In Chile, lifted state of siege means return of opposition press
Santiago, Chile — The most notable change that occurred with the lifting of the state of siege in Chile this week happened on the newsstands. Magazines critical of the authoritarian rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte have returned.
They had gone silent more than seven months ago when General Pinochet declared the state of siege. One of his first moves last November was to shut down six opposition magazines and impose censorship on a seventh.
The move was a result of the instrumental role the opposition press had played in the 18 months of antigovernment protests that preceded beginning of the state of siege. One government official later said the banned magazines were guilty of ``verbal terrorism.''
The first magazine -- An'alisis -- came back Wednesday. Thursday brought a special edition of Hoy, the first in seven months that had not been subject to censorship. By week's end, two more publications, Fortin Mapocho and Apsi, were expected to arrive at the newsstands that crowd most downtown corners.
The first thing the opposition press had to say was this: The lifting of the state of siege was mostly form and little substance. Pinochet eased up on his crackdown only slightly, they said, and he did so against his will.
``The state of siege was lifted due fundamentally to conditions put on Pinochet by his external creditors and by foreign governments,'' An'alisis said in its lead article.
What remains in effect in Chile is a state of emergency, and critics say the power it offers Pinochet nearly equals that of the state of siege.
``If civil rights were restricted on the order of 90 percent under the state of siege, they're still restricted 85 percent under the state of emergency,'' said Genaro Arriagada, a leading Christian Democrat.
Under the state of emergency the military government still has the ability to banish its opponents from Chile or to send them into internal exile into remote areas of the country for three months. Police can detain Chileans incommunicado for up to 20 days in secret detention centers without specific charges.
A nightly curfew, although shortened, remains in effect in the capital, Santiago. In the capital and in Valparaiso, Chile's second largest city, meetings of political parties are banned.
The most significant change is that the government can no longer suspend news media. It can only restrict them.
The list of press restrictions that continue took up nearly a page of a tabloid newspaper. They prohibit the media from disseminating news of terrorism, public disorders, and political parties, unless authorized by the government.
With the minimal changes, one may wonder why the state of siege was lifted. The answer, according to Chilean analysts, journalists, and Western diplomats, is that Pinochet faced a blend of pressures from within his own government as well as abroad to move toward the elections scheduled for 1989, the first since the 1973 coup that brought him to power.
And perhaps more important, Chile is seeking an emergency packet of credits and new loans worth about $1.95 billion from foreign creditors.
Many Chilean analysts say the granting of the loans was linked to a lifting of the state of siege and easing of censorship. One informed foreign observer called it a quid pro quo.
The state of seige was lifted two days before talks began in New York between Chilean negotiators and representatives of the 550 creditor banks that hold Chile's $19 billion in foreign debt.
``Other signs have shown the government's open reluctance to lift the state of siege,'' said Ignacio Gonzalez, head of Chile's 3,000-member journalist trade group.
He noted that Chile's military junta tried to give itself the same powers under a state of emergency as it had under a state of siege. But a government-appointed panel ruled two weeks ago that such changes were unconstitutional.
``One could suppose that [the government] didn't have much desire to arrive at the current situation,'' he said.
It is clear from the magazines that came out this week that some journalists are planning to test the censorship. Wednesday's issue of An'alisis contained interviews with politicians and an article contending that the military is linked to recent political violence. Thursday's issue of Hoy contained many of the articles its editors said had been censored over the last several months.
If the government decides to challenge the press over such articles, Gonzalez and others say, it will have to do so in Chile's courts.