Chile's Transition to Democracy: Lessons for the Arab Spring


Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Photo: Alejandro Hoppe

Chile's transition from dictatorship to functioning democracy has lessons for Arab nations struggling to throw off the yoke of military rule, says one former Chilean leader.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Ricardo Lagos was president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. In his new memoir, The Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, Lagos describes why Chile's military returned to their barracks. He says key to the process was the establishment of several truth and reconciliation commissions, including one to uncover what had happened to former political prisoners and torture victims.

"This establishment of the truth and reconciliation commission, so that everybody knows what happened in those dark days, this is really important, beyond the prosecution of the number one and the number two in that military regime," Lagos tells The World's Lisa Mullins.

Lagos also discusses the prospect of reconciliation among nations. In his book, he describes how he met Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon's national security adviser at a conference in Berlin.

Lagos writes:

"When Kissinger entered the room that day, he approached me immediately. Without any introduction, he told me, 'President Lagos, I want you to know that I had nothing to with the coup d'etat.' I found it revealing, that Kissinger had been so eager to explain his role in what had taken place — information for which I had never asked."

Lagos says he disagrees with the Chilean government's recent decision to change the way school books in Chile refer to the military rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. From now on, it will be described as a "regime," and not a "dictatorship."

"Probably this is because some civilians think that they are responsible, but they don't like to recognize that," Lagos tells Mullins. "The civilians that participated in the Pinochet dictatorship, when they are going to say, 'we are so sorry for what we did.' And that is pending for a final final reconciliation. But I'm sure that will take some time. "