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Analysis : Pinochet's Grip Intact in Wake of Pope's Visit

April 06, 1987|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | Times Staff Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile — Once again President Augusto Pinochet and his civilian opponents have fought to a loud and bloody draw, this time with Pope John Paul II as their foil.

As John Paul leaves Chile today for less contentious Argentina, the bitter aftertaste of anti-government protest and violence lies in the wake of his six-day appeal for peace and national reconciliation.

Chile remains as the Pope found it: angry, wounded, and divided.

The balance of power is unaffected. Pinochet has it all, and he intends to keep it.

John Paul's sympathetic presence lent powerful tonic to a broad, splintered and leaderless opposition, but the violence that accompanied his passage implicitly reinforced Pinochet's 13-year message that Chile is the target of unflagging assault by international communism and that he is the only alternative to chaos.

Gratuitous disturbances resolutely stoked into headlines by a relative handful of leftist extremists humiliated their dictator and their country. The international image of pariah Chile, which could hardly have been worse before the papal visit, must be worse in its aftermath.

At the same time, though, the tumult undercut the interests of a frustrated civilian majority that, like the Pope, prays for a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

Most Chileans, right to left, demand Pinochet's departure by 1989 when his current term ends. Opinion polls seldom give him more than about 20% support. Even fewer welcome Pinochet's determination to seek another term and renewed power until 1997.

In Roman Catholic Chile, however, support for Pinochet rises dramatically if his passing implies legitimacy and a chance at power for the sort of zealots who stoned policemen while the Pope was consecrating the Eucharist for a half million faithful at a solemn Mass in a public park.

Caring, majestic, constructive and sadly unheeded, John Paul appealed again and again for peace and unity in a polarized nation mired in violence and division.

In crossings of the line between spiritual and temporal that were as forceful as they are rare, the Pope transcended ritualistic appeals for human rights, social justice and preference for the poor majority.

Urged Free Elections

Twice, he urged free elections. Proudly, he praised a respected, ideologically conservative but socially active local church that is not only the paramount spokesman for decency in Chile but also has come to be seen by the government as its most challenging opponent. If, in the aftermath, there is any winner beyond the righteous and anguished figure of the Pope himself, it is the Chilean church.

In a sally into domestic politics termed "historic" by Vatican officials, the Pope gathered politicians from extreme right to Marxist left into one room for the first time since Chile's long democratic tradition ended with Pinochet's 1973 coup. From them he wrung a signed commitment to the peaceful search for revived democracy.

Among the 19 politicians was a senior official of the outlawed, Moscow-following Chilean Communist Party, which historically claims the allegiance of around 15% of the electorate.

The Communists, as steadfast in their own way as the church, combat Pinochet as would-be members of the overt, respectable political universe while simultaneously underwriting urban terrorism. How to deal with the Communists has long complicated the search for opposition unity in Chile. They can be neither accepted nor ignored.

Divisiveness Underlined

Communist presence at the meeting with the Pope, certain to have infuriated Pinochet, was a tribute to papal eminence but also underlined the opposition divisiveness from which Pinochet so steadily profits.

No sooner had the meeting with the Pope ended than Communist spokesmen stressed that their promise to seek a peaceful transition did not mean that the party was renouncing violence as a legitimate tool against Pinochet.

Now in their fifth year of open, multihued and multifaceted revolt against Pinochet, civilian opponents seem no nearer than ever to forcing him from power. Their struggle has produced no cohesion, no magnetic leader, nor any common program with which to tempt Chile's professional armed forces away from their commander in chief.

Pinochet is as unbending as ever. His opponents, even with papal goading, are as disunited.

As John Paul carries his message of peace and brotherhood across the Andes Mountains into Argentina, it is easier to see what he hoped to accomplish in Chile than what he achieved.

Indeed, there is now widespread concern here that a papal visit seeking national reconciliation may instead have lit the fuse for a new round of repression, once the international spotlight is switched off a tormented Chile.

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