BY KEVIN G. HALL
Herald World Staff
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's new president, Socialist Ricardo Lagos,
Saturday facing the challenge of increasing social spending without interfering
with the rebound of the country's free market economy.
Looming in the background are rising tensions with the still-powerful
the fate of former President Augusto Pinochet. An attempt to try Pinochet on
human rights charges could reopen the thorny issue of who else might be held
accountable for alleged abuses during his military rule from 1973 to 1990.
Lagos is the first Socialist elected president since a bloody
coup led by Pinochet
toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973. Pinochet returned to Chile last week
from house arrest in London, where he avoided extradition to Spain, Belgium,
France or Switzerland for trial on human rights charges. The retired general's
high-profile military welcome home is shadowing Lagos' inauguration, which
Chile's left was anticipating as a mixture of revenge and closure.
On Monday -- the first business day after Pinochet's return last
Friday -- Judge
Juan Guzman asked Chile's appeals court to lift the immunity from prosecution
that Pinochet enjoys as a senator for life. The judge is investigating more than 70
complaints against Pinochet for alleged human rights violations during his years
in power. A date was expected to be set by the end of this week for a hearing on
During the election campaign and Pinochet's more than 16-month
house arrest in
London, Chile's new president continually begged off the issue, saying Chile's
courts would decide whether the retired general, 84, should face trial and a
potential death sentence.
The warm welcome for Pinochet by top military officers came against
wishes. Lagos now is promising that the armed forces will serve the president and
not their own interests. Early in his six-year term, he will have to set the tone for
relations with the armed forces.
``This is something in which he is going to have to prove his
abilities,'' said Jaime
Castillo, a human rights lawyer in Santiago.
Relations with the military may depend greatly on the question
immunity. Judicial experts including legislator Juan Bustos will tell the appeals
court that the former military ruler does not have immunity because Chile is a
signatory to the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Those accords, Bustos
argues, take precedence over the amnesty Pinochet engineered for crimes
committed from 1973 to 1978 -- the bloodiest years of the military regime.
Aside from dealing with the consequences of Pinochet's return,
concern is how to quickly fulfill promises to increase social spending on health
care, education and job-creating public works projects.
``People, regardless of the type of government, want results,''
said Marta Lagos, a
pollster in Santiago for London-based Market Opinion Research International.
``People are not willing to wait for that.''
``I don't think the relationship with the military is the biggest
worry of Lagos,'' said
Armand Kouyoumdjian, a political risk analyst in Santiago. ``I think the biggest
challenge is making Chile a fairer place, making sure there is a quality of life --
and that is not just a matter of money.''
Chile's prohibition on divorce and complicated legal status for
are areas in which Lagos can make enormous inroads for the nation's working
class without spending more, Kouyoumdjian said. Illegitimate children face legal
obstacles ranging from enrolling in public schools to inheritance rights.
Economic experts say Lagos has little room to maneuver on the
They say he cannot raise taxes or take other steps that could stall the projected
return to 6 percent economic growth this year. He has pledged to continue the
free market reforms and fiscal discipline that transformed Chile's economy into
the healthiest in Latin America and made Chilean grapes, plums and salmon
staples in U.S. supermarkets. And with this year's budget already in place, he
cannot redirect spending until next year.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald