President Pinochet Extends State of Siege to Curb Opposition
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Ignoring U.S. pressure and objections by some advisers, President Augusto Pinochet decreed a 90-day extension of the state of siege Saturday to stifle opposition political activity throughout Chile.
The decree, published without comment in the Official Bulletin, maintained special curbs on the press and on public gatherings until May 6 because of what it called a ″state of internal convulsion″ in Chile.
Pinochet, an army general who toppled the Marxist government of Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup, imposed the clampdown last Nov. 6 to combat a surge of terrorism and mass demonstrations for a swift return to democracy. He has insisted on adherence to a constitution that prolongs his authoritarian rule at least until 1989.
No government official would comment on the state of siege Saturday. Pinochet was away at his summer home.
A broad coalition of non-Marxist parties make up the main opposition to Pinochet. The Marxist opposition is led by the illegal Communist Party, the strongest in Latin America outside Cuba.
A debate inside the government over the crackdown coincided with pressure by the Reagan administration to lift the siege. The United States has twice delayed an Inter-American Development Bank vote on a $130 million loan sought by Chile. The vote by the bank, based in Washington, is now set for Wednesday.
Banking sources here said Finance Minister Luis Escobar argued within the government that such political pressure might discourage private U.S. banks from lending their share of the $1 billion in loans he is seeking this year for Chile’s troubled economy.
But according to a rightist party leader with access to the president, Pinochet was told by Justice Minister Hugo Rosende that Chile should resist foreign economic pressure at any cost. The party leader spoke on condition he not be named.
With three months of repressive measures, Pinochet has weakened his foes to the inconspicuous role they played before big protests flared up in May 1983. Public criticism once permitted by the regime has been muffled, leftist movements have gone underground, and attempts to organize new protests have failed.
But the government’s chief spokesman, Francisco Cuadra, said this week that bombings by Marxist groups increased in November and December and terrorism was still a threat in this South American nation of about 11.5 million people.
Most Chileans, he told reporters, welcomed the ″political detoxification″ enforced by censorship and argued that ″terrorist groups are a lot more controllable without an atmosphere of political conflict.″
By scrapping a political liberalization that had defused the 1983 protests, however, Pinochet came into conflict with key civilian aides. Some reportedly argued that police already had enough powers to fight terrorism and that the broad restrictions, if continued, could lead to uncontrollable political tension. One close advisor, Monica Madariaga, a niece of the president, quit the government this week.
According to the decree, public gatherings are prohibited unless authorized by regional governors, who are all military officers. Dissidents can be held indefinitely without charge. During the past 90 days, 314 dissidents were arrested. They are still imprisoned at an army camp near Pisagua, a coastal fishing village in the north.
Six opposition magazines shut down in November will remain banned and a seventh one under prior government censorship. Political reporting and commentary by other Chilean news media will remain limited to official communiques.
Pinochet ruled under a state of siege for 41/2 years after the 1973 coup. Under a less stringent state of emergency in effect most of the time since then, the courts were permitted to challenge repressive measures - and they did. Under the current state of siege, which is renewable every 90 days, they cannot question the law.
Ricardo Lagos, a moderate Socialist leader of the six-party Democratic Alliance, conceded the opposition movement lacked the organizational strength to defy the military crackdown. But he said popular discontent remains high and will make it hard for Pinochet to maintain control.
″The state of siege is like a shot of morphine,″ Lagos said in an interview. ″It will wear off some day, but the patient will have the same sickness.″