In Alfaro's case, the U.S. Embassy initially embraced her declarations, but then it gradually distanced itself from her statements linking the guerrillas to the influential Catholic and Protestant churches.
Even the army chief, Gen. Adolfo Blandon, cast doubt on Alfaro's statements about churches, thereby damaging her overall credibility. Blandon said he does not believe her claim that Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas of San Salvador knew of the guerrilla infiltration and ignored it.
"It is a terrorist militant who is making that declaration. I take it with caution," Blandon said.
The Alfaro case illuminates a "Catch-22" situation for the government, which must behave democratically to win the war, but then is faced with legal opposition groups that are potentially fertile ground for infiltration by guerrillas in an increasingly political war.
The arrests and public accusations, meanwhile, have had a chilling effect on all types of human rights and social services work.
A month after Alfaro first appeared on television May 30, an anonymous death threat was telephoned to the Roman Catholic archdiocese. The caller warned five workers in the church's social secretariat to leave the country within eight days. Two other calls warned doctors to stop treating church-supported refugees.
The five church workers, two of whom had been named by Alfaro, decided to stay in El Salvador, but an Emmanuel Baptist Church deacon fled the country after Alfaro asserted that he was a guerrilla.
Another Baptist church worker was abducted by unidentified armed men in June, beaten, and dumped across the border in Guatemala with the warning not to return, according to church members.
Varying their Routes
Many church and human rights workers say they are varying their routes to and from work and are sleeping away from home. Several said they are regularly watched and followed, and therefore, do not go out alone.
"Many priests have been accused of being Communists here," said Father Octavio Cruz, one of those whom Alfaro called a guerrilla. Cruz is director of the church social secretariat, which runs food projects, refugee camps and relocation programs.
"For a long time this work with refugees has been seen as bad. People think that refugees are suspicious. They fear they are guerrillas, and people who work with them are suspected of being collaborators," he said.
The Rev. Medaro Gomez of the Lutheran Church, whom Alfaro also accused of being a guerrilla, has surrounded himself with U.S. church workers as a safety measure. He stopped answering his telephone for a month while church workers told callers that he was out of the country.
"She said I was a member of the Salvadoran Communist Party. In our environment, to say that is to declare a death sentence. It had a big impact on me," Gomez said.
Gomez, whose church runs a refugee program and health and education projects, said that death threats are not new to him. He received two a week before Alfaro made her charges.
"It was a Friday. I got an anonymous call that said 'Because you are stupid, you are going to die,' and he hung up. It was strange, but that Sunday a man I didn't recognize came to church, and as I was shaking hands with the people afterward, he came up and repeated the same thing the caller said," Gomez said.
Four Human Rights Commission members are among those jailed. Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, one of the commission members still at work, said the group shut down for three weeks after the arrests and that their monthly human rights report is a month behind schedule.
Alfaro said that the group, whose reports have been used by the United Nations, inflated the numbers of disappeared people and of political prisoners by not removing names of those who later turned up or were freed. She said the commission lists dead guerrilla combatants as slain civilians killed. The commission denies those charges.
Alfaro's accusations have also hurt groups indirectly involved with those she named. Balmore Garcia, director of the Felipe Apostle Kindergarten, an independent food and education center for orphans in the north-central province of Cabanas, said he lost two teachers after Alfaro went public, because his program receives money from Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Archbishop Rivera has publicly defended Catholic churchmen whom Alfaro accused, but since the charges were aired, the Catholic Church has distanced itself from the Human Rights Commission and the Mothers Committees and cut food programs to both.
Three of those in jail are from the Mothers Committees. One of them, Maria Teresa Tula, said in a prison interview that she was beaten during 12 days of police custody, deprived of sleep and offered money and protection to cooperate with authorities. She said she had nothing to offer them.
Denies She Was Coerced