The bodies of three men, all members of the banned Communist Party, were found with their throats cut in an overgrown roadside near here in late March.
In mid-May, three persons were killed and 28 injured when bombs exploded in two bustling Santiago municipal offices.
Nine months after the government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet declared a state of siege, images such as these are producing a public outcry over violence in Chile. Thousands of persons have marched in the funerals of victims, and relatives of slain political activists carried out an extended hunger strike. Even progovernment newspapers have campaigned for the identification and trial of political killers.
The clamor reflects more than shock over particularly brutal incidents. Many Chileans seem to fear that their country's prolonged political impasse may give way soon to brutal warfare between extremists of the left and right.
"The state of siege has not ended violence in Chile," said Carmen Saenz, the leader of the right-wing National Party. "Instead, it has provoked an escalation of the two extremes while silencing all other alternatives."
To the surprise of many opponents of Pinochet, his crackdown has halted the country's once clamorous political debate. The state of siege imposed last Nov. 6 allows authorities to censor the media, limit freedom of assembly and carry out searches and arrests without normal legal checks or judicial appeal.
As the government has applied these powers, mass mobilization by opposition parties -- which sought to force the military government from power after vehement antigovernment protests in May 1983 -- has broken down. Moreover, opposition politicians who predicted that Pinochet could not sustain the hard line now admit that they were wrong.
Only the violent groups that were the declared object of the state of siege appear to have been unaffected. Human "rights groups and diplomats here say left-wing terrorist organizations such as the Communist-backed Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front have stepped up bombings and other attacks during the past six months, and security forces have responded by returning to tactics of counterterrorism not seen in Chile since the 1970s.
During the past three months, nine opposition activists have been killed by police or secret security forces, according to human rights groups. "We are facing the return of disappearances in Chile," said Roberto Garreton, a lawyer with the Catholic Church's Vicariate of Solidarity. "For the first time since 1978, security forces have begun denying knowledge about people under detention."
The violence has increased the pressure on Pinochet's government from traditional civilian supporters and foreign governments to lift the state of siege. Economic officials are concerned that Chile's initiatives to refinance its foreign debt and borrow new money abroad this year may be impeded by the U.S. and European governments if the state of siege is not lifted, according to official sources.
Nevertheless, politicians and diplomats here say Pinochet's government remains determined to pursue its present course. Even if the state of siege is lifted, officials have indicated that they will maintain the heavy media censorship and restrictions on public political meetings.
The Interior Ministry announced a new calendar last month for decrees implementing a 1980 constitution that was approved in a disputed plebiscite in 1980. The effect is to postpone all major political liberalization measures -- such as legalization of parties -- for at least two more years. Sergio Onofre Jarpa, who as interior minister was charged with guiding political change, has retired in silence to his farm.
Many former supporters of the government say its strategy is to extend Pinochet's rule for eight more years when his current mandate as president ends in 1989. A constitutional provision would allow the 69-year-old general to continue in power if his nomination by the ruling junta were approved in a plebiscite. "Pinochet is running for reelection," said Andres Allamand, the leader of a right-wing party that backed the previous government program under Jarpa. "Everything he does is designed to create a situation so that there are no alternatives to him in 1989."
Pinochet's shift in tactics has produced no apparent resistance from military liberals, and civilian sectors have been unable to reach agreement on an alternative plan for democracy.
"The political situation is blocked by the lack of consensus among civilians," said Manuel Antonio Garreton, a political scientist and Socialist activist. "And as long as the situation is blocked, Pinochet is free to stay."
The state of siege has caused a number of progovernment political groups, including Allamand's Movement of National Union and the traditional National Party, to reverse their positions and move toward alliances with the democratic opposition.
Now, Chilean politicians ranging from the right to the Marxist left say they favor the development of a broad alliance among civilian groups behind a moderate new program for returning to democracy. Yet, despite dozens of separate initiatives, the effort for consensus has continued to stumble over traditional party rivalries and disputes over tactics.
Right-wing groups argue that the centrist and center-left parties making up the opposition Democratic Alliance should agree to negotiate with the military on the basis of the 1980 constitution, which foresees a limited democracy beginning in 1989, and exclude the Communist-led Popular Democratic Movement from any civilian agreement.
By contrast, Socialist and Christian Democratic leaders insist that the right must reject the constitution and accept the legality of the Marxist left. These sectors also say that civilian leaders must first mobilize opposition to Pinochet before serious negotiations with the military can take place.
Many political activists blame this impasse on intransigence among traditional political leaders. "If party leaders had acted with more capability and maturity, we could all be united in a bloc for democracy," said Saenz.
Nevertheless, other observers say the civilian factionalism reflects deep divisions in Chilean society. A recent poll conducted by the Chilean firm Diagnos indicated that while 73 percent of Chileans of low income favor an immediate change of government, only 25 percent of upper-class citizens want such change, and the middle class is almost evenly divided.