Chilean church leaders and human rights activists, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez, have received anonymous death threats as a new round of tension has swept Santiago following the assassination last Tuesday of a high-level military official.
Silva, who founded the church's Vicariate of Solidarity four years ago to help political prisoners and their families, said those making the anonymous calls claimed to belong to the "Roger Vergara Commando" and their purpose is to plant hatred and confusion among Chileans.
Vergara, a Chilean Army colonel who directed the military intelligence school, was killed and his driver seriously injured in an attack by unknown gunmen Tuesday. The gunmen were presumed to be leftist militants of the newly united opposition group, "Resistance," made up of members of socialsit and communist parties and extremist groups that have been largely unheard of since shortly after a 1973 military coup.
Pamphlets distributed by the Roger Vergara Commando throughout the capital last week denounced the church's Vicariate as a "den of thieves," and said all Vicariate employes had been put on a right-wing death list.
The cardinal's confirmation of the death threats as the first he had received personally, and last month's denunciation by Chille's Conference of Bishops of a "systematic campaign" against the church, including arrests, beatings, searches and harassment of clergymen, have brought Chilean church-state relations to their lowest point in years.
The worsening of relations between the military government and the powerful Catholic hierarchy coincides with a growing level of tension over the future of the right-wing government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and increasing opposition to his seven-year old rule in the predominantly Catholic nation of 11 million people.
The National Information Center, which took over domestic intelligence functions after the dismantling of the DNA secret police, has come under increasing attack by even moderate opposition sectors, including the Chilean Human Rights Commission headed by former Christian Democratic Party president and justice minister James Castillo.
The commission recently charged state security officials with continuing human rights abuses, including torture.
While the commission and other opposition groups go largely unheeded by the projunta local press, the denunciations by the church and Cardinal Silva are bound to have a large impact here.
The Vergara murder also has created what looks like a serious division between Chile's two security services, the Information Center and the civil investigations unit of the military. The center has been criticized for bungling initial investigations into the ambush and destroying evidence at the scene of the crime.
Investigations director Ernesto Baeza has said that the killing of Vergara may mean the beginning of an "urban guerrilla war" in Chile, similar to that carried out by the Uruguay's Tupamaros and Argentina's Montonero guerrillas in the early and mid 1970s.
"In Chile, it is possible that urban guerrillas exist," Baeza said. "It is going to keep growing and growing."
The Information Center, however, has criticized such "alarmist" speculation, and attacked the morning newspaper LaTercera for publishing such accounts.
A division also has surfaced between current members of the National Information Center and those of its predecessor, DINA, which was disbanded by Pinochet following widespread publicity surrounding its role in assassinations of officials of the Marxist government of Salvador Allende, including the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington.
Some observers believe former members of DINA are behind the Roger Vergara Commando and earlier, supposedly leftist, actions.
At the same time, investigations of a $100 million tax scandal apparently have come to a dead end due to the alleged implication of former DINA agent in the fraud.
When Information Center officials appraoched the opposition magazine Hoy with information implicating DINA agents, Hoy refused to publish the information for fear of reprisal.
Under direct order from Pinochet, military authorities have formed a joint command to find the leftist militants. As of the weekend, an unknown number of suspects, said to be in the hundreds, had been detained and were undergoing "intense interrogation."
The government has amended its internal security regulations to allow suspects to be held up to 20 days "incommunicado" without charges. On Friday, the Santiago regional governor, Gen. Humberto Gordon Rubion, signed a decree prohibiting all Chilean publications from publishing anything that could jeopardize the ongoing investigation into the Vergara murder. The decree also prohibits all security personnel from talking about the case with the press.