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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 22, 2012
Already involved in politics before the coup that brought Pinochet to power, Ricardo Lagos was one of the leaders in the movement to restore democracy to Chile and subsequently went on to become its democratically elected President.

In this book, Lagos starts by telling the story of how many of the various opposition parties came together with one purpose - to find a way to oust Pinochet without a violent struggle. The horrors of the Pinochet era are somewhat downplayed; Lagos concentrates more on the ideological and economic effects, although he does give enough information about the 'disappeared' and the victims of torture to remind us of the excesses that were carried out by the regime. He is also honest about the amount of support Pinochet had within Chile - when a referendum on the regime was finally held, 44% of people voted for Pinochet to remain in power.

Lagos then goes on to describe the restoration of democracy and the social and economic restructuring that has happened in the two decades since the regime fell. As one of the group of left-leaning leaders who embraced Blair's Third Way, Lagos looked for innovative ways to involve both private and public sectors in rebuilding Chile's infrastructure, restoring its economy and tackling the worst effects of poverty. To go by his own account in this book, Chile would seem to have taken huge steps towards becoming a fairer and richer society, although Lagos admits there's still much more work to be done.

In the last section, Lagos recounts Chile's role in the UN discussions around the resolutions sought prior to the invasion of Iraq. It's interesting to see this told from the point of view of one of the smaller countries - to read of the schmoozing and arm-twisting employed by the US and to a lesser extent the UK to get the votes of the unaligned countries. Lagos uses the epilogue to ponder on some of the political challenges remaining to Chile as well as some of the global challenges such as climate change.

Overall, this book is interesting and easy to absorb. Sometimes a little self-congratulatory, that can surely be forgiven from a man who is clearly very proud of how far his country has come in such a short time. An enjoyable, informative and sometimes inspiring read - recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a biography from Ricardo Lagos the first `socialist' president of Chile. It tells of the long road that brought Chile from the terror of the Pinochet junta to free and democratic elections. Lagos is clearly an intelligent man and has a gentle spirit, the many stories he recounts in this book all have the theme of humanity at heart. It is a remarkable tale and all the more so as it is true.

He also uses the book to advertise Chile and its people which is fair enough and takes us through the times of repression and the disappearances, to how the new united government had to use education reforms, public works, infrastructure improvements and political lobbying of foreign powers to make the world start to notice that Chile had come out from the failing policies of the Dictator.

The only criticism I have, and I do feel churlish for having the temerity to criticise a man I admire, is that it often has the feeling of being a diary. That is that it can come across a monologue of what he did and it seems a bit sterile. When it really comes to life is when he puts in the human touches, the anecdotes or the shared conversations. That is where the true story is. There is also a lot about reconciliation and the healing of what Lagos calls `the two Chile's, the right and the centrist left. Whilst I wanted a damning expose of the tyrant Pinochet, it is all a bit air brushed and the reason is obvious, digging up the past for retribution is not very healthy. The same is happening in Northern Ireland and Rwanda to name but two. Chile has made great strides and is coming to terms with the past and more importantly the present.

I enjoyed this book, but would have liked more of the human side even though what Lagos writes about is superb in terms of achievements and personal sacrifice, there is really so much more to share with the rest of the world. I like Chilean cinema too and as Chile grows so does her output of art etc and I think that can only be a good thing. Ricardo Lagos has a lot to be proud of. The foreword in by Bill Clinton who clearly has a lot of respect for Lagos and his admirable efforts to bring democracy and peace to a split country.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 11, 2012
In 1973 the western news spotlight was on Chile for a while with the overthrow of Allende's government by a military junta under General Pinochet. Pinochet in his turn was ousted over the period 1988-90 by democratic processes that he did not realise he had made allowance for, and the spotlight glanced briefly on Chile again. We would expect a subsequent President of Chile, who had been an ally of Allende and a dogged opponent of Pinochet, to be able to shed some more light on all this, even if our less detailed understanding had been sound enough. What I for one did not expect was a certain amount of detail, hitherto unreported so far as I can remember, about the events leading up to the recent war in Iraq.

The basic sequence of the narrative, leaving aside an interesting sub-plot concerning the author's imprisonment following an abortive assassination attempt on Pinochet that he had had nothing to do with, and straightening out the story chronologically, starts with Allende's socialist regime. We start to get the `feel' of Lagos's cast of mind as we read his dry-eyed admission that Allende's government had been incompetent, however much one might sympathise with it. Lagos does not quite say so, but a state of emergency was probably a crying necessity. In fact Allende had called a national plebiscite, and from what I have read elsewhere I think he knew he would lose it. However for some reason Pinochet staged his coup one day prior and ensured that the Chilean nation got what he wanted without democratic distractions. A state of emergency might have been one thing: this was something else. From here on the story of the resistance to Pinochet is told from the inside until the old monster was outwitted, finally stepping down in1990 but only after making some of his changes irreversible.

Lagos served in the Christian Democratic governments of Aylwin and the younger Frei as Minister of Education and later Minister of Public Works, before being elected Socialist President himself for the period 2000-6. He does not claim like an earlier Augustus to have transfigured his country, nor like the astonishing and contemporary President Lula of Brazil to have made it a near-paradise, he is ruefully aware of the limitations that a later Augusto had placed on his ambitions, and we learn in his placid narrative manner what he feels he did and did not achieve. No doubt this is all rather smoothed-over, like the story of his resistance to Pinochet, but it sounds like an honest man talking. His brevity alone should win him supporters, and in due course it is hard to imagine the enormously longer memoirs of, say, Harold Macmillan, being thought so weighty, only heavier.

A president of Chile is going to have to meet heads of government from everywhere else, obviously. For Ricardo Lagos this meant, significantly, dealing closely with Mr Bush and Mr Blair in the run-up to the war in Iraq, at a time when Chile had one of the rotating seats on the Security Council. Mr Bush could hardly have been more attentive as he sought Chile's vote, and I wonder how many of his phone-calls to Santiago were in the public domain prior to this book. I wonder in particular how many people before now knew that when Lagos asked Bush bluntly whether he (Bush) thought that Saddam had a hand in 9/11 Bush replied `No.' Compare and contrast, as examiners say, vociferous expressions of belief not to say downright certainty in senior American circles at the time, only not to the same effect. Also intriguing is the disclosure of the work that Lagos had been doing with Blair behind America's back to obtain a second UN resolution authorising military action, as the celebrated 1441 was Humpty-Dumpty material, meaning whatever anyone wanted it to mean. I shall not in this review embarrass further by naming them the eminent British envoys whose attempts to sell Lagos on the case for war were met with deserved incredulity, an encounter all the more excruciating for the laconic politeness with which Lagos recounts it. George `n' Tony were basically on the same page, we all know, but it appears from Lagos that what made Bush press the button on the date he did was pique and outrage at being left out of the loop: in other words Tony seems to have been on different pages simultaneously, getting the worst of both worlds.

One matter on which Lagos himself is not well informed (by his own admission) is the suggestion that Pinochet had supported Britain in the war over the Falklands aka Malvinas, and I would dearly like more detail about this. At the time the various tinpot South American dictators had a squalid pact known as Operation Condor, under whose provisions they would assassinate each others' opponents as opportunity allowed. Pinochet was a well-attested rat who authorised the killing of his personal and family friend General Carlos Prats in the interest of his own consolidation, but why betray Galtieri (if this story is true)? Keeping in practice, possibly? Monetarist solidarity, perhaps? Lagos is on his home ground with economics, and I had not previously understood just how firmly Pinochet had hitched his star to the new Chicago-style economists who were given carte blanche from 1973 until their own economic management went the way of Allende's, when copper prices turned out not to be copper-bottomed.

Monetarist economics can undoubtedly produce wealth in the right circumstances, but even at its best it creates division too, as it must because it operates on the level of impersonal forces and statistics with winners and losers. Despite the massacres (some of these may be newly disclosed too) Pinochet still attracted nearly 50% support, mainly from winners but that was not the only motivation. `Something about Chile at that time had allowed him to flourish' says Lagos. Resentment and fear of the underprivileged run deep, and not just in Chile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2012
The thing to remember is that this is a politician's memoirs not a history of his life and times. To say that his presentation of the events leading up to the coup that toppled the Allende regime is a severely nostalgic view of those years is an understatement. The presentation of the Pinochet years also views the glass a tad darker than his remembered details corroborate. A regime as brutal as he paints does not allow the opposition to openly organize against it or leave their leadership alive and running free. However if you can jump those two hurdles this is a much less self-serving account than the usual politician's rewrite of his personal and political history. What is especially useful are the descriptions of how a poor nation advances towards development and some measure of social justice in the face of a globalized economy that often does a poor job of both. The style is breezy and easily accessible. It is worth reading for anyone interested in development issues or the inner workings of politics in a medium size nation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2012
This was genuinely interesting. It is well written and for once in an Autobiography of a politician it wasn't twice as long as it should have been.

The account of the struggle against Pinochet was truly fascinating and inspiring.
He was quite modest about the part that he played in it as well. Though obviously he is still a senior politician so no doubt other political leaders will have their own opinions.

His accounts of his time in power in Chile and his role on the world stage are also interesting and there are some pretty telling anecdotes.

