Watson Institute
Ricardo Lagos Escobar

Ricardo Lagos Escobar

Ricardo Lagos Escobar

Professor at Large


Widely regarded as one of Latin America's most important political leaders, Lagos served as president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. During his term, Lagos was known for aggressively pursuing free-trade agreements, improving health care and education legislation, and addressing the crimes of Augusto Pinochet's military regime.

Since leaving office, Lagos founded the Fundación Democracia y Desarrollo (Foundation for Democracy and Development) in 2006 and currently serves as its president. He is also vice-chair of the Inter-American Dialogue and was UN special envoy for climate change from 2007 to 2010.

Lagos earned a law degree from the University of Chile in 1960 and then attended Duke University, where he received a PhD in economics in 1966. He returned to Chile and served as director of the University of Chile's School of Political and Administrative Sciences and was subsequently appointed secretary general of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences. Prior to the military coup against President Salvador Allende, Lagos had been nominated Chilean ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1973, however, shortly after the appointment, Allende was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet, and Lagos was never confirmed.

Following the coup, Lagos lived in the United States and Argentina. He served at the United Nations as consultant and economist in UNESCO and the International Labor Organization. In 1978, he returned to Chile, where he became president of the Democratic Alliance, a coalition of parties opposed to Pinochet. In 1987, Lagos founded the Party for Democracy (Partido por la Democracia). He served as minister of education under the government of President Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) and as minister of public works under President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000). Elected president in January 2000, Lagos became the first socialist to hold the office since Allende.

News|Recent News

Breaking the taboo about drugs

May 29, 2013

Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and professor at large at the Institute, is one of seven high profile signatories to an open letter calling for more progressive drug policy in the Americas. The letter was co-signed by past visitors to the Institute and to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, including Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia.


Lagos Calls for 'Democracy that Delivers' in Latin America

October 4, 2011

A dramatically changing Latin America can only face the challenges and opportunities ahead with policies that advance economic and social equality through progressive taxation, according to former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. Progress in democracy, human rights, and poverty reduction since the early 1980s has changed regional dynamics. And the past 10 years have largely spared Latin America – and especially South America – from the economic crises of Europe and the United States, with exports to China and the rest of Asia leading double-digit increases in gross domestic product. “Now you have middle income countries,” Lagos said in a recent lecture at the Watson Institute, where he is in residence as a Brown professor at large. But with a growing middle class come greater expectations for “democracy that delivers,” as he termed the current demand in the region for better education, healthcare, and participation in government affairs.


OAS Secretary General to Keynote Conference on Scholar-Policy Impact in Americas

September 29, 2011

How does scholarship influence policy in the Americas? A conference exploring this question in depth on Monday will feature keynote speeches by José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, and Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile who is now in residence at the Watson Institute as a Brown professor at large.


President Lagos: Greek Crisis Calls for Strong and Long Response by European Central Bank

September 28, 2011

Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos is no stranger to financial crisis. Drawing on past crises in his own country and across Latin America, he sees a clear path for Europe to take as Greece teeters toward defaulting on its national debt and destabilizing world markets. In a video and in a public lecture at the Watson Institute, where he is in residence as a Brown professor at large, Lagos called for the European Central Bank to assume Greece’s debt and give the beleaguered country a long horizon of some 40 years to repay.