Education International
Education International

Chile: The “Memory Museum” and the neo-liberal experiment

published 29 March 2010 updated 11 June 2018

For the past 10 years the Colegio de Profesores de Chile(CPC) has been carrying out a project they call the Pedagogical Movement, a unique kind of teacher union research project.

They call it a movement because it is not just individuals researching their own situation. Rather, teams of teachers in each region conducted research on different themes as a collective way of reflecting on educational issues, reviving civil society and reasserting rights after years of dictatorship. They are working in the country that was the experimental farm for neo-liberal ideas. In the 1970s Milton Friedman and his cronies in the Chicago school of economics advised the dictator Augusto Pinochet to privatize schools, services, industry and even pensions. Some Pedagogical Movement researchers looked at the impact of these policies on education. While the formal power of the dictatorship has faded, history is very much alive in Chile. I travelled to Santiago to mark the 10th anniversary of the Pedagogical Movement with members of the CPC and other representatives of organisations that supported it, including EI and affiliates from Canada, France and Sweden. On our second day we visited the new Memory Museum, which is aimed at keeping alive the memory of the 1973 coup that overthrew Salvador Allende, the elected president, and initiated years of repression. It also explores human rights violations in other countries. The museum had been opened only a couple of days earlier by President Michelle Bachelet, who had herself been arrested, tortured and forced into exile. Her father, a military officer, died of cardiac arrest from torture after supporting President Allende rather than going along with the military coup. The Memory Museum shows a moving multi-screen film. Military jets take off and then bomb the presidential palace. Later Allende is heard making what he knows is his last radio broadcast to the people. I recall hearing a radio interview from within the presidential palace as it was under attack. My memories of that radio report from September 11, 1973, are as strong as those from watching the Twin Towers fall on another September 11. Just before the presidential palace was taken by the military, Allende was killed, with the official story that he killed himself, rather than risk being captured, tortured and sent to exile. You get an idea of what he might have expected in one corner of the museum where you see a metal bed frame and a wooden box next to it with wires coming out. Prisoners were tied down on the bed and electricity was run through it, jolting everywhere their bodies touched the metal criss-crossing the frame. The Chilean teachers we were with were clearly affected greatly by their museum visit, talking later about the importance of remembering so such injustice is never allowed to happen again. However, I think back only a few months to when I was in Honduras. As in Chile, people resisting the coup, many of them teachers, have been killed, disappeared or detained. The Honduran military was in the streets and even running the so-called election. Many Latin Americans are afraid of another round of the coups and military governments that dominated their region, not just in Chile. The Memory Museum is intended as an inoculation against Chile going down that road again. However, on 17 January, a right-wing presidential candidate was elected with just over 50 percent of the vote. Chilean TV news showed some of his supporters celebrating not by shouting the name of the new president, Sebastian Pinera. Instead, they were shouting “Pinochet!” Not everyone wants to remember the same things. By Larry Kuehn.

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 33, March 2010.