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How to: Host a Chilean President

Posted By Joshua Escobar On Oct 25, 2012 @ 5:00 pm In The Specials | Comments Disabled

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Looking directly into the lens of the camera, Ricardo Lagos condemned Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, in a cool impassioned speech on live national television during a time when the word ‘dictator’ was censored. Earlier in Chile people who spoke out against Pinochet were imprisoned, murdered and exiled – or in some cases exiled then murdered. Through relentless organizing, campaigning and planning, Ricardo Lagos helped Chileans overthrow Pinochet peaceful and democratically. A term afterwards, he served as President of Chile from 2000 to 2006.

A few weeks ago Professor Shaiken, Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies, hosted former President Lagos when he visited UC Berkeley.

“It was an amazing week,” said Professor Shaiken. “Lagos had numerous events given the short duration of his visit. During and between various events we discussed many things, among them economic development, social growth and how to have a successful democratic society in Chile along with an expansive middle class.”

When asked what he thought of Lagos, the Professor said, “He is an engaging thinker and excellent speaker. Time after time I was surprised by how creative he can be while remaining compassionate and rigorous, which is something he had gotten from his academic training.”

Present at the interview was Brittany Gabel, who works at CLAS (Center for Latin American Studies). Gabel noted the Free Speech Movement Café as an inspirational place on campus for guests. In her view, the Berkeley campus offers something interesting for everybody. When Diego Luna visited, for instance, CLAS arranged for him and two film producers to listen to a speech that Cesar Chavez gave at UC Berkeley. Luna is making a film about Chavez, and listening to the speech at the Bancroft Library provided the group with background for a key scene in the film.

“Whenever we bring someone to CLAS, we want them to be engaged and feel like they are part of the community. So we have them meet with students and scholars pursuing research that is relevant or could be of interest to them. We take them on walks around campus and go to museums.” Professor Shaiken smiled. “The week with Lagos was incredible. One night we had dinner at the house of Isabel Allende. It was magical.”

As for Lagos personally, the Professor portrayed him as someone whose reputation stands behind him rather than in front. In whatever Lagos does, in him is a deep care and respect for the Chilean people. This guides him as a political figure rather than his own merit. Though it was not only because he was famous or influential that Professor Shaiken hosted him. Lagos continues to be an amazingly creative political thinker. Plus, the former Chilean president wanted to come to Berkeley. He wanted to talk with the students and faculty here. He wanted to learn.

On the walls around us were autographed posters and paintings of people who CLAS has hosted, among them Mexican actor Diego Luna, Stan Ovshinsky who invented the battery used in the Toyota Prius, and Fernando Botero who donated one of his most important collections to the Berkeley Art Museum.

When asked about the former President’s company the Professor was honest. “Lagos had an open, warm, friendly manner about him. I really enjoyed the time he was in Berkeley.”

Image source: Brittany Gabel, UC Berkeley


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