I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought it would. It is convincing without going into far too much detail. Obviously it is a bit biased but it was less self justifying than virtually all other political autobiographies that I have read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2013
As a Californian I've always been interested in Chile because of the geographical sameness it shares with Chile. There's not a lot of literature about the country available I think, aside from travel brochures.
Ricardo Lagos presents a very lucid picture of the Chilian travails from 1973 to now, and his contributions to his country. I really enjoyed the book, I really liked his social policies that put the poor not only on the agenda, but gave them an honorable place at the discussion.
He took tin-roofed shanty-town neighborhoods, and turned them into modular housing communities. He improved schools, set up a more fair health system, gave grants (money) to families with school-age kids so that these children could complete high school. I really admire not only these sentiments, but these achievement. In short, good book, and thanks for thinking about the poor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2012
Lagos was probably the best President since the return to democracy and he can be well credited with the growth surge Chile has seen since his term. I would suspect he was the puppeteer behind Bachelet's term as well. The book is well written and very factual. Misses the Trans Santiago fiasco but politicians cannot be expected to get it 100% every time.
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Ricardo Lagos Escobar participated in most of the significant events in Chile's recent history. Through this memoir, the reader gets an inside look at this time and historians get a primary source.

First, is the story of how Pinochet was finally defeated. It is a story of grit, determination and courage on the part of many. Despite the intimidation, stealth and violence Chilean patriots trudged on, and many paid a high price. The author recounts his "professional" arrest and imprisonment and from it you can imagine the ugly reality for the many who suffered this without international support.

Besides the look at Chile's change to democracy, there is also a look at international diplomacy. Chile held an important place in the UN at the time the US president was looking to legitimize his war on Saddam Hussein; you see how this sort of diplomacy takes place.

Once he came to power, Pinochet originally attracted an infusion of foreign capital and there was a boomlet from which the already well off profited. But the country's growth was limited by Chile's lack of good roads and airports, a communications system and an educated work force. In Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin (New York Review Books Classics) Gabriel Garcia Marquez's interview with the filmmaker who secretly entered Chile, an eroded middle class is described as selling their former household goods on the street. Years later, Lagos provides statistics showing remarkable improvements in the economy and living standards under the more socialist oriented governments in the post-Pinochet era. This fully discredits Pinochet's "Chicago School" advisors (Milton Friedman and Chilean students who studied under him).

There are many human interest stories about the lives of ordinary people. There are guards who complain about having to attend pro-Pinochet rallies, a bureaucrat who by the stroke of a pen can and does save Lagos from a harsh prison sentence, a pregnant high schooler who can stay in school under the new rules, a daughter of a Pinochet victim who rises in the new government, a town that gets running water and more.

Chilean exile Ariel Dorfman's in his book, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile tells of his feelings of being in a symphony only feet away from someone responsible for torture and death of people he knew. Encounters of victims and their torturers must be common. In the name of national unity, there has been little bringing to justice the perpetrators of violent crimes; some retained positions of influence. You cannot help but wonder how the Pinochet supporters justify the regime's violence to themselves. Interestingly, Lagos observes that Pinochet was only diminished in their eyes when, after having contributed to his legal defense, they learned that he had millions stashed away.

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in Chile and those interested in how a country moves from a dictatorship to a democracy. It is highly readable, and in some parts a page turner.
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2012
Ricardo Lagos was never the leader of the underground resistance movement against Augusto Pinochet, that is a flat out lie. The leaders of the resistance are either dead or disappeared. If anything, Ricardo Lagos was the classical opportunistic political leader of the elite. He used the popular resistance movement, as a bargaining chip and leverage for the negotiations with Pinochet during the 80's and the inevitable return of a civilian government. Of course, he was on the short list of candidates for the presidency. The return of a civilian government was not the work of Ricardo Lagos. This was ultimately the sacrifice of thousands of anonymous freedom fighters. These are the same people that in 2004 gave their testimonies of the atrocities committed against them by the military. Mr. Lagos decided to keep these testimonies secret for 50 years. His Human Rights record (2000-2006) is even worse than the record of the current right wing president Sebastian Piñera. During his mandate, he never had the political will to change any of the authoritarian economic, environmental, judicial, educational, political and institutional polices put in place by the Pinochet dictatorship. The rich in Chile, never made more money than when Ricardo Lagos was in power. Mr. Lagos doesn't represent the people of Chile. His political coalition of center left parties named "La Concertacion" is currently one of the worst evaluated political coalitions of Chile. More than 72% of the Chilean people [...] reject this coalition with Mr. Lagos being one of its main leaders.

Héctor Salgado
Ex-political prisoner of Chile (1973-1976)
Tortured by Raúl Silva Gordon of the Chilean Navy and promoted to Admiral by president Lagos and later confirmed by President Michele Bachelet of "La Concertacion"
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on March 14, 2014
There's little out there in terms of a current history of Chile and Ricardo Lagos provides a lot of detail and thorough analysis on the past 40 years of the country. The history is mostly through his eyes but it seems like a fairly unbiased approach. Even if your not going to Chile it's still an interesting read, particularly about parts with the US influence and support of Pinochet. Lagos does a good job of simplifying what are otherwise complicated economic policies.
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