Ricardo Lagos: “Boric is understanding that gradualness is important to give legitimacy to profound changes”

Ricardo Lagos Escobar (Santiago, 84 years old), who governed Chile between 2000 and 2006, was the first socialist to arrive in La Moneda after Salvador Allende and the dictatorship. In recent months, she has had an especially influential role in local politics. When he governed and they asked him about his future role, he used to say that the former presidents were like Chinese vases, because nobody knew where to put them because they were uncomfortable (a phrase that he heard from the Spaniard Felipe González, his friend). . For this reason, for years he remained relatively untouched by the contingency, working in international positions –he was a UN special envoy for climate change– and since his foundation Democracy and development in the municipality of Providencia in Santiago de Chile, where he received on Thursday to EL PAÍS.

In recent months, however, his voice has tipped the Chilean political balance. First, when between the first and second presidential rounds in 2021 he announced that he would vote for the leftist Gabriel Boric, without even having spoken to him about this matter before. A second moment occurred last July, when the convention delivered its proposed Constitution. Lagos stirred up the political scene by installing the discussion not on the two options of the plebiscite, but on what would happen next: how the text did not attract the necessary support – which was demonstrated at the polls – called to continue with the constituent process after the referendum, without announcing if he would be for approval or rejection. In this conversation, Lagos comments that last Sunday, after the results –61.8% for rejection and 38.1% for approval–, was left with a “sad idea” due to the failure of the process.

Ask. How is it explained that a large majority has been in favor of rejecting the text of the convention?

Response. It was never thought that we would be in a process where a Constitution is being drafted and with a newly elected president. All this was supposed to happen in the government of President Sebastián Piñera (2018-2022). And, consequently, when there was a new authority, post Piñera, there was going to be a new Constitution. The postponement of the elections of the constituent process due to covid-19 meant an additional 240 days. Epilogue? The current term of President Gabriel Boric is less than 240 days old. In other words, if the itinerary had been fulfilled as it is, he would have been elected president and the Congress would have been chosen according to the new constitutional norms. And Boric should not have spoken, but concentrated on governing.

P. It wasn’t what happened…

R. And now we have this very extreme and difficult situation. The president, in the end, ended up getting involved, directly, in favor of approval.

P. Was it the right thing?

R. I’m just saying that these calendar changes we have to factor into the problem we have today. And look what we have: the president says that since the project was rejected, he asked Congress to take charge of continuing the process . yesu new minister [Ana Lya Uriarte] He went to Parliament to say that La Moneda will closely follow what is happening, but that he was not going to participate in the deliberations.

P. Makes sense?

R. President Boric has decided that he wants to dedicate himself to governing. In other words, everything that is public policy, because we have challenges in terms of inflation, a high level of unemployment, a difficult international framework and it has already been announced that next year we will have low growth…

President Boric has decided that he wants to dedicate himself to governing.

Ricardo Lagos

P. It is strange that the Government announces that it will not participate in the deliberations since, badly or badly, if the new attempt succeeds, it will be Boric’s Constitution.

R. That’s what I say: This is going to be the Constitution of Boric! But he understands that the message that citizens gave him on Sunday is very clear: look, worry about our problems too. What we have is a complex panorama ahead and the president wants to dedicate his strength to that.

P. But is it a mistake not to participate in the deliberations?

R. Who is one to say what a president does, but I would say that there will be times when he will have to give his opinion and participate.

P. How would you describe that 61.8% that rejected the proposed new Constitution?

R. The proposed Constitution made a serious mistake, in my opinion, start by establishing the multinational issue. Because the existence of a multinational state in Chile I think is not real. When this debate began, I asked that three little words be added: Plurinational State in its origin. Because the Spanish left when we defeated them and in the 1818 regulation of Bernardo O’Higgins it is said that the Republic of Chile is constituted with all its peoples. That does not mean that there is only one State of Chile. Something was built that, in my opinion, was a little exaggerated.

Establishing the multi-national theme was a serious mistake”

Ricardo Lagos

P. We spoke with a voter about the rejection of Puente Alto [un municipio popular del sur de la capital] that he said that he had voted sad and that, therefore, he did not celebrate Sunday night.

R. On Sunday night I was left with a sad idea of ​​what had happened to us, of how we were so wrong, of what that magnitude meant. And then, of course, it was a big mistake to believe that, if norms were approved by two-thirds of the convention, that was an exact mirror of what was happening in society. Far from that. The friends of the convention were convinced that they were the majority of the citizens and did not understand that their proposals implied a kind of division of Chileans that was not real.

P. How do you see the changes that President Boric made in his Cabinet after the plebiscite? She came in as Home Secretary a center-left leader very close to you, Carolina Tohá.

R. He has an explanation, first, pragmatic: he wants to be accompanied by people who already know the state apparatus well and who know which buttons to push and which ones to not push. And there he looked for more experienced people in previous governments, because nobody is born knowing. And the second thing, I think that President Boric understood that perhaps, beyond the will to do, a calmer path is required.

P. In what sense?

R. When you want to introduce changes, you have to introduce them with a long look. The problem with change is that it forces us to look further, because truly substantive things require continuity. It must be implemented gradually and that implies a long look.

P. Is Boric turning gradually?

R. I think if. Boric is understanding that gradualness is important to give legitimacy to profound changes. And he’s not just looking for experienced people, but people who understand that big changes, to be big, require greater understanding.

P. Did the government have this look in March, when it took office?

R. Well, they didn’t have much government experience. Let’s say it frankly. When you don’t have that, it’s hard to learn it. Let’s talk about mistakes that were quite well known: when they went to the climate change summit and they made the mistake of saying that the United States was not there and was sitting next to it. Or when they said that King Felipe VI had arrived late for the ceremony. I ran into the king’s entourage and saw when they left him aside and I went first. Then I looked at what had been put together. So, of course, those kinds of things are acquired over time.

P. Will the right maintain its commitment to the continuity of the constituent process, as its leaders promised before the plebiscite?

R. In general I like to trust people. However, by their works you will know them, although I also realize that there are gradations between them. Some have now spoken with their chests out again, and then I begin to worry. But I think it would be a very serious mistake if they did not understand that there is such a great justification for the outbreak that occurred in Chile. You cannot increase per capita product twice and keep tax revenues the same.

Some on the right have spoken out, and I’m starting to get worried “

Ricardo Lagos

P. After Sunday, every day we see high school students protesting in the streets of the capital. Is there a risk of a new outbreak, like in 2019?

R. This social temperature is a bit artificial today. My feeling is that after the plebiscite and the characteristics it had, the atmosphere in Chile changes a bit. And that explains the president’s decision to dedicate himself basically to the immediate demands of society, that is, to dedicate himself 100% to saving time. In politics it is very important to buy time.

P. Buy time, for what?

R. To continue doing what you want to do, which are serious reforms.

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