SANTIAGO – The newly-appointed Work and Pensions Minister Patricio Melero is no stranger to politics. He actively participated in dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. President Sebastián Piñera’s appointment wasn’t well received by some sectors, even within the ruling Chile Vamos coalition.
María José Zaldívar’s exit from the Work and Pensions Ministry left President Sebastián Piñera’s with an empty cabinet seat on Apr. 6. The president promptly appointed UDI lower house legislator Patricio Melero, who has been in politics since the Pinochet era. Melero is one of many politicians who still live with the dictator’s ghost, despite their attempts to distance themselves from the blood-soaked military regime.
Melero jumped into politics while studying at Universidad de Chile in 1977. There, he took part in the Acto de Chacarillas (Chacarillas Act) as a student representative for the pro-junta National Unity Youth Front (FJUN) founded by 1980 Constitution mastermind Jaime Guzmán. This was an initiation ritual led by Pinochet on the anniversary of the FJUN, and the young university students received military decorations by the military for their commitment and loyalty to the regime. Melero’s cohorts included other known figures, such as former Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, Senator Juan Antonio Coloma, Las Condes Mayor Joaquín Lavín, and President Piñera’s main advisor, Cristián Larroulet.
After the event, Melero was designated vice president of the university students’ federation FECECH. Then, in 1983, he became national youth secretary, under the dictatorship’s direct control. His department’s task was to spread the junta’s propaganda to a younger audience to gain more supporters “to highlight the militant character of national reconstruction,” as Guzmán himself described it to Pinochet.
Journalist Mauricio Weibel questioned Melero’s role during the dictatorship in his book Los niños de la rebellion (“Children of the rebellion”). Documents from 1986 allegedly show that Melero handed over information on dissident students and teachers to the junta’s secret police, CNI. However, Melero was no longer national youth secretary at that time because Pinochet had designated him as Mayor of Santiago’s western Pudahuel district in 1985.
Despite this, Melero’s allegiance to the military junta helped him jump into the political arena. Following the 2019 social uprising, the lawmaker actively campaigned for Rechazo ahead of the new constitutional process.
After the demise of the dictatorship, Melero remained in the political sphere as a representative in the lower house of Congress for eight consecutive periods from 1989 until his appointment as Work and Pensions Minister on Apr. 7, 2021.
In 2014, Melero was one of the few legislators who stood up during a minute’s silence in Congress, commemorating the eighth anniversary of Pinochet’s death.
Additionally, as a loyal custodian of Pinochet and Guzmán’s neoliberal agenda, Melero has opposed many bills that benefit workers, and has openly shown his disagreement with unions. More recently, he has opposed the 10 percent pension withdrawals amid the coronavirus crisis and its financial impacts.
Melero, as well as many others in Chile’s right-wing sector still live with Pinochet’s ghost, either due to their close relationship with the dictator or their loyalty to the regime. Some have tried to move on from their past activities during the dictatorship like Las Condes Mayor Joaquín Lavín. Others not so much.