Chile tries to squelch nervy, budding student movement . . .

It is summer now in Chile, and after a tumultuous year of student rioting, the universities are closing for vacation. The campuses are shutting their gates on a year that has seen students repeatedly battle with police, call campus-wide strikes, and take over university offices.

The graffiti on campuses here do not mention the Vietnam war, but they do have a battlefield aura. On the wall of one campus, graffiti urge: ''Break the state of siege'' and ''Besiege 'el loco' Pinochio.''

Indeed, many of Chile's 130,000 university students see themselves at war with the military regime led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. And in a time when the regime has muzzled the press and tried to fragment the opposition, students have become one of Chile's most potent political forces.

While opposition parties feuded, observers watched with interest in this Southern Hemisphere spring as students formed a democratic federation in spite of military control of Chilean universities.

Students have had to pay for their recent independence. General Pinochet targeted them for repression after imposing a state of siege Nov. 6. The measure was adopted to fight terrorism, officials said, and the regime used it to send about 40 student leaders into internal exile or to expel them from school. The government arrested some 600 others.

Analysts here think that only a minority of Chilean students are actually involved in violent groups today. But they note that Chilean universities historically are wellsprings of support for membership of violent groups. And many note a sense of hopelessness on campuses today that leads them to think that even though most students do not advocate violence, many may privately support the goals of such groups because they see no other alternative to Pinochet's refusal to make way for civilian government.

Some vocal students say they have a more immediate and realistic goal than bringing down the military regime. They want to dislodge the government-appointed military rectors who control all public and private universities in Chile.

Many rectors, usually retired generals, have lowered academic standards by barring in-depth study of social sciences, students contend. Students contend rectors have prevented well rounded teaching in fields such as public health and public housing - and just about any subject that touches on human rights.

''The criterion for selecting professors now is . . . the measure in which a professor is a supporter of the regime and not his academic capacity,'' says Yerko Ljubetic, president of a recently resurrected student federation of 22,000 at the University of Chile in Santiago.

The election sweep of the 24-year-old, bearded Mr. Ljubetic and other centrist and leftist opposition candidates to head the student federation is one of the most recent signs of student mobilization.

Elsewhere, university students set up soup kitchens to feed fellow students whose state aid was too low for them to get by when tuitions were raised. Some took over campus offices to protest the enrollment of secret police as students to keep tabs on universities.

This past spring, universities became the sites of the most violent confrontation during national protests.

The election of leftists to student leadership positions at the University of Chile in late October reportedly pricked the regime. Student leaders historically go on to lead the main political parties. The election of the left was a bad omen that added to tensions leading to the state of siege.

On the day elections were to be held at Santiago's Catholic University, security guards raided the student center. Secret police rounded up leaders at other cam- puses, too, and send them on unplanned holidays.

The largest raid occurred Nov. 28, when some 200 riot police entered the University of Santiago and reportedly beat and arrested more than 400 students in room-by-room searches. During that raid and another Dec. 3 at the University of Antofagasta in northern Chile, police arrested both students and faculty. Rectors at four schools ended the semester early.

All of Santiago's universities now are surrounded by eight-foot-high iron railings. An armored bus filed with riot-equipped police regularly greets students at each campus. Guards keeping vigil at each entrance to the University of Santiago discourage disturbances with batons that discharge electricity.

At the entrance to the University of Chile engineering school, a student-federation blackboard lists the names of those taken from their homes by secret police during Santiago's nightly curfew.

When secret police sequestered a law student recently, more than 50 students took over a dean's office school to demand his release. The tactic worked and the student was freed 16 hours later.

Afterward, the frightened student said his captors applied gave him electric shocks. He said some of their questions were drawn from data on student leaders kept in a complex computerized system.

Fueled by such tales, student leaders say they expect tensions to grow at the universities.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.