Augusto Pinochet, Chile's strong-man ruler, says he doesn't intend to hurry his Latin nation's return to democracy because Chile ''still isn't ready.'' A ''communist danger'' continues to threaten the country's stability, General Pinochet says, and to speed the democratic process ''would be an unforgivable irresponsibility.''
In recent meetings with the foreign press, Pinochet has stressed his determination to stay in power until at least 1989 and to follow rigid constitutional guidelines - guidelines his regime designed - for a slow evolution toward democracy.
Pinochet's comments to the press have angered opposition leaders, who say the remarks backtrack from a more accommodating position taken at the height of public protests against the government last August.
One of Chile's most prominent opposition leaders, Gabriel Valdes Subercaseaux , head of the Christian Democratic Party, has called Pinochet's latest statements ''a declaration of war.'' He predicts that by Sept. 4, when opposition parties plan to stage a two-day national protest, political tensions will have spiraled to a point higher than at any time during the 11 years of Pinochet rule.
The immediate future of the opposition parties - whose activities were ''recessed'' after the 1973 military coup - may be in part be decided this week, when the Pinochet government is expected to issue an electoral parties law.
It is expected that under Pinochet's laws, ''totalitarian'' parties will remain banned. It is not yet clear what role center and center-left parties will be allowed to play. But many of them - including the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Radicals, Republican Right, and others that have formed the Democratic Alliance opposition coalition - have announced they will refuse to take part in Pinochet's plan for a ''restricted'' democracy.
And if the alliance doesn't take part, then only about eight rightist groups among Chile's 60-odd parties would participate in the ''democracy.''
Pinochet himself appeared comfortable as he talked recently with more than 20 foreign correspondents invited to breakfast at La Moneda, Chile's colonial-style presidential palace.
Annoyance crept into his voice only at the outset, when he complained of ''very sad experiences'' with foreign reporters ''twisting words and changing ideas.'' Reporters were told to leave tape recorders outside the room. The general, dressed in a crisp blue suit and red tie, said a transcript would be provided later.
Pinochet repeatedly steered talk during the hour-long meeting to his regime's fight against communism, a battle he said he has waged since Sept. 11, 1973, the day the military overthrew the elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende Gossens. (The Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, and other rights groups says this battle also resulted in arbitrary government jailings, persecutions, torture, and the dissappearance of some 1,500 persons between 1973 and 1977.)
Before the coup, ''the nation was sick,'' Pinochet contended. ''We operated on this sickness, and it began to recover its health.'' But he added later: ''The patient still isn't healthy.''
The cause of the problem, Pinochet maintained, is the Chilean Communist Party , which is strongly linked to Moscow and openly avows the use of violence to overthrow the government. ''Communists are people with a different mentality than us,'' Pinochet said. He is considering making a law that would ban the Communist Party forever.
Pinochet singled out the Roman Catholic Church's office on human rights in Chile for frustrating the regime's efforts ''to save Chile from communism.''
The Constitution says Pinochet will govern the country until 1989. The general himself says he cannot alter this plan. ''It's not in my hands to advance the democratic process,'' he says. ''(The Constitution) establishes the terms. And I'm not able to modify them.''
Reminded that the Constitution allows him to at least speed the process of installing an elected congress, the general responded by saying he could foresee offering a plebiscite on the matter ''if the conditions present themselves in two, three, or four more years.''
Interior Minister Sergio Jarpa has spoken openly of legalizing political parties and calling congressional elections for some time in 1985.
But Pinochet told reporters his regime had spoken only of ''the possibility'' of speeding the democratic process. Later, he conceded that ''my intention was to do this last year, to hurry the process.'' But he said a timetable for a faster transition had not been set.
Asked if he risked being seen as a tyrant for staying in power so long, Pinochet retorted: ''I'm not here for my pleasure. Destiny put me here.''
Refering to the food shortages, demonstrations, and riots under Allende, Pinochet said: ''I am here because the country had to be stopped from falling into civil war, and that's where we were headed.''
He added he would run for the office of president in 1989 if Chileans wanted him to. ''It depends on the people,'' he said.
When the presidential palace later released its transcript, many of Pinochet's remarks to the press had been altered or deleted. Local newspapers printed the official transcript and some, without explanation, added wire service stories about what Pinochet had said. The foreign correspondents' association later formally complained to the regime about the inaccurate transcript.