Society

The Proof That Pinochet Spied On Schoolchildren

A newly unearthed trove of documents linked to the reign of Augusto Pinochet reveals the regime's obsession with controlling its youngest members. Some parents even reported on students.

Always watching
Araceli Viceconte

SANTIAGO - Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile spied on children, teenagers, and young adults in their own schools, whether these were public, private, or religious institutions.

It closely monitored “suspects” and ordered the firing of teachers “disloyal” to the military dictatorship, as revealed by an investigation by the German news agency DPA released yesterday.

DPA’s journalist, Mauricio Weibel, had access to some 30,000 documents from the intelligence organization, National Information Center (Central Nacional de Informaciones, CNI), which reveal a wide network of espionage. The network was coordinated between this intelligence organization, successor to the former Chilean national intelligence agency (DINA), and the Ministry of Education under Pinochet’s regime (1973-1990).

The CNI, which was responsible for numerous kidnappings, tortures, and murders of opponents to the dictatorship, maintained “a daily, administrative relationship with the Ministry of Education,” Weibel explained to Clarín.

A Ministry typically just dedicated to educating young people was instead an integral part of the “War Plan at the Home Front,” and had a Security Office whos members regularly attended courses with the intelligence bureau. Furthermore, the Minister at the time would send a daily bulletin to the secret police. “At the end of the month, the documents were burned, but this destruction itself was also recorded,” said Weibel.

This was part of system obsessed with “controlling everything that could represent a threat to the regime.”

Reverberations today

In parallel to this systematic plan, individuals' turning in potentially disloyal people was strongly encouraged. Some of Pinochet’s followers denounced others with a devotion similar to that of Nazi collaborators in France during the Vichy regime. Some of the documents investigated by DPA include incidents of parent and teacher letters personally addressed to Pinochet. These reported, for example, on the leftist tendency of a student or on a teacher’s democratic vocation.

Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, like Jorge Rafael Videla’s in Argentina, penetrated practically every public and private sphere, including education. Even though it had long been suspected of extending its expansive intelligence reach to schools, there had been no physical proof until now.

“Now nobody can deny that this happened, that such espionage existed,” said Weibel, who discovered records of thousands of teachers fired from their jobs for political reasons. There are shocking cases. For example, a young man, Iván Salinas, was a “suspect” among other things for organizing a painting workshop at his school. There are other very troubling details, such as the fact that various members of Pinochet’s Ministry of Education were armed with weapons bought with public money. “The image of a minister with a pistol in his belt selling State schools to private enterprises is a very strong one,” commented the DPA’s journalist.

In fact, it was in the 1980s, while this spy network was active, that the Chilean government closed down many schools and colleges. It sold them to private investors or transferred the primary and secondary schools to the municipalities. This system continues today where only 35 percent of students attend public schools. This is one of the main reasons for the student protests that started in 2011 against Sebastián Piñera’s government, and continue in full swing today.

At the same time, while this network kept a lookout for possible opponents, the Pinochet regime tried to form a loyal cadre of youth. It organized conferences and courses of indoctrination on subjects such as National Security. According to Weibel’s revelations, several current officers were among the speakers at those meetings. Interestingly, they include current Interior Minister, Andrés Chadwick, and the leader of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), Patricio Melero.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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