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
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Some officers worry that the military could be irreparably harmed if more compromises are not made to assuage civilian wrath.Skip to next paragraph
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It is widely believed here that the recent overtures to civilians are a direct result of military men prodding General Pinochet to make them. In addition to naming a largely civilian Cabinet and opening a dialogue between the government and the opposition politicians, the government has:
* Allowed the return to Chile of more than 3,000 exiled politicians and others, including Christian Democrat Zaldivar. Those returning range from those on the moderate right to the moderate left. Still proscribed are hundreds of leftists - socialists, Communists, and others.
* Lifted the state of emergency that has been in effect since 1973, when the military seized power. The step ends the nighttime curfew and the arbitrary detention of suspects at secret government hideaways.
* Reinstated the rights of citizens to hold public meetings and protests without prior authorization - as long as these activities take place ''without arms.''
* Removed most limits on freedom of the press. Newspapers and magazines are freer to comment on the affairs of government, and some other publications are about to reappear - such as Politica y Espiritum, a Christian Democrat publication.
But there is still some censorship. The television interview program ''Encuentro'' was canceled by the government last week when Christian Democratic leader Zaldivar was to appear.
Without fully explaining the action, Alfonso Marquez de la Plata, secretary-general of government, said the government held the program ''not appropriate for the present moment'' and that it was ''suggested'' to the rector of the University of Chile, which runs the channel on which the program was to appear, that he cancel it.
Raquel Correa, host of the popular show, protested. She said: ''I am pained, angry, and frustrated'' by the action, adding that she does not now believe ''a political opening'' exists.
She is not alone. Despite the various decrees that end particular aspects of military rule, many Chileans feel they are little more than window dressing to keep the military in power.
Moreover, there is some feeling that these steps would not have been taken if recent antigovernment demonstrations had not brought serious concern to the military.
While that point has some validity, Chile's much-touted political liberalization actually began before the worst of the clashes between antigovernment demonstrators and the police in mid-August. At least 27 people were killed and more than 100 wounded, with a thousand or so detained in that clash. The military used brute force to crush the protest, sending 18,000 Army troops into the streets of Santiago against the unarmed civilians.
Immediately after that incident, General Pinochet declared the country was stable enough to lift the stage of emergency and asked the Roman Catholic Church , with which he has long feuded, to arrange a meeting between the newly named interior minister, Sergio Onofre Jarpa Reyes, and opposition politicians of the Alianza.
Several sessions have taken place. But the dialogue has been broken off by the opposition because of subsequent heavy-handed police attacks on some of the opposition leaders and the arrest of Rodolfo Seguel Medina, leader of the copper workers' union.
''How can you dialogue with someone,'' asks Mr. Valdes, ''who talks one minute and hoses you down the next?'' - a reference to police using water hoses on him and other political leaders during a demonstration Sept. 9. Large demonstrations took place last week, as well.
Where the liberalizations go from here is an open question.
At the moment, Interior Minister Jarpa says the government fully intends to support the political liberalization. But he does not give many details.
Mr. Seguel has now been released and charges against him dropped. But it took his 11-day hunger strike, the protests of the Alianza, and the intervention of Juan Francisco Fresno, the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Santiago, to secure his release. General Pinochet said he released the labor leader as ''a special deference'' to the archbishop.
Opposition leaders are clearly wary.
Alianza leader Valdes says, ''There will be dialogue only to produce change and not to strengthen the regime.''
How to assure that is probably the biggest challenge facing the opposition.