An opposition call for a daylong general strike drew little response here today. The government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet appeared to have succeeded in stifling protests clandestinely organized against Chile's state of siege.
As military forces lined key avenues and patrolled neighborhoods for the fifth consecutive day, bus and truck drivers, shop owners and workers in Santiago largely ignored a call by dissident political parties and labor movements for citizens to remain in their homes.
Protesters banged pots and pans, lined streets with candles and erected barricades in several neighborhoods last night and this evening to defy the three-week-old state of siege and accompanying government crackdown on the opposition. Five bombs exploded in Santiago.
Scattered disturbances continued today at university campuses. Police stormed the University of Santiago to break up one gathering, fired tear gas and arrested at least 150 students, witnesses said. About 20 students were also reportedly arrested at the University of Chile's engineering school after they surrounded and disarmed a secret police agent during a rally.
However, with Army and Air Force troops deployed around southern and eastern Santiago, the demonstrations appeared far weaker than in previous protests. Security forces fired on militants seeking to erect barricades in at least three neighborhoods, according to witnesses, and one woman was reported wounded by a gunshot.
Government authorities, who have banned all news of protests or politics from the Chilean media, continued their refusal today to acknowledge any disturbances. One top official declared, however, that the relative "tranquility" proved that Chileans support the government crackdown.
"The country is in a situation of absolute normality," presidential palace official Col. Carlos Krumm told reporters at midday. "It has become absolutely clear that this is a country that wants to live in peace. The citizenry understand what is being done and completely support what is being done."
In addition to deploying troops to halt the protest, President Pinochet's government issued notices to all private bus owners in Santiago warning that they would be investigated and their insurance policies suspended if they did not work their normal routes today. Most urban workers depend on buses for transportation.
Troops and secret police have been manning road blocks, searching homes, and conducting neighborhood sweeps since Saturday. Although officially described as antiterrorist operations, the mobilization has focused on areas where protests have been strongest.
Opposition leaders, who depended on word of mouth and millions of leaflets to organize the two-day protest, conceded today that public participation had been limited. They said the troop deployment had intimidated much of the population, even as media censorship had curtailed the effect of those rallies that took place.
Political sources here also said the opposition mobilization, which centrist leaders described as a crucial challenge, had been checked by the virtual neutralization of leftist organizations. Communists and militant socialist leaders of the Popular Democratic Movement have been forced underground by the state of siege and many grassroots organizers have withdrawn from their neighborhoods.
Political sources said that the well-organized Communists strictly limited their participation in the protest, ordering militants in some neighborhoods not to build barricades or provoke clashes with troops. Leftist leaders feared that a full mobilization for this week's demonstrations might give the government an opportunity to dismantle party organizations carefully assembled over the course of the last year, the sources said.
Patricio Hales, a communist and a spokesman for the Popular Democratic Movement, acknowledged in an interview that the movement "realizes that this is not the final battle. . . . We don't feel we can fire all of our cartridges at once because this is a long-term process."
The Reagan administration has taken several steps to indicate its opposition to Pinochet's course and sources here suggested that diplomatic pressure will be stepped up during a visit this week by Deputy Assistant Secretary James Michel.
Informed sources here said Secretary of State George P. Shultz sent a letter to a Christian Democrat expressing U.S. "disappointment" in Pinochet's crackdown and voicing support for democratic movements here. The letter was addressed to Andres Zaldivar in his capacity as president of the Christian Democratic International, the sources said.