Chilean observers fear repression may be on rise Party leader's recent arrest for criticizing Pinochet cited


SANTIAGO, Chile -- Two decades ago, Gladys Marin was living in exile when Gen. Augusto Pinochet's secret police abducted her husband, Jorge Munoz, a Communist leader who was never seen again and is presumed dead.

Nearly two weeks ago, Marin, now the president of Chile's Communist Party, feared that she, too, would never be seen again after 20 armed plainclothes police officers stopped her car in afternoon traffic and carried her off to jail.

Her crime? Marin called Pinochet, who still serves as commander in chief of the army, a blackmailer and a psychopath at a recent memorial service for the 3,200 people, including her husband, who disappeared or were killed during the general's reign.

Pinochet, who toppled Marxist leader Salvador Allende Gossens in a coup in 1973, sued Marin for slander under a national security law drafted during his military dictatorship.

The law imposes a prison term of up to five years for anyone convicted of defaming an elected official, the military, the judiciary or the police.

Although Marin was released three days later, after there was a public outcry and Pinochet dropped the charges, her detention has raised concerns that repression of free speech is growing and that the civilian government, led by President Eduardo Frei, does not have complete control of the military.

"Pinochet sent a clear signal that he's still very powerful in Chile and that nobody, not even the president of a political party, can criticize him publicly without paying a price," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, a Chilean who serves as executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

"This arrest also shows just how powerful and how independent the military is from the civil government," Vivanco added.

In an interview at the Communist Party headquarters here, Marin, 55, said that while she found her arrest unsettling, she would not retract her statements against Pinochet and that she would continue to speak out against injustice.

"This proves that there is no democracy in Chile and that the danger of Pinochet is real," said Marin, who returned to Chile when free elections were held in 1990. "When will the government wake up and do something about it?"

In the past year, politicians, musicians and writers have been prosecuted for criticizing government officials and agencies, particularly when their opinions have been directed at the military or the police.

A former Navy intelligence officer, Umberto Palomara, recently published a book on the military's intelligence-gathering methods, but before it could reach bookstores, the military confiscated all copies and charged Palomara with dishonoring the military.

Four months ago, the Santiago police sued a popular Chilean rap group, the Black Panthers, after it performed a song at an outdoor concert in which it referred to the police as "pigs."

But the military and police are not the only ones to invoke the national security law.

Last year, Francisco Javier Cuadra, who served as chief of staff in the Pinochet government, was convicted of violating the law after he said in a magazine interview that some members of Congress were drug abusers. Congress sued Cuadra, who did not name specific legislators, and he was sentenced to several days in jail.

Although Pinochet stepped down as president in 1990, he ensured his continuing role in the government through a revision in the constitution that allows him to remain head of the army until early 1998 and assume a Senate seat once he retires.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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