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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 17:45 GMT
Analysis: Chile's crisis committee
Chilean army parade
Security Council: Where the military can express their displeasure

By Nathalie Malinarich

A decision to convene Chile's highest-ranking security committee - the National Security Council - usually produces some degree of alarm in the country.

Enshrined in the 1980 constitution approved during General Augusto Pinochet's rule, the council is supposed to meet during moments of national crisis. But the definition of crisis has often proved problematic.

Who's in it
President of the Republic
Senate speaker
President of the Supreme Court
Chief auditor
Army commander
Navy commander
Airforce commander
Head of police
The body is headed by the Chilean president, and includes the presidents of the Senate and the Supreme Court, the chief auditor and the heads of the four armed services.

The constitution says the security body should convene when the president requires advice on matters of national security, including the declaration of war.

But the law also says the council can be called into session if any two of its members wish to express their opinion on any issue which they believe has "grave consequences for the country's institutional stability or national security".

General Pinochet
The security council has already met four times over the Pinochet case
Many see the council as a forum for the armed forces to express their displeasure over a range of matters, without interfering in politics.

Others say it legitimises military interference and have called for its reform.

The security body has been convened four times to discuss the Pinochet case since his arrest in London in October 1998.

All four meetings were called by the government of the time - as have all the meetings since the return of democracy in 1990. But analysts say that at least on two of those occasions it was due to military pressures.

Crisis?

This time the military pressure on President Ricardo Lagos has been unconcealed.

Military leaders asked him to call a meeting of the Security Council, citing an atmosphere of rising tensions in the country following the detention order against General Pinochet.

Initially President Lagos said there were no constitutional grounds for a meeting, arguing it was a matter for the courts, and there was no crisis.

But he has now bowed to military pressure, saying that a meeting of the Security Council will be held - but only after the courts issue their ruling.

"I decided to convene the National Security Council as it is the institutional forum in which the armed forces can express their concerns to the state," President Lagos said.

Calls for reform

President Ricardo Lagos
Lagos: This will be his first security council meeting
This sequence of events allows President Lagos to claim he is not going back on his word to respect the independence of the courts.

The head of the army, General Ricardo Izurieta, had earlier insisted on the armed forces' constitutional right to convene the security body.

If the meeting had been ruled out altogether, he might have faced pressure from sectors within the military who feel he should take a tougher stance to defend General Pinochet and his legacy.

Chile's Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza says that every time the National Security Council is convened it produces "tension and preoccupation".

"That does not occur with any other institution and is due to the nature of the committee.

"If it is kept, it should be only for the analysis of security matters and never to discuss political issues, because that obviously goes against the democratic regime," says Mr Insulza.

The interior minister says changes to the council should be debated.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Americas
Analysis: The Pinochet factor
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Pinochet charged with kidnapping
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