Santiago: Chile is backing off a controversial plan to remove the word "dictatorship" from school textbooks in reference to the military government of General Augusto Pinochet.
President Sebastian Pinera's new Education Minister Harald Beyer sparked a political uproar when he discussed the plan on Wednesday, which was publicised in a local newspaper. He suggested grade-school students be taught a more "general" term by calling the 1973-1990 rule of Pinochet a "military regime”.
Senator Isabel Allende, whose father Salvador Allende was ousted in Pinochet's coup, called the change "unacceptable”.
"It goes against common sense, because the entire world knows that during 17 years what Chile had was a ferocious dictatorship with the most serious human rights violations, where there was no parliament, where there was no liberty, where there was persecution, murders and disappearances," Isabel Allende said. "I don't want to return to that epoch — I want things to be called what they are."
Chile's Socialist Party leader, Osvaldo Andrade, put it more colorfully: "It has the ears of a cat, the body of a cat, meows like a cat and some people want to call it a dog."
Teachers protesting outside the Education Ministry accused the center-right government of trying to rewrite the history of a military government that left more than 3,000 people dead or disappeared.
"We need to work to have a history that enables our students to move into the future while recognising our past," history teacher Rodrigo Henriquez told Chile's La Nacion. "If we deny it, we shut off the future of our students."
Beyer backed off on Thursday, a day after discussing the plan. He said his ministry would resolve the controversy by sending revised textbook guidelines to Chile's National Education Council. Publishers will remain free to decide what words to use, and schools free to choose which books to buy, he said.
The ministry "never meant to deny the undemocratic nature of the military regime, nor the human rights violations that resulted," Beyer said, explaining that the guidelines are generally meant to foster a healthy debate. "They open a broader and richer discussion, and that's the objective: to develop critical thinking."
First Published: Saturday, January 07, 2012, 14:20