Chilean Violence Increasingly Spreads Beyond its Borders

22 September 1976

Violent political change has been under way in Chile for six years now, with the violence increasingly spreading beyond the borders of this South American country into the western capitals to which exiles from those opposing the present military government had moved.

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Violent political change has been under way in Chile for six years now, with the violence increasingly spreading beyond the borders of the long, narrow South American country into the western capitals to which exiles from those opposing the present military government had moved.

Political violence began in opposition to Marxist President Salvador Allende on the eve of his election by the congress there in 1970 - when rightists tried to prevent him from assuming the office to which he had been popularly elected. They tried to kidnap him but instead killed the armed forces commander, Gen. Rene Schneider. Until then, Chileans had fought out their intense ideological differences with words, on the floors of what was often this hemisphere's most diverse and exciting legislature. That congress confirmed Allende's election with the Christian Democratic Party that had ruled before him giving him the decisive margin - and despite secret US efforts, only recently revealed, to buy off the vote. Allende was in power six months when a leader of the opposition Christian Democrats was assassinated. That death, laid to a fanatical far-leftist group, marked the beginning of an intense polarization of Chileans into pro- and anti-Allende camps. Toward the end of Allende's three embattled years in power, Chileans who once were militantly antimilitary began fitting out their teen-age children in uniformed marching units to fight for or against the president. Street battles and tear gas became commonplace. Allende turned to the military to help him rein in the violence, bringing into the cabinet the successors to the slain loyalist Gen. Schneider - Army commander Carlos Prats. Chilean troubles, partly induced by US pressures through international lending organizations, worsened. Gen. Prats left the cabinet under pressure from the officers below him who would soon lead a coup against Allende. Prats later went into exile and was killed along with his wife in a bombing, still unsolved, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Letelier had been called from his ambassadorship in Washington toward the end of the Allende regime to become foreign minister. In the last week, he was named minister of defense.

On Sept. 11, 1973, the present military junta took power by force and declared that Allende had committed suicide in the ruins of the presidential palace, which had been rocketed by the air force. Followers of Allende have insisted that he was assassinated. Yesterday, Luis Reque, a Bolivian and a former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, citing findings by the commission, declared that 'Allende was the first victim of the coup'. Reque had been pressured by the Chilean junta to resign from his post earlier this year following the commission's detailed reporting on torture and other deprivation of human rights in Chile. In a speech prepared for delivery to a meeting of Amnesty International in Strasbourg on Thursday, Reque charges that the junta withheld key information from the rights commission when it sought to determine the cause of Allende's death. The junta at that time was trying to convince world opinion that Allende's death was suicide, and it provided the right commission with a summary autopsy. But, Reque charges, when the commission sought the data from which the summary autopsy was drawn, the junta refused - saying that had nothing to do with human rights. At the time that Reque was helping prepare the reports condemning Chile, he reported in December, 1974, to Montgomery County police the receipt of a note at his Bethesda home saying, 'Your daughter Leslie will be kidnapped'. The family also reported receiving a call at the home and Reque said he received several at the commission offices. The FBI was called into the case, but no arrests were made and no harm came to the 9-year-old girl.

A year ago, the FBI also approached two other prominent Chileans then in this country to warm them of reports that attempts might be made on their lives. One man warned was Radomiro Tomic, a Christian Democrat ex-ambassador to Washington and Chilean presidential candidate who last year was a scholar at Woodrow Wilson center in the Smithsonian. He now is living in Europe. The other was former Minister Gabriel Valdes, also a Christian Democrat who works with the United Nations in New York. Both oppose the present junta, although they rarely have spoken publicly against the current government. No attempt is known to have been taken against them. While Letelier spent his year in prisons along the shank of Chile, another of the defense ministers in Allende's numerous cabinets - Socialist Jose Toha - died in his cell, the military junta said, because of illness. Gen. Oscar Bonilla, considered a moderate among the generals that took power, died in a helicopter crash. Gen. Alberto Bachelet, who had served the Allende government in a food distribution post, died of what was declared to be heart failure in 1974 while a prisoner of the junta. Last year, just after the FBI went to Tomic and Valdes, Christian Democrat ex-Sen. Bernardo Leighton and his wife were machine-gunned in Rome. He has recovered; she remains paralyzed.

Copyright 1976 The Washington Post