Lagos for Commencement

January 31, 2005

Ricardo Lagos, president of Chile, will deliver Duke's commencement address on Sunday, May 15. Lagos Ph.D. '66 was elected in 2000 to a six-year term as Chile's president. He is Chile's third president since the nation's return to democracy.

"President Lagos has shown remarkable courage and commitment in his many years as a dissident and a political leader," says president Richard H. Brodhead. "In particular, his unwavering support of human rights has a deep resonance at this difficult time in history. I will be pleased to welcome him back to Duke and am honored that he will share his experiences and insights with our graduates and their families."

Lagos is known for his long opposition to the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet, and was jailed in 1986 after an assassination attempt against the dictator. In one dramatic incident, he criticized Pinochet on national television, defiantly chastising him for years of torture, murder, and human-rights abuses.

Duke literature professor Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean author, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and human-rights activist, says he is pleased that Lagos, whom he has known for many years, will speak. Dorfman, who was forced into exile following the Chilean military coup of 1973, praises Lagos for successfully leading Chile toward a true transition to democracy. "I greatly admire his independent stance in foreign affairs, which is symbolic of a new maturity in Latin American politics."

Lagos attended the University of Chile, where he received a law degree. After earning his Ph.D. at Duke, he returned to Chile and was set to become ambassador to Moscow in the Salvador Allende government when Allende was killed in the coup that brought Pinochet into power. Lagos went into exile in the United States, where, for two years, he was a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He then became an economist at the United Nations.

In 1980, Lagos returned to Chile, where he headed a coalition opposed to Pinochet and formed the Party for Democracy, now part of the ruling Concertaci?n alliance.

After Chile's return to democracy in 1990, Lagos served as minister of education and of public works. He championed reforms to improve access to education, as well as improvements to the highway system. In his first term as president, Lagos has pushed to redress the human-rights abuses of the Pinochet era and to improve the Chilean economy. He is regarded as a moderate leftist who has supported free trade and improved international relations.