Chile's top officers push reform in bid to save military rule
As opposition to the government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte mounts, the key to Chile's immediate political future rests most certainly with top officers of the Army.
While they are personally loyal to General Pinochet, and many owe their jobs and promotions to him, they also have been shocked in recent weeks by the mounting fury of public opposition to military rule. The opposition seems to have grown daily as Pinochet celebrates the 10th anniversary of his rule.
Although they are tight-lipped about the issue, it is known that some of Chile's most influential miltary men have met to debate the alternatives to Pinochet's rule. They do not accept an outright end of military rule, but they do appear to be leaning in the direction of some greater civilian participation.
These officers have already nudged Pinochet into accepting a civilian-dominated cabinet, the first one in 10 years. Othersubstantive changes in the government could be forthcoming in the months ahead.
The extreme step, of course, would be replacement of Pinochet. In fact, the political opposition says that this is the only acceptable measure, the first step to the return of democracy in Chile.
But for the moment, this seems unlikely.
Moreover, Pinochet is prepared to do everything possible to prevent such a move. In an address to the nation Sunday as his government celebrated its 10th anniversary, he spoke pointedly about how firmly the military is behind his leadership.
Still, more changes in the Pinochet government and how the military runs Chile are likely in the next year or so.
Much depends on how the top military leadership reads the public mood. Many Chileans are exhausted by military rule, weakened by an economy with soaring unemployment. Hunger now touches many people. Pinochet seemed to recognize these problemswhen he pledged Sunday to cut back unemployment, which runs no less than 15 percent by government admission, but is as high as 25 percent according to government opponents.
Still, in some sections of the country, the mood has turned ugly - to bitter anger against the military. This is particularly so in the poor communities around Santiago. In recent days, as more and more police action against demonstrators has taken place, charges of police brutality have grown. At least 25 people have died in protests, hundreds have been injured, and as many as 1, 000 jailed for short periods.
The military is losing a public relations war with civilians as a result - something that many retired army officers, in particular, have noted to their dismay.
Moreover, a coalescing political opposition - headed loosely by Chile's Christian Democratic Party - is having its effect on public attitudes. This opposition gained strong public support this week as its leaders, including former Foreign Minister Gabriel Valdes Subercaseaux, were tear-gassed and hosed with water as they staged a peaceful protest against military rule.
Pinochet, who has set 1989 as the date he will step down, was nevertheless much buoyed this week by an outpouring of support for his regime during a parade Friday commemorating his government coming to power in the wake of the military ouster of Salvador Allende Gossens on Sept. 11, 1973.
The outpouring was massive. But most of those parading in front of him and his wife were the families and friends of the military and others in the government.
''It was hardly a representative pictue of the nation,'' said Andres Zaldiver Larrain, a leading Christian Democrat. ''What is truly representatve is the attitude of Chileans in general - in Santiago, in the countryside, and just everywhere. There you sense the anger and fury of our people.''
It is this view that the military is beginning to accept and worry about.