Chile's Pinochet takes on trappings of civilian presidency

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

La Moneda, the Spanish colonial mint that served as Chile's presidential palace until 1973, will be back in business March 11. That is the day Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte moves his office into the refurbished palace. The step marks his resignation from the ruling military junta and his assumption of an expanded presidency.

It is also symbolic of General Pinochet's determination to remain in power for eight more years -- a period provided for in a new national Constitution drafted by General Pinochet's government and approved by voters last September. The general was installed as head of state in 1974, nine months after a right-wing coup overthrew the elected government of Marxist President Salvador Allende Gossens.

Pinochet's move into La Moneda comes against an upsurge in leftist terrorism, student unrest, and protests against military rule.

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Pinochet opponents suggest that the Constitution was approved because people had only a yes-or-no choice. Many voters might have voted against extending Pinochet's rule, but did not because they favored other parts of the document, his critics say.

And there are factors militating against opposition to the Pinochet government: Just about everyone, even some of his opponents, agrees that the Chilean economy has blossomed under military rule. Even the poorer classes, who make up one-half of the population, are beginning to share in the obvious economic progress here, they note.

But there is no doubt that opposition to Pinochet rule is growing. The Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) claims responsibility for 76 terrorist acts in 1980, including the assassination of Army Col. Roger Vergara Campos.

Meanwhile, the Pinochet government has picked up five suspected MIR members and charged them with the Vergara murder last July. Santiago newspapers are full of stories linking the murder of Cuba. While this is troublesome, it may work in General Pinochet's favor, since the vast majority of Chileans reject terrorism.

But the Pinochet government still has big problems. Topping the list is poor relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

The church has refused to allow the government to enter Catholic churches in which leaders of shantytown organizations have taken refuge after the government broke up protest demonstrations.

The church hierarchy, in effect, told the government to keep its hands off church property -- "or else," as one church spokesman warned General Pinochet in a statement accusing him of being "a brutal criminal worse than the Nazis." It was evident that the church was siding with the poor in Chile.

Government officials chafed at the church attitude, but kept hands off church property. Yet there were veiled hints that the church might face government censorship if it kept supporting "known criminals," as a government spokesman termed the shantytown leaders.

Meanwhile, the government was faced with student protests, including an outcry over the banishment of a campus leader, Patricia Torres. The schools have been closed for summer vacation, and further student protest is expected as they reopen this month.

The government has been hit with other international criticism: The United Nations Human Rights Commission recently voted 20 to 4 to denounce what it saw as an increase in human-rights violations by the Pinochet government.

The only piece of international good news was last week's decision by the Reagan administration to lift economic and military sanctions imposed over a year ago by the Carter administration. But the Reagan administration also told Chile that the US is still unhappy over Chile's failure to be more cooperative with the US in prosecuting those responsible for the assassination of former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier del Solar on a Washington street in 1976.

At home, the Pinochet government is likely to face further outcry from the Christian Democrats, Chile's largest political party when the military seized power in 1973, over the banishment of Andres Zaldivar Larrain, a leading party official who was accused of making antigovernment statements.

In January the Chilean supreme court rejected a Christian Democratic appeal to overturn the banishment order. The party was expected to bring up the case in the next few months.

Pinochet's move into La Mondea will come precisely 7 1/2 years after Chilean Air Force planes bombed the palace, where Salvador Allende Gossens was making a last stand against th e military.

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