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Chilean Democracy Struggles Against Pinochet's Legacy

TWO years after taking the reins of Chile's government, President Patricio Aylwin Azocar is finding his attempts to reestablish Chile's traditional democratic structures mired in constraints left by former military dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

Officials in the civilian government say they have made progress on respecting human rights, reasserting a stronger social role for the state, and providing housing and education, but they readily concede they have not closed the book on the 17 years of military dictatorship.

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"Pinochet left us a legal straitjacket," says federal deputy Claudio Huepe, former president of the Christian Democratic Party. "By accepting his rules, we managed to get him out as head of state, but his people left a system very well designed to tie up the new democracy."

When he was elected two years ago, President Aylwin vowed his multiparty coalition would reform certain undemocratic aspects of the system General Pinochet left behind.

But Mr. Huepe says the current political system is still "something less than full democracy," for three reasons:

* President Aylwin cannot dismiss any military commanders, including Pinochet, who remains head of the Army.

* Chile's National Congress does not reflect popular will, as expressed in elections. A half-dozen senators appointed under the previous regime give the rightist opposition a slight majority in the upper house; a peculiar voting system gives conservatives additional over-representation.

* The country's courts, which did little to protect human rights or resist the excesses of military rule, are autonomous. New members of the Supreme Court, for example, are chosen by the currently sitting justices.

Altering any of these elements will not be easy. The judiciary is resisting change tenaciously; and opposition parties are unlikely to support election-law reforms, which would likely dilute their strength. The government concedes that little or nothing will be done about direct presidential control of the military as long as Pinochet remains head of the armed forces, which remain autonomous under the 1980 Constitution.

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Government supporters argue that deeper reforms will be possible in the presidential term that begins in 1994, during which the seven-year terms of the appointed senators will expire.

One sticking point is the lack of progress on clarifying responsibility for the thousands of human rights violations that occurred under Pinochet. Relatives of the dead or disappeared insist that the full truth must be known, but judges consistently have said Chile's 1979 amnesty law precludes further investigation.

The only substantial progress in court has been a murder indictment against Pinochet's one-time secret police chief, Manuel Contreras, for the car-bomb death of exiled Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., in 1976.

Supporters of the former military regime, grouped in two principal parties, give the Aylwin government fairly high marks. "They are good administrators," says federal deputy Alberto Espina of the National Renovation Party, "because they wisely have not fulfilled their own program" on things like taxes, labor laws, and relations with the armed forces.

The Aylwin government has accepted the broad outlines of the free-market economic model left behind by Pinochet's advisors, including a limited state role, low taxes and tariffs, and a dynamic export sector.

But some members of the ruling coalition, especially the Socialists, say the government must redress economic inequalities as well.

"We must eliminate extreme poverty in this country within the next 10 to 15 years," says Socialist deputy Jaime Gazmuri. "Otherwise, in the long run, a democratic, modern society in Chile is not viable."

Mr. Gazmuri says the coalition has succeeded in reversing the previous hands-off attitude and restored the idea of a central role for the state in matters such as income redistribution, environmental protection, and regional development.

Average Chileans seem to be somewhat disillusioned with their new democracy. Young people in particular are quick to criticize. The disappointment, observers say, is a natural result of the constant negotiations and resulting consensus which leave the the public with the impression that everything is being resolved by party bosses.

"We have not created channels for participation," says Gazmuri. "City halls have been run by appointed mayors for almost 20 years. People have lost the habit of taking part."

Public dissatisfaction "has to do with the nature of modern politics, not just in Chile but everywhere," says Huepe. "We're not leading revolutionary movements that might attract multitudes into the streets. No one goes out to demonstrate for the macroeconomic equilibrium, but it's important."

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