The so-called “Art School, President General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte”, named after the former far-right dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, has been recruiting students ahead of its opening on March 28.
The institute's site, in the town of Ancúd on Chile's remote Chiloé archipelago, 980 km south of Santiago, has been flanked by a number of conspicuous swastika-bearing posters advertising the school in recent days, local press have reported.
The school's founder, Godofredo Rodríguez Pacheco, has defended his idea. "My ultimate goal is to form a political party, a nationalist proposal designed from Chiloé and I don't mind if people tell me I'm a Nazi," Rodríguez told local press.
The initiative has been condemned by local politicians and members of the Jewish community, who have already requested a formal investigation into the school's founding. "This type of situation should be cut out immediately, because we can't allow these kind of ideologies in our country," said former Dep. Gabriel Ascencio of the center-left Christian Democrat party.
"It gives me great pain, because my grandparents died in the Nazi concentration camps and my father had to flee Germany," said Michael Weinlaub, a Jew living in Ancúd. "This school is very offensive and violent. Here the National Council of Culture should intervene, because here is a man that claims to promote a 'school of art'."
Chile has a long history with Nazism: the country once harbored Nazi fugitives from Hitler's Germany following World War II. SS officer Walter Rauff would allegedly serve as an advisor under Augusto Pinochet's regime in the 1970s.
However, Chile's lawmakers have been in the throes of quelling hate crimes in recent years. In 2012, an anti-discrimation bill was fast-tracked following the torture and murder of a gay man, Daniel Zamudio, at the hands of self-claimed Nazis. But activists say not enough is being done.
“The difference with Europe is that Chile lags behind on its regulation condemning these kind of activities. These Nazis hide themselves behind the right of freedom of expression,” Marcelo Isaacson, executive director of the Jewish Community of Chile (CJCH), told The Santiago Times.