Opposition groups stage two-day demonstration against Chile's military regime
The response of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte's military regime to a two-day protest strike so far appears to be remarkably low key. The ``peaceful days of protest'' and partial strike were called by opposition political and labor groups, some of whose top leaders are in jail. They face charges under Chile's tough internal security laws for a similar protest in September, when 10 persons were killed.
Adm. Jos'e Toribio Merino Castro, a member of the ruling four-man junta, discounted the possibility of a new state of siege being imposed on the country. After similar protests in November 1984, General Pinochet imposed a state of siege which remained in place for seven months. This time the authorities have not even extended the normal 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
The first day of the strike effectively closed down Santiago Tuesday. Public transport dropped markedly and most shops shut down. A bomb blast destroyed an electric transmission tower, plunging Santiago and other cities into darkness. Police reported 34 injuries and more than 150 arrests, but no deaths. Morning traffic on Wednesday was near normal.
The Nov. 5-6 strike was called partly to support calls for freeing several of those jailed for calling the September protests. After those protests, the government called dozens of union, student, political, and local leaders before investigative judges for ``actions contrary to the public order.'' University students mounted an intense campaign of pressure and the regime eventually released the imprisoned student body officers.
Chile's 12-year-old regime is also smarting from its abandonment by former partisans of traditional right-wing political groups.
Leaders of remnant factions of the old National Party, who vigorously supported the military overthrow of Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973, recently signed a statement of principles with 10 other antigovernment parties. That document, known as the National Accord, calls for the immediate restoration of political rights, an end to special police powers, and elections for a congress.
This unifying of the non-Marxist opposition under a single banner undercut Pinochet's argument that the politicians were hopelessly fragmented and could not stand up to the organized power of Chile's Communist Party once the military relaxed its control.
The Communist Party in Chile, despite heavy repression under the military government, remains one of the strongest and best organized in all Latin America. The large Christian Democratic Party, believed most likely to win should free elections occur, has occasionally been allied with the Communists. However, rightist signers of the National Accord pressured the Christian Democrats to sever all links with the communists.
In university elections for new student leaders held Oct. 28-29, the Christian Democrats broke their previous alliance with the Communist and other leftist parties. But students saw the move as breaching the united front against the dictatorship and voted heavily for the Communist Party-led slate, which came within a hair of upsetting the Christian Democratic candidates.
The military authorities cannot but be discouraged with the university poll results, observers say. After years of virulent anticommunist propaganda, the middle-class college students gave a Marxist slate of candidates nearly 40 percent of their vote. The centrist opposition received another 40 percent, and the conservative list, which is no longer strictly proregime, received the remaining votes.