Chilean minister resigns over human rights museum criticism

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean president Sebastian Pinera’s pick for culture minister was forced to resign on Monday, just days into his new job, after criticism mounted over comments he made in 2015 about a human rights museum in capital Santiago.

FILE PHOTO: The entrance to Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights that reads: “State secrets”, is pictured during an exhibit with declassified CIA documents that show U.S. involvement in Pinochet’s coup in 1973 in Santiago, Chile October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Vera/File Photo

Mauricio Rojas, a Chilean-Swedish political economist and member of Pinera’s center-right coalition, questioned the validity of the Museum of History and Human Rights, which opened in 2010 and documents abuses during the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

“More than a museum, it is an installation whose purpose … is to shock the spectator, leaving them astonished and preventing them from reasoning,” he was quoted as saying in a book published in 2015. “It is a manipulation of history … a shameless and inaccurate use of a national tragedy that touched so many of us directly.”

The comments were picked up on by Chilean media at the weekend, sparking a wave of criticism from politicians on the left and right, and calls by Chilean actors, writers and musicians for Rojas to resign.

FILE PHOTO: Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary looks at placards during a visit at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights next to the director Ricardo Brodsky in Santiago, March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez/File Photo

Rojas, who made the comments in a book he co-authored that discussed his move from the left side of the political spectrum to the right, said on Twitter on Saturday that those comments did not reflect his current view, and that he had “never diminished nor justified unacceptable, systematic and grave human rights violations that happened in Chile.”

The scandal represents a fresh headache for Pinera, who has seen his approval ratings fall amid a series of gaffes by his ministers, coupled with continuing high unemployment figures. Last week, just five months into his term, he removed three ministers in a reshuffle.

Pinera rejected Rojas’ comments about the museum.

“In the best interests of our country, for the wellbeing of all our compatriots and the good functioning of our government, I have decided to accept his resignation,” he said.

He said that Rojas’ replacement will be Consuelo Valdes, an archeologist.

An estimated 3,000 people disappeared or lost their lives during the Pinochet dictatorship, and 28,000 were tortured.

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