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.