Only two weeks have passed since Nicolás Cataldo (39 years old, Valparaíso) took over as Minister of Education in the left-wing Government of Gabriel Boric. And since that Wednesday, August 16, the controversies and emergencies in his portfolio have not let up. On the day of the change of command, outside La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, the new Secretary of State, the first of the Communist Party to occupy that portfolio, was awaited by the demonstration of the workers of Integra, the network of kindergartens and halls. cradles that depend on the State, whose strike, the one that managed to unlock yesterday, accumulates more than 21 days. A week later, a storm forced the suspension of classes in 77 communities in the South American country due to damage to educational establishments. And on Friday of last week, the College of Teachers called a national strike after 53.66% of its teachers rejected the ministry’s proposal to face the union’s demands. More than 100,000 teachers, 5,000 schools and more than a million students will be affected by the strike that began yesterday, Tuesday.
Criticism of his appointment has also not ceased in the 14 days that he has been in charge of the second largest portfolio in the Chilean Government’s budget. His militancy and some tweets against Carabineros sent in 2011 in the midst of student mobilization, had already been questioned in the change of Cabinet in September 2022, when the Government had to back down on its plan to appoint him undersecretary of the Interior and opted to put him in the Undersecretary of Regional Development (Subdere).
“When the biggest problem in Education is school violence, it is very bad news that the new minister is a communist militant, a party that introduced and promoted violence in schools and particularly in emblematic high schools,” said deputy Marcia Raphael. , member of the Education Commission and member of the traditional right-wing party, National Renewal (RN). In his first interviews, the Secretary of State has clarified that he has never justified violence within schools and has indicated that he feels stigmatized for being a communist. “Having a PC minister does not mean that Marx and Lenin will begin to be read in schools,” he told the newspaper La Tercera a few days after taking office.
In any case, in the minister’s environment they trust that they will be able to reverse those first impressions. In that Cataldo has experience. When he was chief of staff of the then deputy and now government spokesperson, Camila Vallejo, the professor of History and Social Sciences at the University of Valparaíso cultivated good relations with several of those who at that time were his political adversaries in Congress. . A bond that continued to grow between 2015 and 2018 when the then Minister of Education, Nicolás Eyzaguirre, signed him in the portfolio for the processing of bills on teacher development and demunicipalization of education, initiatives that were a central part of the reform promoted by the second Administration of Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018).
Jaime Bellolio, former spokesperson for the Government of Sebastián Piñera (2018-2022), who during those years as a deputy was a member of the Chamber’s Education Commission, remembers that it was easy to negotiate with Cataldo. “I would say that he has the advantage that he is a warm person, he is easy to get along with, he is friendly, pleasant, he is not someone who starts with the classic PC speech. He is a communicator and it is clear that he is willing to listen to different points of view, although we disagreed on practically everything,” he recalls.
Rodrigo Roco, current director of Municipal Education of the commune of Santiago and who coincided as an advisor to the Ministry of Education with Cataldo, highlights the charisma of the new minister. “He is capable of understanding everyone, with parliamentarians from all sectors. He is kind, witty, one of those people who when you are discussing complex things, he says something that lightens the atmosphere without losing depth.”
Cataldo’s personality, his sense of humor, his friendly style and willingness to talk – he makes it a rule to always answer the phone and the WhatsApp messages sent to him – is, say those close to him, his “secret weapon.” An attribute with which he has managed to carve out a space for himself in the Government that has sought strong leadership, but at the same time dialogue, to bring his reforms afloat. He met Boric during the years of the student movement, when the now minister was the national manager of the Communist Youth (JJCC). Later, in Congress, he ran into him at soccer games organized by some members of the Chamber, among whom was also the former Minister of Social Development, Giorgio Jackson; Bellolium; the then RN deputy Diego Paulsen and the now socialist senator Fidel Espinoza, among others. But it was not until the 2021 presidential campaign, when Cataldo took over as territorial manager in the second round, that he managed to strengthen ties with the president. Today they are not friends, but they maintain a relationship of trust.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric shakes hands with his new Minister of Education, Nicolás Cataldo, at the cabinet change ceremony held on August 16. Elvis González (EFE)
The Executive’s bet is that the new minister’s closeness to the educational world – he was part of the College of Teachers – manages to channel the demands of teachers (financing of education, violence in schools, retirement bonuses and historical debt, among other points) and, on the other hand, that it is capable of resuming the agenda and taking charge of the deep Chilean educational crisis, derived from structural problems of the system and the consequences of the pandemic. This week he will go through a key test: after his first meeting on Monday with the leaders of the College of Teachers, the minister yesterday sent a new proposal to the teachers, which will be taken to a new consultation by the union. If all goes well, they say from the ministry, the strike could be deactivated between Thursday and Friday of this week. “I don’t feel pressured or with a gun on the table,” the minister told Radio Pauta on Monday. It was a controversial phrase, one of those usually used by Cataldo, who prefers frank dialogues, although the ministry claims that he was asked about the matter – whether he felt pressured with a gun on the table – and he only limited himself to answering.
Son of a person detained by the dictatorship
On September 11, 1973, Minister Cataldo’s father, Héctor Cataldo, a member of the Unitary Popular Action Movement (Mapu), one of the factions that was part of the Popular Unity led by Salvador Allende, was arrested by Marines. He was imprisoned for two years, he was tortured and today his testimony is in the records of the Valech commission, which documented the mistreatment of thousands of Chileans during the dictatorship.
Years later, in 1984, Nicolás would be born in the hospital located on the same land where the Chilean National Congress stands today in Valparaíso. His parents separated when he was six years old. His father left the port city and settled in Santiago. They were not easy years for the Cataldo Astorga family: his mother, his sister and he lived as relatives for several years until they managed to have their home in Cerro Esperanza.
At the age of 14, Cataldo attended secondary school at the Eduardo de la Barra high school, played soccer, sang in the school choir, practiced athletics and participated as a student leader in the Communist Youth. After graduating, he began to study Pedagogy in History at the University of Valparaíso, which at that time did not have a student center. Cataldo along with his colleagues organized to lift him up and thus began a career as a leader that only went up. Upon finishing his studies, the PC appointed him in charge of the national organization of the JJCC and he went to live in Santiago. It was from that role that Cataldo began to train the generations of communist students who later took over as leaders in different universities in the country. The current deputy Karol Cariola, Julio Sarmiento and Camila Vallejo were part of the group that, with the help of the now minister, recovered the presidencies of the university federations that the PC had lost in previous years.
At the age of 27, Nicolás joined the Communist Party and took over the Department of Education and Improvement of the Chilean College of Teachers, which in those years was led by the current Chilean ambassador to Argentina, Bárbara Figueroa. From that position, he was editor of the magazine Docencia and met Guillermo Scherping, director of the publication, whom the Secretary of State has mentioned as his main mentor. That, Cataldo said, was his start in public policies linked to education, which today have him as the first communist minister to hold that portfolio, a position that the History professor always dreamed of. He is so passionate about it that he even tattooed a pencil on his right arm along with the phrase of the Brazilian Marxist pedagogue and philosopher, Paulo Freire: “Education does not change the world, it changes the people who will change the world.”
#litmus #test #secret #weapon #Nicolás #Cataldo #communist #Minister #Education #Chile