Chilean centre-left economist and politician, president 2000–06. A leading opposition figure during General Augusto Pinochet's 1974–90 military government, Lagos was narrowly re-elected in January 2000 to become Chile's first socialist president since Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973. During his presidency, emphasis was placed on reducing the levels of extreme poverty, crime, and unemployment; improving health and education; and signing free trade agreements with the USA and European Union (EU). He left office with a high approval rating and served as a United Nations (UN) special envoy on climate change from 2007.
Lagos became well known in the late 1980s, after he gave a bold televised criticism of General Pinochet while the military dictator was still in power. He was particularly notable in 1988, when he worked to defeat a referendum that would have extended Pinochet's power until the turn of the century. In 1987, Lagos formed the Party for Democracy (PPD) which by 2000 was the second largest party in Chile's ruling Concertación coalition of democratic parties. Following the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, Lagos served first as education minister under President Aylwin's administration 1990–92, and then as public works minister in the government of outgoing President Frei 1994–1996. Lagos's inauguration came a little more than a week after Pinochet returned to Chile following more than 16 months under arrest in the UK. He said that the country's courts would decide whether to prosecute General Pinochet.
Lagos attended the University of Chile where he received a law degree in 1960, and then went to the USA where he received a doctorate in economics from Duke University in North Carolina in 1966. After pursuing a career in academia, he was appointed Chilean ambassador to the USSR by President Allende in 1972, but the appointment was never ratified by congress. After the 1973 military coup, he was exiled with his family to Argentina and then the USA, where he worked as a senior economist at the UN 1978–84. He returned to Chile and headed a coalition of all parties opposed to the Pinochet regime (Alianza Democrática), and in 1986 was arrested and detained without charges for three weeks following an assassination attempt on Pinochet in which five of the general's bodyguards were killed.
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