Gen. Augusto Pinochet declared Sunday night that he will not negotiate with the opposition on demands for political reforms and for his early departure from power, despite his defeat in a presidential plebiscite last week.
In an interview broadcast on national television, Pinochet issued an unequivocal refusal to consider changes in the constitution, which keeps him in power until March, 1990, three months after multi-party elections scheduled for December, 1989. If Pinochet had won, he would have begun an eight-year term in March, 1989.
“They voted that I should not continue, not for changes in the constitution,” Pinochet said. “If they want changes, they are not going to get them.”
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He said that giving in to the opposition’s call for negotiations would weaken business confidence and discourage foreign investment.
“I don’t want a disaster to occur. There will be no negotiations.”
The 72-year-old general, wearing casual clothes, spoke from his vacation house south of the capital. He was even more firm in rejecting talks than in his first post-plebiscite appearance in a national address Thursday evening.
Pinochet spoke a day after his closest adviser argued that the president’s defeat at the polls actually was a victory that underscored the general’s popularity.
Interior Minister Sergio Fernandez, who directed Pinochet’s failed campaign and remains his civilian right-hand man, told the nation that “the massive and convincing support of our compatriots has left us in a position of victory.”
“President Pinochet has emerged as the person who, undeniably, has the most political strength in the country and has the greatest popular support,” he said.
A coalition of 16 opposition parties led the campaign against Pinochet, saying the yes-or-no vote on eight more years in power was a choice between dictatorship and democracy. Despite the government’s domination of the media and liberal use of the powers of incumbency, the No vote won by a margin of 55% to 43%.
The coalition, known as the No Command, said that the victory margin was a public rejection not only of Pinochet but of his constitution.
Immediately after the plebiscite, the coalition called on the armed forces, which rule through Pinochet and a four-man military junta, to negotiate constitutional reforms and to speed the date of the election and Pinochet’s departure. So far, the military leadership has remained silent.
Fernandez appeared to be directing himself as much to the armed forces and national police as to the public.
Referring to the date of the military coup in which Pinochet ousted the government of Marxist President Salvador Allende, Fernandez added: “If, on Sept. 11, 1973, the armed forces were strong, respected and indispensable as the backbone of the nation, today they are even more so.”
Fernandez and the rest of the Cabinet handed in their resignations after the vote result became clear. Analysts said that Pinochet would signal flexibility and accommodation if he replaced some members with figures acceptable to the opposition. Instead, Pinochet reappointed every minister.
Fernandez, the one most closely identified with the campaign, was considered most likely to be on his way out. Instead, he became Pinochet’s public voice, most visibly in the nationwide speech.
El Mercurio, an influential pro-government newspaper, reported Sunday that Fernandez was persuaded to stay on by Pinochet “because of the strong support for the Yes vote.”
A different version appeared in La Epoca, an opposition daily. Editor Ascanio Cavallo wrote that Pinochet had been furious with Fernandez and others in the inner circle who had assured him until the end that he would win.
"(Fernandez) administered the worst cataclysm of the military regime and continues at its helm because all day Thursday, there was no one who would agree to take his place,” Cavallo wrote.
On Friday, Fernandez first voiced the idea that Pinochet had really won. He argued that the opposition’s 55% had to be divided among 16 parties, while the Yes vote was solid for Pinochet.
Some rightist politicians restated their loyalty to the man and his constitution. But cracks began to appear in the right’s unity. Sergio Onofre Jarpa, president of the largest pro-government party, National Renovation, said the outcome indicated that the public wanted changes in the system as much as Pinochet’s departure. A number of other pro-Pinochet politicians also endorsed that view.
Ricardo Lagos, a No Command leader and president of the Party for Democracy, said in a radio interview Sunday: “There was one person defeated in the plebiscite: Augusto Pinochet.”