Chile's military gives civilians an inch - but they want a mile. Centrist political parties, banding together for strength, say Pinochet liberalizations and 1990 vote are not enough
The door to civilian rule in Chile has opened a crack - and suddenly there is an unrelenting clamor for the door to swing wide open. ''We are in this to put an end to military rule,'' says Gabriel Valdes Subercaseaux, head of the new Alianza Democratica, an amalgam of six political parties that have joined forces in opposition to the military government.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet Ugarte clearly has no intention of giving up power. But as the 10-year anniversary of military rule approached last month, Pinochet, under pressure, agreed to give civilians a modicum of influence in government.
He named a new, largely civilian Cabinet and held out the prospect of a national plebiscite on the issue of holding congressional elections before the scheduled date of 1990. Beyond this, he eased censorship, promised to legalize political parties by next year, and allowed some 3,000 civilians to return from exile.
These concessions do not satisfy Alianza, however. Flushed with their recent gains and the upsurge of political debate here, they are not giving up on a speedier return to civilian rule.
''It is not enough,'' Mr. Valdes says, ''for the government to suggest holding a plebiscite to amend the Constitution to hold congressional elections before 1990 as scheduled. There has to be more.''
Alianza wants Pinochet to step down before 1989, the date set for his term to end under the nation's new constitution. The group is not calling for his immediate resignation, however. It knows that is too much to ask.
At the moment, Alianza is the key force of political opposition. Its leadership is largely centrist and is dominated by the Christian Democrats, Chile's largest political party. The group does not include the far right or the far left.
Christian Democratic influence in Alianza may slip a bit in October as Hugo Zepeda of the Republican Right assumes the Alianza presidency for a month. Mr. Zepeda tends to be closer to the Pinochet government than other members of the Alianza. But the emphasis on a legitimate dialogue with the government - and the broad Alianza tone set by the Christian Democrats - will continue.
Other political groups, including two on the left, are forming, too. But there is no current plan for them to be included in any dialogue with the government.
Nevertheless, after 10 years in limbo, politicians are speaking out forcefully. They are no longer circumspect in their criticism of the military government, although they do hold back from criticizing General Pinochet directly.
Andres Zaldivar Larrain, a former Chilean senator and a Christian Democrat like Mr. Valdes, says Pinochet's rule has been ''the worst government in the history of Chile.''
A couple of years ago such statements would have promptly sent Zaldivar to jail or to exile. Indeed, he was sent packing in 1980 after a Mexican newspaper inaccurately reported his comments on the military government.
Now it seems that virtually anything can be printed - right here in Chile. Newspapers and magazines are full of criticism of the government.
It is a spectacular change after years of military censorship.
But there are warnings that the freedom is relative, that it might not last. ''The hand that giveth can also take away,'' says a military leader close to Pinochet. He adds enigmatically: ''Beware.''
Such warnings do not deter the politicians - or the hundreds of thousands of Chileans living in the poblacionesm, the shantytowns that ring this capital city. The poor are increasingly restive. A frustrated, largely jobless, and angry people, the pobladores have been willing in the past several months to risk violent confrontations with the carabinerosm, Chile's national police, to protest the nation's political and economic policies.
Chile is in the throes of an economic recession as bad as the depression years of the 1930s. Economy Minister Carlos Francisco Caceres admits the rate of unemployment is more than 17 percent. Many Chilean economists say it is more like 30 percent.
Beyond this, there is a growing national feeling - perhaps not yet a consensus - that 10 years of military rule is more than enough. Ten years seems a long time - particularly when that rule has been heavy-handed and ''basically un-Chilean in its approach,'' says a prominent socialist, who asks that his name not be used.
Alianza and the confrontations between the pobladoresm and the police are only two points of antimilitary sentiment. And the military is becoming worried.