Latinnews Archive

Latin American Weekly Report - 7 September 1989


President Augusto Pinochet has issued an ultimatum to the opposition -- and in so doing, has implicitly recognised that they will be forming Chile's next government.

At a ceremony on 23 August, Pinochet celebrated his 16th anniversary as commander-in-chief of the army. He took advantage of the occasion to lay down his conditions for the avoidance of military upsets during the transition of democracy. His intervention was widely interpreted as an attempt to prevent an eventual dialogue between the civilians and the military, or alternately, to establish an agenda for such a dialogue.

Over the last three months one of the most debated issues in Chile has been that of civilian-military relations, particularly following the July publication of the opposition's defence policy proposals.

Incorporated in the foundations of the platform for the opposition united behind the candidacy of Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, these establish that 'the main objective of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.' The omission of any reference to the role of the armed forces in safeguarding internal order irritated many member of the military.

The army has been maintaining, within what has come to be known as the 'Pinochet doctrine', that the armed forces are 'guarantors' of the constitution and that, consequently, any violation of the constitution would provoke military intervention.

Despite the lack of formal contacts between civilians and the military, an informal dialogue has been taking place, mainly through academic and social encounters between officers on active duty and opposition intellectuals. This has actually led to the creation, with the blessing of the armed forces, of a Centro Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad (Cefasoc) as a forum to discuss future civilian-military relations.

In July a first seminar took place, bringing together officers of the navy, air force and army, and civilians both for and against the regime.

* Official response

For its part, the defence ministry set up its own commission to analyse, behind closed doors, the defence proposals put forward by the opposition. Its conclusions have not been made public, but it is reckoned that they formed the basis for Pinochet's anniversary speech.

It took the form of a clear ultimatum: these are the conditions the opposition must fulfil 'before' becoming government.

Pinochet warned the opposition that the nature of the armed forces was being 'distorted (. . .) by considering that their only mission is the defence of our sovereign territory.' This, he said, is a 'profound error.'

* Pinochet's demands:

* Permanence of the current commanders-in-chief of the armed forces and carabineros (militarised police).

* Protection of the prestige of members of the military police.

* Energetic struggle against terrorism.

* Respect for the opinions of the national security council to be formed by the four commanders-in-chief and four civilians.

* Maintenance of the amnesty covering political crimes committed between 1973 and 1978.

* Abstention by the political authorities from intervening in the definition and application of defence policies. This means, inter alia, not modifying the powers of the military courts, the command structure or the internal organisation of the military services, no interference in the promotion of generals (a presidential prerogative), and not modifying military budget allocations.

Pinochet said that 'improved civilian-military relations must be initiated on the basis of total acceptance of these points.'

Regarding the officers accused of human rights violations (there are some 2,000 charges of 'disappearances' engineered by members of the military), he said, 'On no account will (the armed forced) allow any of their members to be vilified and humiliated for their actions aimed at saving Chile.'

* Opposition views

Candidate Patricio Aylwin described Pinochet's statements as 'threatening' and rejected any 'intervention in the electoral process'. Luis Maira, president of the Partido Amplio de Izquierda Socialista (Pais) rejected Pinochet's ultimatum saying that 'constituent powers can be exercised by the next congress in respect of all issued included in the constitution.'

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