SAN SALVADOR — Vice President Dan Quayle on Tuesday delivered a stern human rights lecture to Roberto d'Aubuisson, leader of the Salvadoran ultra-right-wing who has been linked to death squad activity.
Quayle met in San Salvador with D'Aubuisson and other political and military officials after an overnight stop in Honduras, where he assured field commanders of the anti-Sandinista Contras that regardless of the conduct of Nicaraguan elections next February, the rebels can count on continued U.S. support.
"I said to them we continue to have and we will always have a moral obligation to the resistance," Quayle told reporters after arriving in San Salvador, his third stop on a four-nation Central American tour.
The vice president's visit to El Salvador, his second to this Central American nation torn by years of civil war and increasing urban political violence, was intended to demonstrate the Bush Administration's commitment to the democratic transition of power.
Quayle's first stop was at the ranch-style home of President Alfredo Cristiani, a millionaire coffee grower who was sworn into office June 1, replacing Jose Napoleon Duarte. Cristiani's right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) swept the presidential elections on March 19.
Quayle later stopped at the residence of U.S. Ambassador William Walker, where the vice president held the first meeting between a senior U.S. Administration official and D'Aubuisson, who is the Arena president-for-life and a cashiered army intelligence officer. D'Aubuisson was once described by former U.S. Ambassador Robert White as a "pathological killer."
The former major also was accused by Duarte of masterminding the 1980 assassination of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, and U.S. officials have charged him with plotting to murder U.S. diplomats in El Salvador.
Official American antipathy for D'Aubuisson is so great that he has been refused visas into the United States despite strong support from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Arena's major backer in Congress.
Echoing the message he delivered on his last visit in February, Quayle said before the meeting: "I will emphasize the importance of human rights and liberty in a democratic society. I will have a very clear message for them."
At the end of Tuesday's meeting with D'Aubuisson and government leaders, Quayle took D'Aubuisson aside, according to Quayle spokesman David Beckwith, and told him, "Don't embarrass Cristiani."
Beckwith said D'Aubuisson nodded, as if to show assent.
"There's a sensitivity that, in light of provocation like (the assassination of) Rodriguez Porth, that extralegal measures would be used for retaliation," Beckwith told reporters aboard Air Force Two as Quayle flew from El Salvador to San Jose, Costa Rica, at the end of the day. Beckwith referred to Cristiani aide Jose Antonio Rodriguez Porth, who was assassinated outside his home Friday.
On Feb. 3, Quayle warned the Salvadoran military leadership that any recurrence of the human rights violations of the early 1980s, when an average of 800 people per month were dying, would endanger the U.S. military aid program, worth $95 million a year.
However, the military received only one brief warning on human rights Tuesday, mirroring the U.S. Embassy position that the armed forces have reformed greatly.
During an afternoon at the residence of the U.S. ambassador, Quayle also met with Guillermo Ungo and Ruben Zamora, leaders of the Democratic Convergence, a leftist political alliance tied to a guerrilla organization called the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Beckwith said Quayle asked Zamora and Ungo "to encourage the FMLN to lay down their arms." Beckwith said the two refused to convey such a message. He also said the two said they suspect that the FMLN was responsible for the death of Rodriguez Porth.
Referring to the attack, for which no one has been arrested or officially claimed responsibility, Quayle said later at a news conference: "That type of violence perpetrated by the leftist FMLN and guerrillas cannot be tolerated."
Quayle posed for pictures before part of a cache of weapons displayed in the courtyard of the military high command. He said the cache, which included more than 350 AK-47 assault rifles from North Korea and East Germany, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 250,000 rounds of ammunition, was intended for the leftist rebels.
Earlier, the vice president spent about an hour at breakfast with four Contra military commanders, including Enrique Bermudez, the senior military leader, and a young rebel known as "Comandante Franklyn," at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Everett E. Briggs in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Reporting afterward on the meeting, he said the military leaders "accept the fact that we are pursuing the political route. They support that."