The Rockefeller-financed center for inter-American relations has become the focus of a bitter dispute over whether scholars and writers should have any dealings with the military regime of Chile.
The controversy erupted when it was learned last month that the center's director of literature programs. Ronald Christ, had gone to teach at the Catholic University in Santiago under the State Department's American Specialist Grants Program.
Chile's junta has place all universities under military control and censorship is widely practiced. The Catholic Church has disassociated itself from the university that still uses its name.
The initial protests from scholars, writers and translators who believe that Christ's visit tarnished the political neutrality of the center brought responses from the center's president. Roger D. Stone, strohgly supporting Christ.
"Ronald is visiting Chile as an individual. However he cannot separate himself from his role at the center. I am delighted that he is there in both these capacities and am confident that his visit will have a favorable effect on the transmission of ideas and information in a country which is gernerally deprived in this regard," Stone wrote to one protester.
One after another, the two advisery editors to the center's quarterly magazine Review and a number of contributors quit in protest and withdrew their work from future issues. Eliot Weinberger, a translator, said 52 persons have now signed a letter to the center's board of directors saying that because of Christ's trip, "any association with the center at this time would gravely compromise our individual efforts twward cultural exchange between the Americas."
Stone no longer expresses delight over Christ's trip and has issued a short statement saying: "The center played no role in arranging (Christ's) visit. Nor was he in Chile as an official representative of the center."
In an interview, Stone said it is often difficult to make the distinction when a person holding a position with an organization takes a leave of absence to work as a private individual.
Stone, who is paid $48,000 annually to preside over the center, which has a gudget of about $600,000 a year, said that when someone on the staff asks him for a leave of absence, it is not his job to oconsider what the person will do during the leave, but only to determine whether the center's programs will be able to continue unimpaired by the departure.
Stone said he does not believe the center's reputation for political neutrality has been harmed.
Those who disagree express themselves as Alastair Reid did in his letter of resignation to Stone:
"A number of us have already received cries and telephone calls of alarm and disbelief from friends in Latin America over a move which in their eyes makes it appear that the center is both condoning and cooperating with the Chilean regime."
Christ said it is "an enormous distortion" to portray his activities in Chile as representing the center's approval of the government there. He did nothing for the center during his time in Santiago, Christ said.
He said much of the protest is based on misinterpretation.
Christ said he was able to talk to Chileans who oppose their government and that it is unfair to say, as many protesters do, that there are no dissident intellectuals outside the jails. "To condemn you is to condemn all of us," one dissident intellectual told Christ, he said.
"I am not claimming that there's no censorship in Chile. But in that particular situation I was not censored."
Christ argues strongly against those who believe that intellectuals here should boycott Chile.
The protesters, like advisery editors Thomas Colchie and Alexander Coleman who resigned, aggue that it is vital to maintain their credibility with latin American writers and that they cannot do that in association with the center after Christ's trip.
Colchie said he would support any official making a trip to Chile as an observer if he also visited other Latin American nations in turn. Christ was in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay last fall before returning to Chile last month. Colchie said that whether Christ's and the center intended it or not, Christ's two visits to Chile are seen by many latin Americans and by the Chilean government as making a political statement.
The center began operations in 1967, with the goal of increasing cultural exchanges between the United States and Latin America. It organized art exhimbitions in its honorary chairman and is a principal supporter.
A State Department official said that 71 American specialist grants like the one given to christ were awarded in fiscal 1976 for work latin America, and that 12 of them had been for Chile. About eight of fiscal 1977's roughly 80 Latin grants will be for work in Chile, the offi cial said.