Managua, Nicaragua — El Salvador's guerrilla leaders are not talking much about quick victories anymore, but still seem confident of winning over the long haul. This is the message that is coming from friends of the guerrillas both inside and outside El Salvador.
The failures of teh guerrillas' "final offensive" in January and the Reagan administration's decition to send additional military aid and advisers to El Salvador have apparently had a sobering effect on some of the guerrillas.
But they have not broken the spirit of their leadership, say these sources. For one thing, the guerrillas did not consider their January offensive to be the total failure that it is often depicted to have been in Washington.
A Roman Catholic parish priest who has worked in popular organizations allied with the guerrillas for more than a decade describes the situation this way: "When the United States gets hired of interfering in El Salvador, that's when we will triumph."
Eduardo Calles, identified as a vice-president of the guerrilla front organization Frente Democratico Revolutionario (FDR), which handles most of the guerrillas' external political statements, put it his way: "The intervention of the United States has caused us to modify our battle techniques. . . . A period of readjustment and reorganization of the masses is required."
Both the priest and Calles make it sound as though the struggle could take many years. At the same time, however, they act as though the battle is going relatively well for the guerrillas. And they take a hard line toward negotiations with the US-supported El Salvador junta.
Calles spoke to reporters who were taken to meet him recently at a secret location in El Salvador. Both he and the priest, who declined to be identified, repeated what has become the standard line from the FDR concerning negotiations with the junta led by Jose Napoleon Duarte:
The guerrilla movement would talk with the United States, but not with President Duarte. The guerrillas implied that peace could come only once the Duarte regime and its military arm were disbanded.
"You can't make a pact with assassins," said the priest in an interview at a separate location. The priest suggested that President Duarte and leading Salvadoran military men allied with him would have to face a trial.
Both Calles and the priest claimed that while the January offensive had fallen short of some of its aims, it had the effect of opening "corridors" in the countryside where the guerrillas could operate with relative impunity.
The priest claimed that "about 80 percent" of the goals of the offensive had been achieved but that the guerrillas had made a "scandalous" error in announcing in advance plans for a general strike in the capital city of San Salvador. This, he said, allowed the Army to move into factories in anticipation of a strike and to threaten workers and others with the loss of their livelihood if they participated.
The priest said that while most Roman Catholic priests and nuns in El Salvador were "conservatives," some 30 were actively working with the guerrillas and that several had been killed in the war.
In nearby Honduras, another person who has relations with the FDR said that the US State Department was distorting the picture by implying the Cubans were in virtual control of the Salvadoran guerrilla movement.
Jorge Arturo Reina, a leftist but non-Marxist political leader and former rector of Honduras' National Autonomous University, said that if the guerrillas had been under Cuban direction they would not have been so stupid as to announce in advance their January offensive and planned general strike. He said that only one faction, the small Communist Party of El Salvador, was tightly allied with the Soviets.One of the most powerful guerrilla groups, the Ejercito Revolutionario del Pueblo (ERP --People's Revolutionary Army), he said, was heavily Trotskyist rather than pro-Moscow.
Reina, who for a time early this year attempted to act as an intermediary between the FDR and the United States, said that neither side could achieve a military victory in El Salvador under the present circumstances. He said a political solution involving the sharing of power was the only way out, but he did not think such a solution was likely in the near future, given the wide differences between the two sides.