Army Units in Chile End Six-Hour Confinement in Barracks
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Army units throughout Chile confined themselves to their barracks for six hours Wednesday to protest news reports on an illegal savings and loan organization involving high-ranking officers.
Government officials and politicians said the newly restored democracy in this nation of 13 million residents was not in danger, and that the army’s action was merely ″a military exercise.″ No incidents were reported.
Defense Minister Patricio Rojas, emerging for a meeting at President Patricio Aylwin’s private residence, called the military protest ″a mobilization to test some coordination plans.″
It was the first episode of military unrest since Aylwin’s government took power nine months ago, ending 16 1/2 year of harsh rule under Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Rojas said the army would issue a communique explaining the situation shortly.
Earlier in the evening, Deputy Foreign Minister Belisario Velaso confirmed there was some unrest in army garrisons, but added, ″The situation is calm throughout the country.″
Rojas said the problem arose ″because someone was much too nervous.″ He denied press reports that the government had demanded the resignation of Pinochet, the army commander and former military president.
Rojas said the government ″fully respects″ the constitutional clause that allowed Pinochet to remain army commander after handing over the presidency to Aylwin, an elected civilian.
The news broke as Aylwin attended graduation ceremonies at the National Police academy. As he left the academy, Aylwin refused to talk to reporters.
Jose Antonio Viera Gallo, president of the House of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, also confirmed the military action after talking to Interior Minister Enrique Krauss.
Viera Gallo said ″public opinion can rest assured that democratic stability is strong and will continue to be so.″
Government chief spokesman Enrique Correa said ″the entire country is happy with the existence of a democratic government.″
Activity was intense at army headquarters Wednesday night. Reporters saw scores of men entering headquarters, many in plainclothes. The men, believed to be army personnel, carried overnight bags.
No reports emerged of unrest among other armed branches.
The military in Latin America has often confined itself to barracks as a means of expressing protest, but the action is unusual here.
The Chilean press has widely reported on the organization for weeks. Reports surfaced of unrest among army officers for what they see as a campaign aimed at smearing the army.
Chile’s private TV network, Megavision, said army officers were ″holding private, informal meetings to exchange views about″ media reports on the subject.
Pinochet earlier Wednesday angrily called the reports on the organization, known as La Cutufa, ″press fabrications.″
A special judge investigating the organization, Marcos Libedinsky, has indicted eight retired army officers for illegal financial operations. Among them was retired Brig. Gen. Jaime Lucares, a former chief aide to Pinochet when Pinochet was president.
Pinochet himself ordered an internal army probe of La Cutufa, which, according to press reports that were not denied, resulted in sanctions on at least 150 officers and non-commissioned officers. Many were discharged, the reports said.
Libedinsky said the indicted officers are charged with breaking the national banking law - in specific taking money for deposit, then paying interest, which is forbidden for private citizens.
It is not clear where the name La Cutufa comes from. Some press reports said it was the name of a dog owned by one of those involved.
The last time Chile’s military attempted something similar was in October 1969, when officers barricaded themselves at a Santiago regiment demanding higher pay for the military.
In the bloody 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, and left elected President Salvador Allende dead, there was no protest, only full military action.