SAN SALVADOR — Armando Calderon Sol, leader of a right-wing political party once associated with death squads, was sworn in as president of El Salvador on Wednesday amid warnings that reforms aimed at preserving this country's fledgling peace are dangerously incomplete.
As the first president to take office since the end of a brutal, 12-year civil war, Calderon Sol pledged to rebuild his devastated, still polarized country with free-market economics and attention to long-neglected social programs. But he acknowledged that Salvadoran society is far from reconciled.
"We have achieved peace, the guns are silent," he said in an elaborate ceremony before Central America's leaders and dozens of international delegations. "But we have yet to shatter the suspicions and sterile antagonisms. We must rebuild our nation physically, morally and spiritually so that we can together achieve social peace."
This was El Salvador's first peacetime transfer of power between civilians in more than six decades. Calderon Sol assumes office a year and a half after U.N.-brokered accords ended the war between Cuban-backed leftist guerrillas and U.S.-backed forces. The war claimed more than 70,000 lives and sent 1 million Salvadorans fleeing to Los Angeles, Washington and other cities.
Calderon Sol, the portly 45-year-old former mayor of San Salvador and an original member of the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena, was elected April 24 in a landslide over leftist candidate Ruben Zamora, who represented a coalition that included the former rebels.
The U.N. accords set in motion sweeping military, political and judicial reforms aimed at installing democracy and guaranteeing all Salvadorans' security. The government succeeded in substantially reducing the army, but some of the most important reforms have not been fulfilled.
In a report issued May 11, the United Nations cited "serious shortcomings" in completing the accords and emphasized flaws in the formation of a new civilian police force, considered the cornerstone to maintaining peace and building a system of justice.
The report complained that the "civilian nature" of the new police force is in jeopardy because agents from the old, paramilitary National Police have been phased into the new agency without proper training or screening to eliminate human rights abusers.
The government of outgoing President Alfredo Cristiani, also a member of Calderon Sol's Arena party, has repeatedly delayed demobilizing the dreaded paramilitary police. It recently indicated it would not do so until sometime between January and March of next year.
The U.N. report also complained that 30 senior positions in the civilian police force have gone to officers from the militarized force and that reports of human rights abuses have increased.
Calderon Sol has publicly attacked several reforms in the peace accords. But since his election in April, and again on Wednesday, he insisted he would abide by them.
"I say you have to give him the benefit of the doubt--it's his first day," Joaquin Villalobos, a former guerrilla commander who now heads a social democratic party, said as he emerged from the inauguration. "But we will have to see how much distance there is between words and actions."
The issue of the police and public security is especially urgent because of renewed violence, some of it political, that has claimed the lives of former rebels and several Arena militants in recent months. Amid fears of a resurgence of death squads, U.N. peacekeepers late last year appointed a special commission, the Joint Group, to investigate the violence over a six-month period ending this week. On Tuesday, the commission asked for a two-month extension, after a flurry of killings and attempted slayings in the last two weeks.
Despite his party's history as an authoritarian and militaristic organization, Calderon Sol has taken pains to assure the world that he and the forces around him have become more moderate. "The era of dogmas and fanaticisms has ended," Calderon Sol said Wednesday, apparently referring to both the left and right.
Arena officials say they have abandoned their extremist past to move closer to the center and to broaden their appeal. Key to a more pragmatic outlook, the officials say, is the growing role of Arena's business sector.
But the new president and most Arena leaders continue to revere the late Roberto D'Aubuisson, party founder and reputed organizer of death squads that killed thousands of suspected leftist sympathizers during the war. In the highly partisan crowd at Calderon Sol's inauguration, supporters held aloft a larger-than-life poster of D'Aubuisson in his trademark, clenched-fist pose. And several military officers purged as part of the peace accords were in attendance, including retired Gens. Rene Emilio Ponce and Orlando Zepeda; they were accused of ordering the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests considered supportive of the rebels.