Educational Crisis and Abandonment of Teachers in Chile, a Letter from a Retired Teacher to the President of the Republic

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Four years ago, Sebastián Piñera came to the presidency of Chile after 20 years of administrations of the Concertación, a political coalition that came to power when the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet ended. On that occasion, Federico Aguilar, a teacher about to retire, wrote this moving letter to the new president of the republic, making known his situation and that of thousands of former Chilean teachers, abandoned to their fate by the four democratic administrations that preceded him.

Few days before the change in power that will bring again to the Chilean presidency Michelle Bachelet, Concertación president that preceded Sebastián Piñera in office, we believe it necessary to give a new read to this letter in order to evaluate if the expectations of Mr. Federico and of so many others were fulfilled or not.

“Sir:

Sebastián Piñera Echenique.

President of the Republic of Chile.

Santiago, Chile.

Respected and enigmatic Mr. President:

I would like neither for it to surprise you nor for you to find it a lack of respect that I address your personage with the adjective ‘enigmatic’, but it is for me a real enigma how someone with the economic situation that you have finds himself confronted with a post that must bring you so many headaches, and more aches of various parts of the body. And while, bearing in mind the life expectancy of human beings, you must now be enjoying, together with your family, so many of the dreamt-of experiences of the pleasant life that money can offer you. An enigma for which you must have your answer, I suppose.

My name is Federico Enrique Aguilar Álvarez, Rut 5413133-K[1], Living in Latorre 414, province of Arauco, community of Lebú, eighth Region. I am a teacher at our city’s Fresia Graciela Müller Ruiz Teaching Unit. Perhaps I should say ex-teacher, bearing in mind that I find myself one month away from availing myself of retirement, after 46 years of service and having reached the legal age of 65.*

I am retiring, they are retiring me, it is not important how the real concept is, the case is that, as they said to me in the “standard” letter that they sent me, I stop belonging to the System and I am thanked for “my undeniable labor and afforded commitment as an educator of all those students that you had during your time as a teacher in this Educational System”.

What is not said, because it is not pretty to say it, is that they sent me, like all the teachers that find themselves in my place, to a level of poverty and incertitude that crushes, saddens, and shakes by its cruelty; to a situation in life that makes thousands of men and women cry that said it all in a profession that should be the Queen of Professions, because it is the forger of Society as a whole.

What is not said is that one must not only, like an orphan, begin one’s Pension paperwork, but rather that one must start as well the Steps for Detachment from Life which one led moderately well until this day; already the black chapter begins of renunciations of all that in one way or another would have helped one bear one’s life as a Retired Being, but taking into account the misery of one’s Pension cannot be resolved by any means. Let us see:

a) Give up cable, landline telephone, and broadband, three innovations that are not luxuries and, yes, are necessary, because they keep us connected with culture and entertainment, but which in your future represent 1/5 of your future retirement pension. Impossible to keep them.

b) Give up buying health supplements, vitamins, and trace elements that were acquired in order to have those reserves to keep working in the inhospitable world of current education, and keeping only those that fight Diabetes, Hypertension, Nervous Stress, Arthritis, Rheumatism, Cardiopathies and others belonging to the age that you have just reached and will continue to be produced in the near progression of Time and for which you will have to hope that AUGE[2] helps you, God willing.

c) Give up accounts at the Big Stores, because what is one going to buy or what limit are they going to give to a retiree dying of hunger, who shows proof of income that makes the person in charge of approving lines of credit smile sheepishly?

d) Give up that Isapre[3] that treated one so badly when one got sick and was kept from working, and to which one is no longer of use when one retires, because one does not generate wealth, but which gave something better to the beneficiary than the weak Public Health System called FONASA, which we are all starting to get behind, given that the aforementioned Isapre, in true diplomatic form, told us to leave, because they did not have plans for us (they missed telling us “the poor with the poor”).

e) Give up that Checking Account that somehow boosted one’s ego when one would send a little check once in a while, because to keep maintaining it (the account) is a joke in very bad taste for the Bank and a laugh for all.

f) Give up the use of a vehicle every day, because how can one use it with the prohibitive fuel prices, above all for those of the retired sector, as they elegantly call us? This without taking into account whether the Sense of Sight leaves you able to go about driving with safety for one and for all.

