Salvador's Magana: consensus builder or military pawn?
Is he a shrewd builder of consensus among warring parties? Or is he an indecisive pawn, unable to provide leadership for his troubled country?Skip to next paragraph
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Like all things Salvadorean, President Alvaro Magana (who marks his first year of office April 29) is the subject of dispute.
And how does Dr. Magana - a provisional president, chosen as compromise candidate when no party won a majority in the newly created Constituent Assembly during the March 1982 elections - see himself?
''I'm a very peculiar president,'' said the University of Chicago-trained banker in an interview with the Monitor, adding, ''I don't put pressure on anything.''
Instead, he says, his strength lies in creating an atmosphere of conciliation among military and political leaders, some of whom in the past would rather have shot one another than talked face to face.
On one thing all sides agree: In the past year, under his coaxing, these leaders have begun to cooperate. Last August, four of the five parties represented in the Legislative Assembly signed the Pact of Apaneca, an agreement on a national agenda that takes its name from the Magana farm where it was signed.
Since then, these leaders have worked together to establish the three bipartisan commissions (on peace; human rights; and national political, economic , and social programs) outlined in the pact.
''This (movement toward conciliation) has been a very healthy influence in this period,'' says Dr. Magana, a graying and avuncular man who admits that rather than being president he would ''prefer to be teaching economics and writing a book.''
He adds, ''When I write my memoirs, I am going to tell all the stories of things that have not happened because of me.''
In a nation acutely aware of left-wing terrorists, right-wing death squads, and unexplained disappearances of individuals, killings that ''have not happened'' are important. Over the past year, in fact, officially recorded murders dropped to around 6,000 - half the number recorded the year before.
But the figure still deeply troubles Dr. Magana. ''These are not economic variables,'' he notes, ''these are human lives.''
To some, however, the ''things that have not happened'' are his failing. ''He thinks that by signing a decree, he's done something for peace,'' says one sociologist trained in the United States. ''But in the end,'' he adds, ''you don't see leadership.''
This man, along with several senior staffers in Salvadorean government ministries, sees extensive wheel-spinning in the bureaucracy - lack of clear directives from Cabinet ministers, and a conscious undermining of government programs, such as land reform.
One academician notes that, although Magana is ''very crafty, very savvy,'' he has ''only as much power as the people who want to give him power will give him.''
But to others, the professorial President has just the gentle touch needed as the nation gropes toward more democratic institutions.
''He's incredibly skillful'' at ''building consensus,'' says US Ambassador Deane R. Hinton. He says Dr. Magana's ''main job was to keep the democratic process going'' - something which, in a place where ''the hate level is so high, '' he has done with ''incredible success.''
As El Salvador moves toward its presidential election, which will probably be held in December, Dr. Magana says, ''What concerns me is that the people don't get disappointed in the democratic process.'' ''Otherwise,'' he adds, ''we will fail.''