracy was restored, Lagos served as minister of education in the government of President Patricio Aylwin and as minister of public works under President Eduardo Frei before being elected president in his own right in January 2000.

Since leaving the presidency, Lagos founded the Fundación Democracia y Desarrollo (Foundation for Democracy and Development) in 2006 and currently serves as its president. He is also vice-chair of the Inter-American Dialogue and was UN special envoy for climate change from 2007 to 2010.

Twitter: @RicardoLagos

In November of 1974, I was kidnapped by a unit of the DINA [National Intelligence Directorate], commanded by Osvaldo Romo Mena, who is responsible for at least 250 missing detainees in Chile. He was a torturer. He was even singled out (it was a singular case in human rights history) and named in one of the resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations as a torturer.

[The Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (English: National Intelligence Directorate) or DINA was the Chilean secret police in the government of Augusto Pinochet.] [Osvaldo Romo (1938 – 2007) was an agent of the Chilean Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) from 1973 to 1990, during the rule of Augusto Pinochet. He was tried and convicted of kidnapping by a Chilean court.]

As part of a huge battalion made up of members of the DINA, he kidnapped me in November of 1974 from the home of my parents, where I lived. I had begun criminal charges against him because I had identified him as a participant in a series of kidnappings. They were kidnappings; they were not arrests because there was no legality, no formality.

During one of those kidnappings he had raped someone. So I had initiated criminal charges against Osvaldo Romo Mena for that rape.

Shortly after he kidnapped me, he drove me to one of the DINA’S torture centers, located in a residential sector of Santiago, where I was [held] for approximately forty hours. The purpose of the kidnapping was to mount a plan, using me against Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, the head of the Chilean Catholic Church.

[Raúl Silva Henríquez, (1907 –1999) was a Chilean Cardinal of the Catholic Church.]

During those forty hours the mistreatment and torture was constant. I was prepared to be executed by a firing squad. For several hours a gun barrel was pointed at my forehead, next to my forehead, etc.
I was in the torture chamber. I was severely beaten and tortured. At some point, the plan that had been designed against Cardinal Silva Henríquez for which they had kidnapped me was changed or was dropped and I was released.

The dictatorship never acknowledged that I had been detained. I was the first of those of us who were in the human rights legal defense team to be kidnapped and tortured. The Catholic Church’s response was very strong and powerful, achieving its goal of freeing me. 


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Ricardo Lagos: Before Pinochet Ricardo Lagos: Before Pinochet Ricardo Lagos: The "No" Campaign “It was very clear that now the only way to defeat Pinochet was through a plebiscite.” Ricardo Lagos: Democratic Transition “I believed it was possible to defeat Pinochet. I had no doubt.” More + Ricardo Lagos: Confronting Pinochet “I will keep doing what I am doing because democracy will return and we will defeat you in the plebiscite”. Ricardo Lagos: Arrested by a "Professional" Police “When I turned the lights on, four or six guys were pointing at me with their guns.” Ricardo Lagos: Defeating Pinochet “The most difficult part was how we were going to convince the Chilean people that it was possible to defeat a dictator through a vote.” Ricardo Lagos: The Disappeared “During those days habeas corpus did not exist.” Ricardo Lagos: Helping Chileans Escape “Quite a number of people were able to leave the country.” More +