Chilean opposition admits protest failed to shake Pinochet
The past two weeks of angry, sometimes violent outcry against Chilean strong man Augusto Pinochet Ugarte have been tumultuous. It was widely viewed as the greatest challenge yet to General Pinochet's 11-year rule.
But as a lull in the protest settled over Chile at the weekend, he appeared to be riding out the storm - as he has done repeatedly in the past.
''The frustrating thing,'' said a leading official of the opposition Christian Democratic Party, ''is that Pinochet remains firmly in the saddle and there isn't much we can do about it.''
Surveying the past two weeks of furious protest demonstrations against the military government and its heavy-handed response - a crackdown on opponents that sent hundreds of Chileans into ''internal exile,'' put thousands of shantytown poor in detention in stadiums in Santiago last Tuesday through Thursday, and closed down six of the nation's top magazines - this longtime Chilean politician commented:
''We politicians do not have our act together - and anyway he (Pinochet) has the guns.''
Monitor contributor Tim Johnson in Santiago adds that many in Chile expect Pinochet to stay in power until at least 1989 - the date the Constitution sets as the end of his term in the presidency.
There have been hints for years that the Army, as well as individual members of the ruling military junta, favored replacing Pinochet with another military leader and perhaps beginning to prepare the transition for a return to civilian rule. But Mr. Johnson says these hints are little more than rumors. The Army, he adds, shows all signs of continuing to support Pinochet.
During the past several weeks, the Army has sent close to 500 Chilean dissidents to exile in Pisagua, an isolated fishing village l,250 miles north of Santiago.
The military traditionally has used Pisagua as an encampment for opponents. Most of these ''internal exiles'' were rounded up from shantytowns around Santiago.
Some 5,000 or more men from La Victoria and Raul Sliva Henriquez shantytowns are in detention at stadiums in Santiago. Most of them were community workers or grass-roots leaders of political parties. None appear to be prominent opponents.
In fact, the government has left well-known politicians, professional people, and even labor leaders alone in the roundups. There is no way of knowing how many people have been picked up because the 90-day state of siege Pinochet imposed on Nov. 6 keeps the press from learning details of the roundups or reporting them.
But the military crackdown against dissidents appears to have been widespread and thorough.
The Roman Catholic Church's human rights' organization says that over the past week it has received between 1,200 and 1,300 reports of disappearances of ordinary Chileans each day.
''The numbers are growing,'' says Enrique Palet, executive secretary of the church's Vicariate of Solidarity. ''There's a new hardness in the government's approach.''
Other church officials add that the government's respect for human rights and civil liberties ''has dropped to the worst level in at least five years,'' as Hilda Romero, a nun, put it. It could get worse, officials say, if demonstrations Nov. 27 and 28 go off as scheduled.
Meanwhile, since the press is censored, many Chileans have no idea of the extent of the roundups. In the middle- and upper-class areas of Santiago, life is relatively normal despite the state of siege and the reimposition of a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew.
Civilians politicians, however, are aware of the roundups and the heavy-handed tactics of the government.
But they are ''caught in straitjackets of both the government's making and our own making,'' says a prominent Chilean Socialist who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution by the government.
''We have not been able to agree among ourselves on how to proceed,'' he adds , noting that there are ''fundamental differences'' between his leftist party and the more centrist Christian Democrats and the right-wing National Party.
''Those differences are deep and until we can bridge them, it is unlikely that we can present a united front against the power of the military.''
For longtime observers of Chilean politics, moreover, these fundamental differences suggest that 11 years of military rule have not altered the traditional political divisions that hampered civilian politics in the past.
Correspondent Johnson, speaking from Santiago, noted that in recent elections at the University of Chile, there was a three-way split among those supporting the National, Christian Democratic, and leftist parties made up of Socialists, Communists, and smaller groups.