The Reagan administration is planning to certify that Chile has made progress in human rights. And if you go by Chilean standards, it has. For instance, according to a State Department Human Rights Office report, in 1980, 100 valiant Chileans filed complaints about torture, whereas in 1981 only 68 did so.
That's progress enough for President Reagan, who regards human rights as a sissy policy that stands in the way of befriending Latin America's anticommunist dictators.
Recently, a particularly ghastly case of torture surfaced in a New York Times column by Anthony Lewis, who told of Pablo Fuenzalida, a member of the Chilean Human Rights Commission. Fuenzalida, whose offense is to be a member of the "Christian Left," an organization in disfavor with the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was visited by Aryeh Neier of the Americas Watch Committee. He told of being tortured by electrodes attached to his body.
No one in the Human Rights Office was available to comment on Fuenzalida, who with a fellow member of the Chilean Human Rights Commission, German Molina, was arrested on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day. A spokesman for the State Department's office explained that all the human rights types were on the Hill, testifying on the certification of human rights progress in El Salvador, which has been the scene of two horrific government-sponsored slaughters in recent months.
The press officer of the Chilean Embassy was not available. Nor was anyone in the office of U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the administration's most enthusiastic booster of the Pinochet government, which must be given a pat on the back for human rights progress as a precondition for winning back the right to buy arms from the United States.
Kirkpatrick met Friday with two distinguished Chilean exiles who tried to persuade her that the United States has enormous influence with the Pinochet government and that it should be used to bring about genuine progress in human rights.
Kirkpatrick assured her callers--Dr. Jaime Castillo Velasco, a prominent lawyer, and Dr. Sergio Bitar, an economist--that they would soon see the virtues of "quiet diplomacy." They are not holding their breath.
Castillo was yanked into exile two days after Kirkpatrick completed a cordial visit to the police state last August. He had been retained by the family of Orlando Letelier, another exiled Chilean, who was murdered on a Washington street in September, 1976. A federal grand jury indicted two high officials of the Pinochet government on charges of complicity in the assassination, but Santiago has laughed at U.S. requests for extradition. Recently, the Chilean Supreme Court made a tiny adjustment in its findings: If any new data is brought forward, the Letelier case can be reopened.
Castillo and Bitar brought up the subject of Fuenzalida, and Kirkpatrick said she deplored torture.
They are here to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, hoping to persuade members of Congress that if the administration insists on certifying that Chile is doing better, the United States should get something for it. The U.S. government, which proclaims its helplessness in making changes, has enormous clout in Santiago, they say.
They point out that when a three-man delegation from the Senate--Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.)--visited Chile last month, the Pinochet government, in a good-will gesture, released two labor leaders whose crime was that they organized a union that had the support of a wide spectrum of political thought. Apparently, the junta calculated that the senators' standards on human rights were higher than Kirkpatrick's.
Some 10,000 heads of Chilean families are in exile today. Their passports are stamped with an "L" to show that they are not good for entry into their homeland. When former president Eduardo Frei, whom Castillo served as minister of justice, died, Castillo flew to Chile for the funeral. At the airport, he was forcibly removed to a plane bound for Buenos Aires.
Castillo, a small, 67-year-old bachelor lawyer, had irritated the government earlier by representing victims of human rights violations. He was expelled--or subject to "administrative banishment," as the government prefers--once before, in 1976. He was readmitted when the heat on the Letelier case became intense.
As to why he wants to go back to a country where torture continues and law is the whim of the junta, Castillo says: "It is my country. I wish to go back to try to make it a democracy again."
U.S. certification of human rights progress makes both his return and the restoration of political liberty all the more unlikely.