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Meanwhile, in El Salvador . . . : Duarte's Task: Building a Center Solid Enough to Live in Peace

December 14, 1987|ENRIQUE A. BALOYRA | Enrique A. Baloyra is associate dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Miami. He is the author of a monograph and numerous articles about the Salvadoran civil war.

Despite the erosion of his popularity and disenchantment with the performance of his administration, El Salvador's President Jose Napoleon Duarte must be credited with some important gains. During the two years remaining in his term, Duarte may be able to bring his country's democratization process closer to a resolution than it has been since the military coup of Oct. 15, 1979. But while still dealing with adversities, Duarte also has the challenge of dealing with the consequences of his own success.

The survival alliance between Duarte's Christian Democratic Party and the armed forces has held together, preventing the disloyal right from overthrowing the fledgling regime and forcing the leftist guerrillas to change tactics and scale down their operations. Basically, the violent opposition has failed to capitalize on the weakness of the government. The disloyal right, the most formidable short-term adversary, has been reduced to play the spoiler--opposing redress of human-rights violations, denouncing reformist legislation, thwarting attempts at economic reactivation. The guerrillas, the most serious long-term problem, have done a formidable job of devastating the country's infrastructure and imposing a war economy on the majority of Salvadorans.

The right's best card is to attack the sometimes sloppy and sophomoric economic policies of the administration, and to offer itself as a reasonable alternative. But that alternative is presented in shrill and unreasonable overtones. Two serious problems remain with the Salvadoran private sector. One is that its economic model is not linked to a realistic vision of contemporary Salvadoran conditions. For example, Carlos Borja Letona, the president of the most militant business group, last December demanded a reduction of the budget, a renegotiation of the debt, the privatization of state enterprises, no more subsidies for autonomous agencies and a freeze in public employment. In short, he was faulting the government for failing to institute fiscal orthodoxy in the middle of a civil war.

One can count on the private sector and the three key parties on the right to continue to fight the government every inch of the way in economic matters. What's worse is that some sectors of the right will resort to violence when they feel threatened by changes that may be necessary to resolve the 7-year-old war.

Inevitably, the role of former Army Maj. Roberto d'Aubuisson comes up in this connection. D'Aubuisson has been linked to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a crime excluded from the recent amnesty decree approved by the Legislative Assembly. Most recently, he was implicated by the testimony of former army Capt. Alvaro Saravia, a prime suspect in the case. But D'Aubuisson's star had already been fading. He was replaced as secretary general of the ARENA party by Alfredo Cristiani, a coffee planter and more potable figure. A member of the large officers' school class of 1966, D'Aubuisson has always counted on powerful allies within the military. Yet the stars of the class, Cols. Rene Emilio Ponce, Mauricio Ernesto Vargas and Juan Rolando Zepeda, are not particularly close to him. They were the architects of the "United to Reconstruct" plan launched in early 1986, and their dabbling in politics responds to an interpretation of the Salvadoran crisis different from the one recognized by ARENA.

The Latin American military have always resisted civilian authority, especially judicial inquiries into their "dirty wars." A prosecution of D'Aubuisson would be opposed by a majority of El Salvador's officer corps, both for the precedent and for the potential of having their institution itself on trial. Yet it is possible that enough of the military could be persuaded to accept the Argentinian model: strengthening the civilian government by allowing the prosecution of the most culpable symbols of military human-rights abuse.

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