Clamor for change in Chile mounts at coup anniversary
Santiago, Chile — It has been a long 10 years for Chile - a decade of heavy-handed, sometimes brutal military rule. And with the prospect of another six years of such rule, as promised by Chilean strong man Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, it is no wonder that public clamor to end military rule and send the soldiers back to the barracks is mounting.
The clamor is reaching a new crescendo this weekend with the 10th anniversary of the 1973 coup d'etat that toppled the government of Salvador Allende Gossens and brought General Pinochet to power.
''The intensity of opposition to the military,'' says a retired general who once worked with General Pinochet, ''is matched only by Pinochet's own determination to hold onto power.''
The big question here is whether Pinochet can retain his control over a people who want change - and want it now. The next few days could be critical. They are likely to yield hints about General Pinochet's staying power.
Under pressure, he has already begun what he calls an apertura (opening) to civilian rule. He has named a largely civilian cabinet and allowed some 400 civilian politicians to return from exile.
A group of opposition politicians, headed by Christian Democratic leader Gabriel Valdes Subercaseaux, has met twice in recent days with government officials to discuss the apertura. But progress seems limited. It clearly is not enough for the Valdes group.
Meanwhile, groups of angry Chileans are promising street protests against the military government as they commemorate the anniversary of military rule this coming Sunday. This could lead to confrontation with the military and police as happened last month when 24 protesters were killed.
The strength of the military was seen at midweek as special antiterrorist units swept down on two suspected terrorist lairs in suburban Santiago. After bitter exchanges of gunfire, they arrested six suspected terrorists and killed four others. The victims were said to have carried out the previous week's assassination of Brig. Gen. Carol Urzua Iban, the military governor of Santiago.
Moreover, despite mounting popular unrest, there is little visible erosion of General Pinochet's support within the armed forces. He has carefully orchestrated military loyalty since the 1973 coup - and it appears even more solidly behind him than was the case 10 years ago.
Still, there are dissident military voices. The Air Force has always been less enthusiastic about military rule than Pinochet's Army. Former Air Force Cmdr. Gen. Gustavo Leigh Guzman said in an interview that ''while he (Pinochet) is still in office, no apertura is possible.''
And General Nicanor Diaz, onetime head of intelligence for the combined military high command and recently labor minister, says that ''General Pinochet has clearly betrayed the ideals of 1973.''
Although many Chileans did ''breath a collective sigh of relief,'' as a leading Christian Democrat put it, when President Allende was removed from office, few expected military rule to last so long. ''We thought the military would stay in office a year or so and then turn things back to the civilians,'' the politician added.
This was not to be. Indeed, General Pinochet, who headed the coup and became led the new government, moved immediately to construct support for long military rule.
Despite its particularly brutal early months, the military coup brooked little open opposition.
In those early years, Chile's economy showed signs of buoyancy. Then oil prices soared in the late 1970s and as recession began to hit economies elsewhere in the world, Chile went into a deep recession in which it still wallows. It is against this worsening economic climate and the continuing heavy-handed military control that Chileans have begun to protest for change.
Enrique Silva Cimma, leader of the Radical Party, said: ''What was acceptable in 1973 is not acceptable in 1983 and that is what needs to be understood by the military.''
No one here is predicting an immediate end of military rule, but there is a feeling that the movement toward that goal is likely to be made in the days ahead.
Much, however, depends on General Pinochet. He did say last week that the date for the return to civilian rule ''is not negotiable.'' In an interview with a Swiss magazine, he added: ''I do not make political concessions since I am not a politician.''
But the pressure on him is mounting. And there is strong feeling here that he may have to make some concessions.