Pinochet Foes Hold Massive Campaign Rally
Freed from 15 years of state-of-emergency restrictions, Chileans poured into the streets Sunday for an immense, festive rally launching the campaign to defeat Gen. Augusto Pinochet in next month’s presidential plebiscite.
Organizers estimated the crowd at 300,000 and called it the largest anti-government rally since Pinochet took power in a coup against the last elected government in 1973. The actual number appeared closer to 100,000, but the turnout nevertheless offered a major boost to the political and other civic forces seeking to deny Pinochet another eight years in power.
On a cold, gray day, the crowd packed a downtown avenue for more than a mile, chanting “He is Going to Fall” and dancing “The Waltz of the No,” a reference to the opposition’s “No” campaign. Voters will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether Pinochet should remain in office.
Most demonstrators could not even hear the music and speeches because they were so far from the impromptu stage, but they provided their own entertainment, including the burning of a stuffed Pinochet figure.
The police stayed out of sight during the first opposition rally since the emergency restrictions were officially lifted Aug. 27. Organizers implored the crowd to leave quietly and ignore any attempts to provoke conflict.
“Don’t work for free for the dictatorship,” one speaker said, a reference to Pinochet’s contention that a No victory in the Oct. 5 ballot would thrust Chile into chaos.
Most people left peacefully after a noisy march back up the avenue. But about 1,500 moved on to the presidential palace, the Moneda, and ignored orders from police to disperse. Riot police then fired water cannon and tear gas from vans, scattering the crowd.
262 Arrests Reported
Army Gen. Sergio Badiola, governor of Santiago, said police arrested 262 demonstrators and that a police officer and eight civilians were wounded.
However, leaders of the No campaign said they were pleased at the generally orderly conduct of the vast crowd.
“This event is a sign that Chile is losing its fear,” said socialist Ricardo Lagos, leader of a new Party for Democracy and a key voice in the No Command, a coalition of 16 opposition parties.
The rally was organized by the Social Accord for No, an alliance of labor unions, trade guilds, professional associations and similar groups other than political parties.
“With Pinochet, democracy is not possible, only dictatorship,” said Hector Moya of the truckers’ guild.
If Pinochet loses the yes-or-no vote, multi-party elections would be held after one more year of Pinochet rule. Analysts and polls say the race is very close.
Gabriel Valdez, a former president of Chile’s largest party, the Christian Democrats, said that Chileans turned out in great numbers because “this is the first time in 15 years that we have been allowed to express ourselves without being beaten with sticks or arrested.”
He said that the vast array of participants, including union members, doctors, teachers, peasants and women, reflects the broad base of an opposition movement that has put aside differences for a common goal.
“There is now a nationwide pressure for freedom,” said Valdez, who was foreign minister in the Cabinet of the late former President Eduardo Frei. “The young people, especially, are much less ideological, less sectoral now than in the past. In Chile, people have suffered greatly, and they don’t want another failure of democracy.”
Patricio Hales, a leader of the outlawed Communist Party, looked out over the throng and said, “These are democrats with differing visions of the future, but in the face of the threat Pinochet poses, we have all united. This is not only a no to Pinochet, it is a no to the whole dictatorship.”
The 72-year-old general, nominated by the military Tuesday as the plebiscite’s sole candidate, appeared to have seized the momentum during the week with conciliatory speeches and actions aimed at showing that he is committed to restoring democracy.
After lifting the emergency measures, which restricted public gatherings and other civil rights, Pinochet last week opened the way for more than 400 dissidents living in forced exile to return home.
The first to return, Maria Isabel Allende, was among the guests of honor who danced the “Waltz of the No” in front of the stage at the rally and listened to protest songs by popular bands.
A daughter of Marxist President Salvador Allende, who died during the bloody 1973 coup, Allende said that the rally “represents the will of the people to end the dictatorship and their joy that it is finally going to happen.”