After heavy criticism from the Chilean arts community and the public the newly named the culture, arts, and patrimony minister, Mauricio Rojas, stepped down on Monday and is being replaced by Consuelo Valdes.
Public outrage mounted against the new cabinet member on Saturday, just two days after Chilean president Sebastian Piñera appointed Rojas cultural minister, in which he tried to distance himself from criticism he made against the country’s "Museo de la Memoria" (Museum of Memory) dedicated to demonstrating the human rights atrocities of the Augusto Pinochet (1973-1991) military dictatorship.
During the interview Rojas was confronted with an excerpt from his 2015 book, “Conversation Dialogues” in which he said that: "More than a museum, it is an installation whose purpose ... is to shock the spectator, leaving them astonished and preventing them from reasoning. … It is a manipulation of history ... a shameless and inaccurate use of a national tragedy that touched so many of us directly."
Rojas responded that these quotes were from “previous interviews. I do not know exactly when they were, but they do not reflect my current position.”
The comments sparked a wave of criticism from politicians on the left and right and calls by Chilean actors, writers, and musicians for Rojas to resign. After Piñera accepted the Rojas resignation on Monday, actress Aline Kuppenheim said that the artistic community was "happy with the announcement" and called his departure a "victory." Legislature member Carolina Marzan said his stepping down was "a decent act. It's the least you can expect from a human being who has caused so much damage to a whole country with his statements."
This is one of several scandals in Piñera’s cabinet after taking office in March. His approval ratings fell sharply late last month amidst gaffes by his secretaries of education and economy. Last week, just five months into his term, he removed three ministers in a reshuffle.
Rojas tried to soften what he wrote in his previous publication by saying: "I never diminished nor justified unacceptable, systematic and grave human rights violations that happened in Chile."
President of the congressional human rights commission Carmen Hertz said that saying such things "only seek to minimize the horrible crimes" that occurred under the Augusto Pinochet regime.
Consuelo Valdes, executive director of the Interactive Museum and director of the Artequin Museum, has already replaced Rojas as the cultural minister.
An estimated 3,000 people disappeared or lost their lives during the Pinochet dictatorship, and 28,000 were tortured.
Several Chilean artists and writers, including Raul Zurita, Inti Illimani, Ana Tijoux, Alejandro Goic, Nano Stern, Illapu and Manuel Garcia, are set to hold a ceremony at the Museum of Memory on Wednesday.