Chileans call for end of military rule but Pinochet's grip remains strong
The pressures on Chilean President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte have reached the point where his political survival appears at stake. Virtually every sector in Chilean society - the political parties, the Roman Catholic Church, labor unions, farmer groups, and manufacturers - is calling for an end to military rule and a return to traditional democratic patterns. Union leaders have even formed an organization to promote democracy's return.
Chile's once-thriving export-oriented economy, which General Pinochet boasted was his biggest achievement, has fallen into a deep recession - and Chile finds itself unable to pay off more than $18 billion in foreign obligations. Last year , the country's economy shrank 14 percent; in the past three months, unemployment in the Santiago area tripled to 22 percent and is even higher in the rich southern agricultural regions. In the past two years, real income has fallen 27 percent.
Abroad, Chile has become an international pariah with its poor human rights record. Amnesty International recently accused Chilean police of widespread torture of prisoners.
Chile's Latin American neighbors, meanwhile, are moving toward democratic rule. Argentina and Uruguay plan to shed military rule by mid-1984. Brazil plans to become democratic by late '84 or early '85. Chile would then be the only major military dictatorship in the hemisphere.
Moreover, within the Chilean military, General Pinochet's home turf, there are signs of disquiet over his 10-year rule.
The general, however, appears to have no intention of relaxing his grip on government. His hold on power may be threatened by mounting pressures, but he presents the image of a durable dictator.
''He has a nose for power,'' says a political opponent whose Christian Democratic Party is Chile's largest. He also has enjoyed, until now at least, the solid support of the Chilean military and the police. But rumors of uneasiness within the military over the worsening economy and other aspects of Pinochet rule are being heard. Some observers say these rumblings cannot be dismissed and that some officers would like to replace Pinochet with Maj. Gen. Santiago Sinclair Oyender, head of the President's general staff.
Amid the clamor for his political demise and the current rumors about his future, General Pinochet marches to his own drummer.
In a speech last week, broadcast nationwide over the weekend, he ruled out any early return to democratic rule. Speaking to a meeting of his Cabinet, senior government officials, and the entire corps of generals and admirals of the armeed forces, he answered those ''who want to hurry the process (the return to democracy) which the government is carrying out.
''To them, I say no. The timetable and its path will be implemented.''
Under the military-supported Constitution of 1980, presidential elections are not scheduled until 1989.
But General Pinochet is not relying merely on words to get across his message. It was he who ordered the recent crackdown on dissident elements, which took the form of predawn raids May 14 on blue-collar neighborhoods where residents had earlier marched against military rule. More than 1,000 people were arrested.
The march itself, three days earlier, was part of a nationwide ''day of national protest'' called by labor organizations and supported by church and political groups. El Mercurio, Chile's largest newspaper, called it ''the most serious challenge the government has faced.''
The government also banned newscasts on Radio Cooperativa, an independent station that gave extensive coverage to the protests.
In the wake of these actions, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy said it ''cannot remain indifferent'' to the mass protests. It called on the government to reconcile itself with its critics.
Even elements within the Partido Nacional, an amalgam of conservative parties and once a supporter of Pinochet rule, has begun questioning continuation of that rule. One party leader, Hermogenes Perez de Arce, suggests the government may have had a role in provoking the recent protests.
Some of the opposition is clearly political. Some of it is a reflection of a traditional desire for democracy. And some stems from Chile's worsening economic situation.
More and more Chileans, some of whom enjoyed the affluence fostered by the economic policies of the 1970s, now are strained by high inflation and personal and business debt. This has translated into fresh support for political parties calling for a return to civilian rule.