After the 1964 military coup, Chile became a common destination for Brazilian exiles. At that time, the government of Eduardo Frei (Christian Democracy), with a reformist bias, represented a democratic reserve on the continent. Among the expatriates who sought the country was the pedagogue Paulo Freire, who coordinated the João Goulart government’s National Literacy Plan. He was arrested by the dictatorship and spent 73 days in prison. After that, with just his ID in his pocket, he headed to Bolivia and, later, to Chile.
Thanks to relationships with other exiles in Chilean territory, such as Paulo de Tarso (Minister of Education of the ousted president João Goulart), Plínio de Arruda Sampaio (also a member of the Jango government, in the area of agrarian reform) and Thiago de Mello (cultural attaché of the Brazil in Chile), Freire was invited, as a UNESCO consultant, to work at the National Institute for Agricultural Development (Indap). The institute, which dealt with small farmers, began to incorporate educational programs.
Chile in the 1960s shared some of the same social challenges as its South American neighbors: the country’s illiteracy rates fluctuated between 25% and 30%; in the countryside, this number reached 60%. The country had some important social achievements, such as the 1931 labor code, which provided for rights such as vacation, minimum wage and maternity leave.
The advance, just like in Brazil, never reached rural workers. “Rural workers were deliberately excluded from the right to unionize and from social and labor rights in general until 1967, when the peasant unionization law was approved”, says historian Joana Salem, who studied Freire’s passage through Chile. In her thesis, she details the relationship between peasant education and agrarian reform in the country.
It is in this scenario of profound social inequalities, class contradictions and, furthermore, democratic stability, that Paulo Freire’s ideas find fertile ground. It was even there that he completed two of his best-known works, Educação como Pratica da Liberdade (1967) and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968).
Defender of valuing the knowledge of the people, Freire decisively influenced the process of literacy and education of Chilean peasants. According to research by Joana Salem, the country had 10,000 educators trained to apply the techniques developed by the pedagogue across the country.
The reach of Freirean pedagogy in Chile was greater than in Brazil. “By conducting pedagogies in the Chilean agrarian reform, Brazilians found fertile ground for their awareness-raising proposal, in a context favorable to structural changes”, wrote Joana in her article Pedagogy of the Oppressed: document of agrarian reform in Chile.
Freire clashed with technicians from outside the peasantry, who downgraded peasant knowledge related to agricultural production. For the educator, they practiced what he called “cultural invasion”, that is, they brought techniques to increase productivity, but tried to implement them without dialogue. Freire, in turn, defended the “self-determination of peasant subjectivity in the creation of a new productive structure”, as Joana wrote.
In a document entitled Alfabetización Functional en Chile, produced for Icira, the educator argued that “the increase in production in the agrarian reform process is eminently cultural. The indispensable increase in production cannot be seen as something separate from the cultural universe in which it occurs “. It was in this context that he developed some of his main concepts, such as “alienation of ignorance”, “culture of silence” and “anti-dialogical action”, in addition to the aforementioned “cultural invasion”.
Freire’s work in Chile occurred in dialogue with a growing politicization of the working class, especially in the countryside. In 1967, with the pressure of rural workers and the support of a broad reformist alliance, the country approved the laws of agrarian reform and peasant unionization.
The laws provided for State actions for peasant training on three fronts: literacy, union training and production techniques. Between 1967 and 1969, more than 225 thousand peasants joined communal unions and attended courses inspired by Freire’s pedagogy.
Freire’s work in Chile can be understood as a continuation of his work in Brazil, interrupted by the 1964 coup. “In Chile he found political conditions to actually develop his method on a large scale. It is a process of politicization that is encouraged, accelerated and activated by this method”, says Joana.
The historian argues, however, that the pedagogue’s passage through Chile cannot be understood as a kind of salvation for the peasants. “It would be a kind of mythologizing to believe that if it weren’t for Paulo Freire or his method, the Chilean peasantry would not have become politicized. It would be an individualistic and personalist way of thinking about the process”, she explains. “What can be said is that he offered pedagogical and political tools for these educators, in the sense of expanding and accelerating the process of peasant politicization”, she says.
Paulo Freire worked until 1968 for the Chilean government. As Joana explains, “due to the nuances of the Chilean political process, Freire became a nuisance to the right wing of the DC (Christian Democracy), aligned with Eduardo Frei, until the end of the Brazilian’s contract, which was not renewed, at the end of 1968”. Still, his method continued to influence peasant education in the country.
With the rise of Salvador Allende to the presidency in 1970, the process of politicization of the peasantry continued. The number of unionized rural workers reached its peak – more than 300 thousand – in 1973. Between 65 and 72 the country went through the process of expropriation of land through legal means. There were 4,600 properties expropriated, totaling 8.8 million hectares.
As agrarian reform progressed, the process of expropriation of large estates continued to be debated. “In 1973, the need for a new agrarian reform law was being debated, which could expand the expropriated territory, further reducing the power of private rural owners and expanding the power of peasant cooperatives, settlements and peasant unions”, he explains. Joana.
This new law was never passed. The emancipatory process of Chilean peasants was interrupted on September 11, 1973, with the coup against Salvador Allende. The violence of the dictatorship installed by Augusto Pinochet drastically reversed peasant unionization. In 1977, the number of union members was around 100 thousand. In 1981, there were only 31 thousand workers organized in unions.
In a process of agrarian counter-reform, the Pinochet government reversed the achievements of the previous period. Of the lands that went through the agrarian reform process, 28% were returned to the former owners and 39% were considered unsuitable for peasant activity. They were then confiscated and sold to financial groups or former expropriated people. Only 33% of the expropriated land remained in the hands of peasants who benefited from the agrarian reform.
Furthermore, production in cooperatives was replaced by encouraging individual work, and government incentives for small producers ceased. This created a scenario of falling production and forced small landowners to sell their land, causing the country to return to a land structure based on large properties, a scenario that continues to this day.
Editing: Thales Schmidt