Or maybe, we are entering fully into an Economy of War. Between whom? Between the poor Professor Retiree and the Society that hid him away, that eliminated him as a citizen deserving respect and deserving to live a moderately pleasant life. A war that the retired teacher will never, ever win and that will wither him up, year after year, hoping anxiously that, in the end, there will be someone that gives him their hand and passes him that “glass of water” that so very many do not receive from anyone. That is in order to carry on laughing…

I believe that there is nothing sadder than to see a teacher dying on break, to whom so much is owed, forgotten and old, like junk about which no one wants to talk, and of which no one wants to take care. I have seen many of them in this state, including two of the three directors under whose orders I worked. They passed by my side and lowered their heads, hiding their expression, embarrassed. Embarrassed of what, my God? Of being Dismissed from Life? Of growing old, miserable and forgotten? Of having grown poor, one day to another, because the System tricked them and stole their futures in one blow? Embarrassed to beg for medical attention, in long lines, in the public hospitals? Embarrassed to have the look of beaten dogs? Embarrassed to never have supposed that Life gives very bitter surprises? Embarrassed of the ironic smiles of those that once envied your knowledge and the place that you occupied in society? Embarrassed to not be able to respond to your children and grandchildren why you are treated so at the end of your life?

Someone, with badly understood pride, says arrogantly: ‘I do not want to inspire shame!’ Why not? We must inspire shame! We must touch a Government and a Society that have been and continue to be tremendously ungrateful towards their teachers, “disposable” as they seem to consider us. We must swallow our pride and complain, to anyone, because the cursed situation into which we have fallen, without knowing why, may end and we may raise the retired teacher that is today on his or her knees and we may put him or her again on the street, with another, more hopeful face and expression, more full of faith, because what is today, some teachers only wish to die and rest in peace forever.

Is it our fault that an AFP[4], that only thinks to make money at the expense of its beneficiaries, makes mistakes in its investments, and makes us lose more and more money each day, of the little that we have, and looks for fake explanations in the “ups and downs of the world economy”?

Are we guilty of the fact that, for the then government’s lack of information, we accepted being passed to an AFP and not staying in the INP[5] where we did so well, a fact that to us meant losing the last opportunity to get out with a decent salary, such as what a few “visionaries” did, who today find themselves with much better pensions than us, but again creating that disgusting separation of retired teachers of first and second categories?

Is it our, the professors’, fault that an inept government seeks vengeance of a Military Government, not finishing with a Law that favored the Teaching Profession, and left us all alienated with an expression of shock and shame, in which one only falls to looking to the Heavens hoping for an explanation from above, an explanation that men (in authority) do not want to give us?

We have listened to all of the administrations of the last 20 years recognize that the Historical Debt to Teaching exists, that we were lied to and ripped off. The entire planet recognizes it! And what do we get out of them recognizing it if no one gives the so looked for and desperate solution! It is like the Holocaust; everyone recognizes that six million Jews died by the fault of one lunatic, but what has been done since then? Nothing! The lunatics continue proliferating and the victims continue dying in the world and no one puts any limitation on them at all. Polite phrases and …see you later alligator.

With the Teachers of Chile something similar is happening: every day thousands of forgotten teachers, retired and in practice, keep dying, and no one gives them the solution that could alleviate in part their miserable current condition.

No one!

Teachers do not ask that everything that was stolen from them be returned. No! We know that that is almost impossible; we only ask that we be given a Bond of Aid and, what is priority and urgent, fix our Retirement Pension and this way know that by means of an Act of Justice and Clemency, we will be able to have a little tranquility and peace in the last years of our anguished lives, and to feel that the GREAT FIGHT TO EDUCATE A COMMUNITY WAS NOT IN VAIN, and that we did it for a truly grateful society and community.

Mr. President: Teachers do not hold hunger strikes. For what? They have been sentenced to die of hunger. Now alright, if we look at it coldly, teachers hold Death Strikes: Already 6,000 teachers have died waiting for a solution to your Historic Debt. Is that not a sort of Chilean Holocaust?

We are 180,000, the members of the Teaching community, plus 320,000 that revolve around us (ex-professors, relatives, friends, and sympathizers of the profession) which makes a population of more or less 500,000 people, the same quantity of votes that cost the Concertación the last Electoral Disaster, for having treated us arrogantly to kicks. We would like for that same quantity to now be of individuals, grateful to he who, finally, keeps his word, pledged in his presidential campaign, and brings towards us the so anxious Social Justice of Teaching.

Cheers and may you live long Mr. President

Yours Sincerely,

 Federico Enrique Aguilar Álvarez.

Retired Teacher of Chile.

Rut.-5413133- K

Latorre 414.

Lebú, Chile.”


[1] Rut is an official identification number that each Chilean has, similar to an American’s social security number or a Canadian’s social insurance number).

[2] AUGE is a piece of legislation passed with the intention of guaranteeing fast, affordable access to healthcare for those that belong to the public health system.

[3] In Chile, private health insurance companies are called Isapres.

[4] A private Chilean pension system, based on individual accounts (so the more one earned, the more one receives as a pension)

[5] The former institution that controlled many pensions, and which was a based on a system of sharing out rather than a system of personal accounts saved from working, such as the AFP

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