South American Neighbors Reexamine Ties With Peru


THE suspension of constitutional government in Peru has raised old worries in much of Latin America.

Few here think the Brazilian military is interested in taking over the government only seven years after leaving office, but some analysts say unrest at lower levels could be dangerous. Low-level military officers in a poor suburb of Brasilia met outdoors on a rainy night last week to rally participants for an April 27 march on armed forces headquarters to protest low salaries.

"With the pressure on salaries and a lot of emotionalism, people are very worried about that march. Events in Peru and Venezuela act like a magnifying box," says Columbia University professor Alfred Stepan, a specialist on the Latin American military.

After decades of military interventionism throughout much of Latin America, civilian governments are struggling to sow democracy amid economic and social turmoil. They have taken on the thankless burden of imposing harsh economic policies to bring down inflation and renew growth.

Poor pay and general neglect of the military under civilian governments in recent years has led to grumbling in many countries' armed forces, sometimes destabilizing local politics. Two months ago in Venezuela, disgruntled officers found support among impoverished civilians for a coup dtat that ultimately failed. Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Peru Wednesday, becoming the first nation to do so after Mr. Fujimori's move.

With the memory of military dictatorships still strong, some of the region's presidents have recalled ambassadors and called for a return to democratic rule. A mission led by Organization of American States Secretary-General Joao Clemente Baena Soares was set to fly to Peru late this week to promote a dialogue between Fujimori and opposition leaders. The OAS has scheduled a May 23 meeting to hear the mission's report and possibly take action, and also wants to send a committee to investigate the human ri ghts situation in Peru.

The more informal Group of Rio said it would ban Peru from its meetings until democracy was restored. Comprising the foreign ministers of 13 nations, the Group of Rio grew out of informal consultations during the Salvadoran war.

Argentina, one of the region's most active countries on foreign policy issues, gave asylum in its Lima embassy last week to Peru's second vice president, Carlos Garcia Garcia, whom Peruvian congressmen had declared the constitutional president of Peru at a clandestine meeting April 9. An Argentine diplomatic source said Mr. Garcia likely would be allowed exile in Argentina, but said this implied "no judgment of his [political] situation." The source also said Argentina is not now considering breaking rel ations with Peru.

Brazil will wait to take any action until the OAS mission has been completed, a Brazilian Foreign Ministry official says. Brazil had been carrying out an intensive program with Peru to fight cholera, but the program has wound down as health technicians concentrate on the disease's spread within Brazil.

Chile, ruled for 17 years by a military regime, sees little threat to its democratic revival from Peru's unrest. Chile's June 28 municipal elections, made possible by an amendment to the Constitution dating from the reign of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, demonstrate that "we have been able to change the Constitution and do away with the mayors named by Pinochet," says Christian Democrat Gennaro Arriagada. "There is no possibility of a regression to authoritarianism."

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