The failure last week of both sides in El Salvador's civil war to honor a Christmas cease-fire is further evidence that the conflict is still in serious stalemate and has settled into a war of attrition that will not soon end.
President Jose Napoleon Duarte announced on Christmas Eve that the government had agreed to a proposal by the local Roman Catholic Church for a 10-day cease-fire. Spokesmen for the rebels also agreed to the truce. It now appears, however, that military operations--even heavy aerial bombardment--were carried out over Christmas.
Predictably, guerrilla leaders said that the army broke the truce, and Salvadoran army spokesmen blamed the rebels. But the army's explanation was undercut by field commanders in three areas of heavy fighting, who told news correspondents that the high command in San Salvador did not tell them of any truce. It will be hard for the Reagan Administration to put a good face on the situation, because something is very wrong. Either the general staff's ability to control its forces is over-rated, or the ability of Duarte to make his generals obey orders has been oversold. The latter seems more likely, for two reasons.
Duarte weakened himself politically last October when his government froze while he personally negotiated with the rebels who had kidnaped his daughter. The perception that his family's well-being outweighed the nation's seemed to be confirmed when Duarte sent the rest of his own family out of the country to safety.