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'Slipping Back in El Salvador'

October 24, 1985

Once again I applaud the efforts of The Times editorial board on its efforts to inject reason into the debate on El Salvador. The Reagan Administration continues to ignore the complicated realities of El Salvador while screaming about international communism and the export of revolution.

I emphatically agree with The Times' assessment that the only viable solution for El Salvador is a negotiated one. A recent several weeks trip down there proved to me that this truly is the only way. But I would like to comment on several of what I'll call understatements in your editorial (Oct. 17), "Slipping Back in Salvador."

You referred to the Reagan Administration's lack of "quiet diplomacy" in encouraging negotiations. Well, that certainly is a true statement, but it glosses over some very important points.

The horrors of El Salvador during the beginning of this decade are well documented. Estimates of killings by death squads and security forces hover at about 55,000, not to mention those who disappeared, were imprisoned or forced into exile. Also well documented are the links between the death squads and the military and security forces. You may remember Vice President George Bush's well publicized trip to warn the Salvadoran military that a continuation of death squad activity would severely threaten U.S. support.

It is interesting to note that the death squads responded to this warning without a single prosecution of past abuses. If the death squads were in fact independent of the military, why would they have responded to only so much as a threat to cut military aid?

This brings me to my point. What has happened in El Salvador is obviously not the result of a reform of the repressive military apparatus. It is the result of the almost $2 billion that Reagan has sent El Salvador over the past five years. The military is now preoccupied with its new-found wealth and is busy bombing the countryside. Reagan has found a unique way of punishing a corrupt and brutal military. While publicly scolding them, he has given them all the money they need.

The power, therefore, to bring peace to El Salvador is in our hands to a much greater degree than your editorial implies. President Jose Napoleon Duarte may not be able to control the military, but the United States could simply threaten to cut off the money.

DONALD COHEN

San Diego

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