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'Peace Monologue' Reflects Growing Confidence of Salvador's Leaders

September 22, 1986|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

SAN SALVADOR — President Jose Napoleon Duarte's "peace monologue" in the fighting-zone town of Sesori last week reflects an emboldened attitude on the part of the government and armed forces of El Salvador that they are winning their 6 1/2-year war against leftist guerrillas.

Defense Minister Carlos Vides Casanova, who accompanied Duarte to Sesori, was confident as he spoke from the stage while military helicopters whirled overhead. "This is the best moment in the history of the armed forces," he boasted.

"Fidel Castro once said he was going to breakfast in Nicaragua, lunch in El Salvador and dine in Guatemala. I think he is on a good diet, because he is never going to lunch in El Salvador," he added.

Talks Fell Through

The announced talks with guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and their political allies in the Revolutionary Democratic Front did not take place because the government and rebels could not agree about security.

When the two sides agreed on Sesori as the site for their dialogue, the army occupied the town in the eastern province of San Miguel and refused a demand by the guerrillas to withdraw, as it had done two years earlier when the first round of peace talks were held in the town of La Palma.

Duarte went to Sesori anyway, accompanied by Vides Casanova and other government officials. Their message was clearly that they were in control, that they had gained ground in two years and that they did not plan to deal with the guerrillas as equals.

U.S. Envoy's View

American Ambassador Edwin G. Corr, who was also at Sesori, said to reporters there, "If the guerrillas didn't want the armed forces in Sesori, they would have had to kick them out."

The status of the war, however, is more difficult to assess than the attitude of the government.

The guerrillas pose no foreseeable military threat to the Duarte administration, which has a strong military force and the solid support of the United States. El Salvador's armed forces have grown in strength from about 12,000 men in 1981 to about 52,000 today, and they have improved their combat performance and their human rights record.

But the war continues to cost the government 50% of its budget, and the army suffers many casualties. In his midyear report, Vides Casanova said that about 3,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing from June, 1985, to June, 1986. Many of the wounded were victims of land mines who must now receive expensive medical and disability assistance.

The rebels vow to wear the government down with a prolonged campaign of guerrilla assaults, economic sabotage and political organizing. While the government has been spending millions of dollars annually on defense, the economy has deteriorated, causing growing discontent with Duarte and opposition from trade unions.

A poll commissioned by Duarte's Christian Democratic Party last spring showed that only 24% of those interviewed supported the party. Forty percent either said they had lost faith in the "democratic process" or would not answer the question.

A Central American University poll last month showed that 83.7% of 1,118 urban dwellers interviewed believed that the situation in the country was bad or very bad, blaming the war and the economy. More than 56% of those interviewed were unemployed.

Unions, university students, peasant organizations and human rights groups continue to press for a dialogue with the rebels to negotiate an end to the war.

About the time that Duarte called for the still-unrealized third round of dialogue with the rebels, Gen. Adolfo Blandon, head of the joint chiefs of staff, unveiled a broad counterinsurgency plan, named "United to Reconstruct" and aimed at winning the war militarily and politically.

The plan calls for routing guerrillas from target areas, installing armed civilian defense groups and restoring public services destroyed by the guerrillas or disrupted by the fighting. It is the army's second such plan in three years.

The nature of the plan indicates that the army knows the war is not yet won. The plan also proposes that the army control repopulation of areas of the country devastated in the fighting.

United to Reconstruct calls for the government to direct all of its resources toward the military counterinsurgency program.

"To develop the campaign, it is necessary that the external aid funds, channeled through the different ministries, be employed with priority in support of the (plan)," an army statement said.

New War Fronts

Blandon said the counterinsurgency program addresses the military, political and economic fronts of the war. He said that as the military has improved on the battlefield, the war has shifted and that "90% of this war is of a political, economic, social and ideological character."

But one government critic countered: "Blandon wouldn't be announcing United to Reconstruct if things were going well. . . . If 90% of the war is political, it doesn't matter if they are winning militarily, they are losing politically."

Political analysts say the public's expectations were raised by the announcement that peace talks would take place in Sesori and disappointed by their failure to take place.

Public Opinion Contest

The guerrillas have asserted in recently published interviews that the failed dialogue will have serious political costs for the government. But the government is banking that the public, who saw Duarte in Sesori, will blame the rebels.

"Failures are foreseen in these things," Minister of Culture and Communications Julio A. Rey Prendes said. "It would have been a failure if we had had dialogue and nothing had come out of it."

Instead, the government and army went to Sesori to show that they controlled the territory and to project an attitude of winning.

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