IT is time for trade sanctions against Chile. A former Chilean secret police captain who participated in the conspiracy to assassinate former Chilean Ambassador to the United States, Orlando Letelier, has implicated Chilean President Augusto Pinochet himself in the crime. The incident marks the only successful importation of terrorism into the US by a foreign government. Meanwhile, the Pinochet regime continues to refuse US requests for extradition of two other Chilean officials indicted by US courts for the murders of Letelier and his American aide, Ronni Moffit.
Chile is also dragging its feet in investigating the death of 19-year-old Rodrigo Rojas, a resident of Washington, who died after he and a young Chilean woman were brutally beaten and set on fire by army troops. The army lieutenant who commanded the patrol has been charged with unnecessary violence leading to death. The other 25 members of the patrol have not been charged with any violations of the law. Witnesses and attorneys in the case have claimed harassment by the government.
These much-publicized instances of official brutality and intransigence are part of an institutionalized system of violence and oppression by which the Pinochet regime has maintained its control of Chile. Tens of thousands of opponents of the regime have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, or exiled. Political prisoners are routinely tortured. Demonstrations are brutally suppressed. In 1986, according to the US State Department report on human rights in Chile, more than 30 people were killed and hundreds injured in acts of political violence by security forces.
Under Pinochet institutionalized protection of human rights has been subverted. Political parties are illegal, the press is censored, and military courts handle most political arrests. The few civilian judges who attempt to carry out their responsibilities in an independent manner have been censured by other judges.
After five years of constructive engagement with the Pinochet regime, the Reagan administration seemed for a time to have suddenly seen the light.
In March 1986, and again recently, the US supported United Nations resolutions condemning Chile for its human rights abuses. US Ambassador to Chile Harry Barnes met with the democratic opposition, attended the Rojas funeral, and publicly defended human rights. Most important, US Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams told Congress last July that the US would vote ``no'' on an upcoming World Bank loan to Chile.
But when the time came for a vote on an economically crucial World Bank loan in November, the US abstained.
The message conveyed by such vacillations has not been lost on Pinochet; he has clamped down even harder on political dissent and signaled his intention to remain in power at least until 1997.
Before the Pinochet regime seized power in its 1973 coup, Chile had a tradition of elected civilian government dating back to its independence in 1810. Despite the polarizing effect of 14 years of dictatorship and oppression, a broad desire still exists at all levels of Chilean life for a return to democracy. Eighteen months ago Juan Francisco Cardinal Fresno Larra'in brought together 11 parties spanning the political spectrum to sign the National Accord for the Transition to Full Democracy in Chile; it repudiates violence as a means of political action and offers a framework for a return to democracy based on reconciliation.
Yet Pinochet has stonewalled the moderates' pressure for peaceful change. His plan is clear: frustrate and divide the democratic opposition, strengthening the radical and violent left. In a Chile polarized between the far right and the radical left, Pinochet believes the US would have no choice but to continue supporting him.
Words alone will not dissuade a leader with such a desperate strategy. Only by withholding the economic benefits the US has extended to Chile can the US bring home to Pinochet and his remaining supporters that there will be no more ``business as usual.''
We are convinced that an immediate change in US policy is absolutely essential to loosen Pinochet's grip and preserve the last chance for democracy in Chile.
We are also convinced that such a policy must include trade sanctions. Morally and politically, the US cannot continue to provide economic supports that help prop up the Pinochet regime, however indirectly.
Along with Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Edward F. Feighan, we have introduced legislation that would:
Require US directors of institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to vote against any loan or assistance to Chile (except to provide for basic human needs) and to exert their best efforts to persuade other directors to do so.
Lift the designation as a ``beneficiary developing country'' which allows certain Chilean products to enter the US duty-free.
Prohibit the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from issuing any guarantee of loans and other investments with respect to Chile.
Bar the import into the US of Chilean copper.
These sanctions would be lifted if the President, subject to congressional approval, certifies that Chile has made significant progress toward human rights and free elections and has taken positive action on the Rojas and Letelier-Moffit cases.
In this complex, interdependent world, we cannot afford to impose trade sanctions rashly.
But there comes a time when a government's conduct crosses a line beyond which it cannot be accepted or tolerated. Over the last two years, Americans came to a consensus that South Africa has crossed the line. So, we believe, has Chile.
Tom Harkin is a Democratic senator from Iowa. Rep. Bruce A. Morrison is a Democrat from Connecticut.