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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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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