Just how much poverty is there in Chile? According to the government of President Sebastian Piñera, it stands at 14.4 percent, down from the 15 percent registered in 2009, the last year of his predecessor Michelle Bachelet’s center-left government. But serious questions have been raised about this figure, with a report last week http://ciperchile.cl/2012/08/31/las-desconocidas-gestiones-del-gobierno-ante-la-cepal-que-lograron-bajar-los-indices-de-pobreza/ by the Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) that the government put pressure on the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to make a more optimistic assessment than the data warranted.
The Financial Times correspondent Jude Webber has a good summary of the controversy, noting that in neighboring Argentina official economic figures are “devoid of credibility” but that Chile is a long way from that situation:http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2012/09/03/chilean-poverty-data-contoversey-reveals-tough-truths-about-countrys-growth/#axzz25ULGe7yL
At the center of this controversy is Joaquin Lavin, minister for social development, who holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago and is the author of Chile: una revolución silenciosa, which was translated in English and other languages and distributed by Chilean embassies during the Pinochet regime. A ministry employee working on the poverty study told CIPER http://ciperchile.cl/2012/08/31/tecnico-de-mideplan-que-pidio-a-cepal-recalcular-la-pobreza-%E2%80%9Cme-senti-usado-por-el-ministro-lavin%E2%80%9D/ he had warned his superiors that the data showed no significant drop in poverty since 2009, but that the government announced otherwise.
And a bizarre footnote: yesterday the Wikipedia bio entry for Lavin contained a photograph not of the minister but of….Bill Gates. It was corrected today.
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:
- 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.
- 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