If the goal of U.S. policy is to end the war with some prospect for democracy, this refusal to bring rebel politicians as far as possible into the political process appears to be self-defeating. The political wing of the rebels is led by some of the most "legitimate" politicians in Salvadoran history, whose participation will be required for any settlement to be successful. Their president, Guillermo Ungo, was Duarte's vice-presidential running mate in the 1972 election that was stolen by the military, and served in the civilian-military junta that tried to chart a course back to civilian rule in 1979.
The rebel vice president, Ruben Zamora, was a top official in Duarte's party until 1980, when the military raided a party meeting and assassinated his brother, a Cabinet minister, and he fled for his life. These men have allied with the Marxist-led rebel military because it is the only force capable of challenging military rule--and of offering, through the threat of retribution, protection from the military and the death squads. Their roots are in political rather than military action--they have shown a far greater willingness than their military wing to seek a negotiated settlement.
The recent deterioration of the political situation in Nicaragua makes it hard to conceive of negotiating a solution to any of the deep-seated political problems in Central America. Nonetheless, the military resiliency of both sides in El Salvador shows that negotiations are the only way out. If El Salvador could establish the same kind of uneasy truce that for more than six months has stopped most of the killing in Nicaragua, it might be tough for the combatants to restart the war.
To try to bring the same urgency to the search for a truce and negotiated settlement in El Salvador that was brought to bear in Nicaragua, U.S. Sens. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) recently took the issue before the Senate committee that prepares the funding bill for foreign aid. The senators proposed withholding half of El Salvador's military aid until the Administration reports on Salvadoran and U.S. efforts to promote a negotiated settlement, and redirecting a third of U.S. cash aid (which indirectly pays for the expanded Salvadoran army) to health and water projects--directly addressing the needs of the poor.
The Administration's response to this largely symbolic proposal was instructive. Declining to debate the senators' claim that U.S. policy has failed to bring El Salvador any closer to peace or reform, the Administration cast the measure as a personal slap at Duarte, whose signature appeared on a letter from his bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center asking the committee to reject it. After a full-court press by Secretary of State George P. Shultz and a State Department roundup of absent senators, the provision was dropped from the bill by a 15-14 vote. Instead, the sponsors accepted a provision redirecting a quarter of cash aid to basic needs. For the first time in four years, Congress had taken away some of the Administration's ability to bankroll El Salvador as it had planned.
As the situation in El Salvador continues to deteriorate, this legislative fight was probably the first step in reopening congressional debate. The next occupant of the White House will find Congress already asking why the issue it thought had been settled with massive aid has come back. There will be increasing pressure to drop the pursuit of a military victory as the primary U.S. goal. Congress will probably push tough measures to encourage negotiations, and to create a safe environment for rebel participation in a government that would throw murderers out of the Salvadoran military and bring them to justice in court.
The only apparent alternative to this course is another eight years of war.