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Chile: Death in the South.

Chile: Death in the South.

Jacobo Timerman. Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95. This chilling book, which first apeared as a New Yorker series, is a textbook on dictatorship and how people learn to live with it. Timerman will horrify those who are romantics about Chile and are still waiting for General Pinochet to be swept out of office by a tide of protest.

The reality Timerman presents is this: Pinochet has maintained himself for 14 years as dictator of what was once the most democratic country in Latin America. He has bought the support, or at least the silence, of the middle and upper classes with cheap consumer goods. He has used feat, with surgical precision, to quiet the poor and those who couldn't be bought. There is active opposition, but on a very small scale. Today the government kills about 55 people a year. No one doubts Pinochet would kill more if he needed to, but he doesn't need to. In this once passionately political country, the latest strikes have been broken and the opposition daily newspapers are in danger of closing for want of readers. Timerman, himself a victim of torture in Argentina, quotes an opposition leader expressing his shock at the tortures who have emerged from the entrails of Chile, but when Timerman uses the quote he is not talking just about the government, but about Chileans.

Most of the book is about the opposition politicians and why they have been unable to enlist Chileans--85 percent of whom oppose Pinocher--in the struggle. Timerman says little about the limits of their existence: the constant danger and the lack of access to television or elections. He focuses on what the limits have produced: a romantic cocoon of nostalgia that has rendered the opposition irrelevant. For him, the anti-Pinochet theater, magazines, and coffeehouses that nourish the opposition are an escape valve created by the regime to let off pressure. He criticizes the opposition parties' unwillingness to compromise and the hard left's tolerance for violence, which drives moderate Chileans into Pinocher's camp.

The book's most serious flaw is that its prescriptions, based in compromise, are jarring and unconvincing. But why should Timerman have found a way to defeat Pinochet? No one else has; the likelihood is that none exists.
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Author:Rosenberg, Tina
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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