“I didn’t know absolutely nothing.” That double negative is from Sergio de Castro, talking about the killing, disappearances, and torture that took place when he served as Chile’s economic and finance minister during the Pinochet regime’s most brutal period. It’s from a great documentary that premiered this week in Chile, Chicago Boys, made by Carola Fuentes, a journalist, and Rafael Valdeavellano, a filmmaker.
Sergio de Castro is among the vilest of the “Chicago Boys,” Chilean economists who studied at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger and who, after the September 11, 1973, coup, helped impose on their fellow citizens a punishing program of extreme economic austerity. In the film, de Castro recalls climbing a hill in Santiago so he could watch the Air Force bomb La Moneda, the presidential palace where Salvador Allende was soon to die. As flames poured out of the palace’s windows, he felt, he says, an “infinite happiness.” De Castro says he “didn’t know anyone who had been killed” by his government, even though representatives from the World Bank, the IMF, and the US State Department kept complaining about the repression. Asked by Carola Fuentes if he ever brought up those complaints with Pinochet, he said no. De Castro says he feels great “pain,” not just for the “tortured but the torturers” but that, knowing what he knows now–that thousands were killed or disappeared and tens of thousands tortured during his tenure–he still would have served Pinochet. “There aren’t any corrective measures that are painless,” de Castro says.
Fuentes and Valdeavellano have dug up terrific home movies of the first class of Chicago Boys, studying and socializing in Hyde Park in the mid-1950s, replete with narrow lapels, thin ties, and endless cigarettes. Friedman, now dead, appears in passing. He was “brilliant in his exposition, naïve in his proposals,” says Ricardo French-Davis, who took classes with Friedman but broke from the orthodoxy. The documentary nicely reveals how ideological the Chicago Boys were, trained not just in the technical details of monetarism but, as one of them puts it, inculcated with “a religious belief in the efficient operation of the totally liberalized markets.” They understood their mission in continental terms. They were determined to, Ernesto Fontaine, another original unrepentant Chicago Boy who appears in the documentary, says elsewhere, “expand throughout Latin America, confronting the ideological positions which prevented freedom and perpetuated poverty and backwardness.”
The exchange program that brought the Chileans to Chicago was funded by public money, from the US government’s Point Four foreign-aid program. “I don’t think there has been a better investment of American taxpayers’ money,” Fontaine says in the film. The program was targeted at weakening Keynesian developmentalism in Latin America, at spreading, as one former University of Chicago president put it, “the Chicago influence” and “market economics” throughout Latin America. Considering the dominance of Keynes and Marx in Chile and elsewhere, a number of adjectives could be attached to the program: quixotic in the face of statist hegemony; Gramscian in its success at marching through and transforming the institutions; and Jesuitical in its determination against seemingly long odds.