By Michael Fischer and Martina Farmbauer, dpa I Monday, January 30, 2023
BERLIN – Germany and Chile are in favour of turning the former German Sect, Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony), where residents were exploited and sexually abused and dissidents tortured and killed into a memorial.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Chilean President Gabriel Boric agreed on the plan in Santiago on Sunday evening, the second day of the German leader’s four-day trip to Latin America.
The idea of turning the site of the former isolated religious colony into a memorial “has the support of our government and we will participate accordingly,” said Scholz.
Boric thanked the German government for its readiness to “support the search for truth. We completely support this. The Chilean state is fighting tirelessly for the whole truth and justice,” the president said.
Colonia Dignidad was founded in 1961 in the remote foothills of the Andes about 350 kilometres south of Chile’s capital by German preacher Paul Schäfer after he fled from Germany – where he was facing child abuse accusations – to Chile with several hundred members of his sect.
For decades, residents of the colony were subject to forced labour, segregation by gender and beatings. Schäfer was later also accused of extensive child sexual abuse.
During Chile’s military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet from 1973-90, dissidents were held, tortured and murdered at the 17,000-hectare site.
Later, the settlement renamed itself “Villa Baviera” and renounced Schäfer. The site is now open for tourism.
“The history of Colonia Dignidad is horrifying,” left-wing president Boric said, who took office as the country’s youngest president aged 35 at the end of 2021.
The beginning of his term also heralded a new era, representing a political generation who didn’t experience the terrors of the dictatorship first hand and wants to cut ties with its legacy.
Scholz said Germany wanted to contribute to the planned memorial “as a partner.”
“We want to be helpful. We know how sensitive the issue is, there are different groups of victims,” the German chancellor said. The decisions regarding a memorial had to be made in Chile, he added.
Scholz’s visit, which comes as Chile marks 50 years since the Pinochet coup, began with a tour of the Museo de la Memoria which commemorates the victims of the dictatorship.
After holding talks in the presidential palace, the two leaders visited the White Hall where socialist former president Salvador Allende committed suicide in 1973 as the putschists stormed the building.
During the meeting between Boric and Scholz, who is looking to expand cooperation in the raw materials sector, an agreement was also signed to this end. The German company Aurubis and the Chilean copper group Codelco also agreed to work together in the modernisation of copper production.
Germany is also interested in Chile’s vast deposits of lithium, a vital material for the production of electric cars. Later on Sunday, Scholz was set to fly on to Brazil, the last stop on his four-day South American trip.