Los Miserables

Jorgelino Vergara, former civilian employee of the Pinochet regime’s secret police, the DINA, tells his story on CNN-Chile

Two recent items from Chile:

  1. Poverty levels in the country have declined from 15 to 14.4 percent, and extreme poverty has declined from 3.7 to 2.8 percent, according to the National Socioeconomic Survey, whose Spanish acronym is CASEN.  The report http://www.ministeriodesarrollosocial.gob.cl/noticias/2012/07/20/casen-revela-baja-de-la-pobreza-en-chile was presented by Chile’s Minister of Social Development, Joaquin Lavin, and almost immediately questioned by opposition groups citing other studies. Radio Cooperativa and the Imaginaccion polling company (http://www.imaginaccion.cl/) released a poll showing nine out of ten Chilean surveyed thought that social inequalities were not decreasing http://www.cooperativa.cl/nueve-de-cada-10-chilenos-no-cree-que-la-desigualdad-este-bajando/prontus_nots/2012-07-23/222402.html.
  2. On Tuesday Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal announced it had identified the remains of four men arrested in two separate incidents in 1976 http://www.sml.cl/sml/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=241:sml-identifica-victimas-halladas-en-cuesta-barriga&catid=35:identificacion-y-ddhh&Itemid=222.  The four—a mining expert, a university professor, a trade unionist and an engineer­­—were killed after lengthy, brutal interrogations at a secret detention site operated by the Pinochet regime’s secret police agency the DINA. (This particular site was incongruously named after the Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar.)  Their bodies were thrown down an abandoned mine located on a road between Santiago and Valparaiso. Two years later, in a notorious maneuver known as Operation TV Set Removal, Pinochet regime security agents exhumed these and the bodies of other dead political detainees, tied them to metal railings and tossed them into the Pacific Ocean.  Investigators later discovered some 200 bits of bone fragments at the mine, which after years of forensic examinations and genetic testing at a laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria yielded the men’s identities. Their funerals were scheduled for this weekend.

Recently the Chilean public was treated to the extraordinary story of Jorgelino Vergara, a man who survived extreme poverty in the country’s rural south and became a civilian employee of the DINA, working at the Simon Bolivar site after serving as servant at the home of DINA chief Manuel Contreras. A book about Vergara’s life, La Danza de los Cuervos, or The Dance of the Ravens, was published last month and he was later interviewed on CNN-Chile.

Vergara was one of a dozen children born to an impoverished campesino family. By the time he was five both parents had died and he went to live with an older brother employed on a large agricultural estate.  He grew up during the governments of Christian Democratic President Eduardo Frei (1964-70) and Socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-73) but neither administration’s land redistribution or agrarian reform programs had any effect on his family’s fortunes. Vergara’s brother had nine children of his own and the family was squeezed into three rooms in a shed-like building used to house farmworkers.  He had little schooling, and was often hungry.  Several years later he followed another brother to Santiago, searching for work and became a live-in servant at the home of a senior Chilean military officer—who just happened to the second-most powerful man in the country.  It was the first time in his life he had access to adequate food and shelter, and Vergara was later promoted to a job at the detention center, where almost no prisoners ever emerged alive.

Little did DINA officials know what an observant witness this poor campesino youth was. To watch the CNN interview—and be warned, it is horrifying: http://www.ecos.cl/2012/07/entrevista-jorgelino-vergara-el-mocito.html

Chile and the Global Innovation Index

Guess which Latin American country leads the region in the Global Innovation Index (GII) http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/freepublications/en/economics/gii_2012.pdf, an annual study by the World Intellectual Property Organization? The report, released earlier this month, ranked Chile in 39th place among all countries studies and was the only Latin American country in the top 40.  Here’s an excerpt:

Chile shows strengths across the board, with the notable exception of Human capital and research (75th), where it comes only in 6th position out of 22 in the region, a result in line with the crisis of tertiary education in the country that was highlighted in 2011.Deficiencies are particularly evident in primary and secondary education, where it ranks 78th in public expenditure per pupil over GDP per capita and 103rd in the pupil-teacher ratio. In the region, it tops the Input Sub-Index (43rd), the Output Sub-Index (34th), Institutions (29th) and Creative Outputs(18th).

In plainer English, Chile’s overall innovation score is good, but its education system needs a serious overhaul. Or, as a colleague in Santiago just posted on his Facebook page:

“Chile is not the Third World, says a jaded reporter I know.  It’s Third World Plus.”

Ghost legacy

He left everything he had to his family, with 62.5 percent going to his widow Lucia Hiriart, 25 percent going to his five children, Lucia, Augusto, Veronica, Marco Antonio and Jacqueline and the remaining 12.5 percent to their children and grandchildren.  But what that legacy consists of is still a mystery. General Augusto Pinochet’s will was opened in a Santiago court on Wednesday, and officials hoping to learn more about the suspiciously large fortune he accumulated found no information about his property, goods or bank accounts.

“The will makes reference to a distribution of goods without specifying anything registered under the name of Augusto Pinochet,” notary Humberto Quezada told reporters.

Five years ago Pinochet’s widow, children and several associates were indicted on charges of misappropriating at least $20 million from government funds and all but Lucia Hiriart (who was rushed to a military hospital) spent two days in prison. The charges were later dropped when the prosecuting judge retired from the case. But it isn’t over yet. While the Pinochet family did not want the will opened at all, the Chilean Defense Council of State hopes to recover any illegally obtained funds from the estate. Last April a court opened what was supposed to be Pinochet’s last will, signed shortly before his death in 2006, but that document contained only a statement changing his executor.  This earlier version of the will, signed after Pinochet was released from detention in London, was drawn up in 2000.

So what now?  Authorities say they will continue to investigate.

The sorrow and the pity and the horror

Father Cristian Precht at the premier of Los Archivos del Cardenal, a Chilean television drama based on the work of the Catholic human rights group he led during the Pinochet regime.

He headed the Vicariate of Solidarity, the Catholic Church’s human rights department during the Pinochet regime, directing a team of lawyers, social workers, researchers and volunteers who documented thousands of abuses and extended help to victims of those abuses. But it seems that Father Cristián Precht may have had his own dark side: the Archdiocese of Santiago has received at least 20 accounts of sexual abuse dating back to the 1980s.

According to a statement released by the Chilean Bishops Conference, http://documentos.iglesia.cl/conf/documentos_sini.ficha.php?mod=documentos_sini&id=4170&sw_volver=yes&descripcion=  the investigation began when a witness came forward in late August of last year. Precht was ordered to “restrict the public exercise of his ministry” during the inquiry. More witnesses came forward, and the report compiled by two church investigators has been sent to the Vatican for further action.

It is a bitter irony that shortly before church officials began their investigation, Precht appeared at the premier of Los Archivos del Cardenal, a critically acclaimed television series based on the Vicariate’s work during the dictatorship (see early blog post https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/nocturno-de-chile/).  The president of the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos, Lorena Pizarro, told reporters that if the accusations are true, “then it is an absolute outrage.”  A lawyer who worked at the Vicariate observed that the Pinochet regime’s secret police kept Precht and everyone else in the human rights entity under close surveillance and would have been aware of his actions.

The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) has a good report on the Precht investigation: