The Chilean Commission on Human Rights gives a far higher estimate of the disappearances--more than 2,200--than the vicariate. The commission estimates that 155,000 people were jailed for varying lengths of time between 1973 and 1981 and says that 164,000 people spent at least some time in foreign exile. After 1981, 1,180 people were subjected to internal exile in remote towns and 141,000 were arrested, the commission says.
Andres Dominguez, a senior official of the commission, said the No campaign has effectively emphasized specific human rights abuses. He added, however, that Chileans need to understand that the problem goes far deeper: The military's 1980 constitution, under which the plebiscite is being held, imposes a system in which "human rights are a concession from the government, not a fundamental right," Dominguez said.
Totalitarian--meaning Marxist--parties may be banned under the constitution, and two parties, the Communists and a faction of the Socialist Party, have been outlawed. It is a crime to insult the president or the armed forces, and about 30 journalists face charges for allegedly doing so. Trade union leaders may not run for public office, nor may anyone else without a high school diploma. Even if the No vote wins, the constitution is almost impossible to amend, and a revived congress, to be elected next year, would be circumscribed by the powers of a military-dominated National Security Council.
Still, the No campaign, with its symbolic references to the spouses and children of the victims, has had a powerful emotional impact on the population, according to Hector Contreras, a senior member of the vicariate's legal team.
In a country where the government dominates the media, "this is the first time that the people are facing up to the suffering," Contreras said. "And our experience is that nothing protects the people more than public knowledge of these abuses."
Most opposition leaders have ducked the question of whether human rights offenders will be tried if a civilian government comes to power--an issue that has haunted other Latin American countries. There is general agreement that any judicial action should come before regular courts, not special tribunals or military judges. But few believe such trials are likely, given the Chilean military's far-reaching authority.
Human rights lawyer Hertz would like to see a 1978 amnesty law that covers the post-coup years repealed, but she would be content to know the truth about her husband's death and to find his remains. In 1987, the discovery of bones in a field raised the families' hopes, but the site turned out to be an ancient burial ground.
She and Berger, her journalist husband, moved with their year-old son to the small town of Calama in August, 1973, so that Berger could work as director of a local radio station run by the government-owned copper company. Berger, 30, was arrested the day of the coup for refusing orders to shut down the station. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail by a military court.
26 People Killed. While he and other political prisoners served their sentences, a military patrol headed by army Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark came to the region. The unit killed 26 people in Calama and others in Antofagasta, La Serena and Copiapo--72 in all--over four days, according to numerous studies. Arellano, one of the leaders in plotting the coup, later fell out with Pinochet and was forced to retire. He has denied any wrongdoing, reportedly suggesting that a subordinate, Col. Sergio Arredondo, acted without orders. Another general has testified that Pinochet himself issued orders to Arellano to "review and accelerate the processes" in the north.
The victims included the director of La Serena's symphony orchestra, a prominent physician and union leaders. Most had government functions or links to Allende's government.
Hertz now says that there was a cold logic to the executions, that they were "designed to impose a collective terror. The survivors realized that anything could happen to them, too. And it worked--in all of northern Chile, the leftist parties withered."
A year ago, Hertz brought a $10-million civil suit against Arredondo while he was in Indianapolis as a member of the Chilean equestrian team at the Pan-American Games. The 1978 amnesty law prevented her from taking such action in Chile. But Arredondo left before the papers could be served, returning home. His horse was impounded briefly.
Hertz was in exile for four years until 1977. Then she joined the vicariate's legal team in Santiago, handling human rights cases.
If the No vote wins Wednesday, "there will be a space in which all this pain, suppressed by the society, can finally express itself," she said. "There will be a possibility that the society collectively assimilates and understands what happened in Calama and elsewhere in Chile.
"We are now a sick society. Instead of covering it up and denying the past, we need to let it come forth. That would allow reconciliation to take place much more rapidly. It would let us breathe again."